March 05, 2002

Since I end up listening to him most mornings, I thought I'd add my two cents to the Howard Stern thread started by Jeff Jarvis and continued by Justin Slotman at Blogistan. Justin doesn't quite agree with Jarvis' "Howard Power!" attitutde, pointing out Stern's lack of Southern markets and difficulties with advertisers as evidence against the huge reach and influence Jarvis credits him with.

Slotman is a good ol' Jersey boy, like me, and I'm not sure if he's ever lived outside of its friendly confines. Having done so myself, however, I can vouch for the fact that even in markets where Stern's show isn't syndicated, it's fairly likely that there's some morning show ripping it off completely (my experience doesn't extend too far into the southern markets Justin mentions, so perhaps some reader can fill me in on this), to the point where several times in Seattle I was fooled for several minutes into thinking that a station had picked up Stern's show, when it was really just an amazing facsimile. My point is just that any discussion of Stern's popularity has to go bound his actual reach, and deal with the many clones and heavily influenced DJ's. What Stern surveys isn't limited to the markets that pay for him.

As for Justin's take on the reasons behind the popularity, namely that "the Stern phenomenon must be addressing something that's not being covered by mainstream pop culture -- probably a guy's perspective on sex free of caring what girls think about sex," I think he misses the mark here, underestimating the appeal. The sex stuff can be interesting for a little while, but the reason I find myself tuning in is twofold. First, the sheer honesty and openness of the show. This morning Stern went into details describing how hideous Don Imus was to him suring Stern's early days, and how that changed once Stern found his audience. It was a great listen, dealing with something that happens a hundred times everyday in entertainment, but normally swept under the rug for fear of offense or reprisals. The show has a raw honesty completely unheard of in any form of media, and it's incredibly refreshing. Second, the sense that at least for the hour morning commute, before spending another day doing other people's bidding, it's okay to not have to feel so bad and guilty about things, especially about instinctual emotions or reactions. It's a private thing, I think, at least for most people. You're in your car, alone, nobody to tsk-tsk you, so go ahead and laugh! It's all right!

Okay, the show's still largely made up of topless dancers and the retarded, but it's slightly more complicated than most people think.
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