What makes the Howard Stern show as good as it is?
As you might know, there is some criticism around the “internet” and traditional media about Howard Stern, such as that he is getting too old, or too rich and unable to connect to the audience. Or that he is no longer funny. The critics often miss the point though. Even if their criticism sometimes correct, it is misplaced and completely misses the context of the show.
Listening to the early days of the Show on Mastertape Theater, it is obvious that Howard used to be a completely different man. He used to be shot out of a cannon. He was fast-paced, non-stop, going 100 miles an hour raw human energy. The reason for his success is that he could and had the balls to convey that on the radio. Hearing to old Howard badgering Gary over non-sense was downright painful to listen to. The moment where Stern made Ba-Ba-Booey repeat after him made me want to shut off my radio. That is not the Howard Stern I know!
You see, I am a fairly younger fan who only became a superfan with the move with Sirius. I was always a fan, but not the kind who knew the inside and outs of the Show. Early on, I listened with pre-disposition that the Show has to be constantly funny, shocking, or provoking. I did not know or understand his characters. And listening to the tapes, its tough to think that many regular major characters Howard created in the old days. After all, it was ALL about him. And those commercial breaks (I remember how bad those commercial breaks were). Today, it is almost all about the supporting cast. And he “kinda” faded to the background to become a Master puppeteer. He obviously emphasized his staff ahead of himself (complaints about this turning into an “Artie” show makes it obvious). Howard can no longer be judged on how funny his bits or phone calls are. He has to be graded on the performance of his supporting cast. Does he get the most out of Artie, Robin, Fred, J.D.? How well is he pulling the strings.
Exhibit A: (out of a hundred) Artie Lange
How great is Artie Lange? Immensely! Now, let’s get real.. Howard Stern has a drug addict not almost making (almost) every show, but gets him to reveal his innermost feelings. It could take a day, week or a year. The real feelings are coming out, and sooner then later. And when they do…GREAT RADIO. And it doesn’t matter if its funny or not. Its thrilling, and a lot of times you just find yourself laughing as well. Not all of it is by design. Artie admitting the use of heroin was by chance. A fan in the studio said something about heroin addiction, and Artie chimed that he could help. Howard then coaxed the tearful and heartfelt admission about Artie’s drug use.
There are dosens of fully developed characters on the show, from Robin to Grillo. When a drive-by listener tunes in for 10 minutes, he or she probably expect to be blow away either way-if hes is always funny or gross. Whatever the predesposition is, if those elements are not present, the criticism is quickly formed. Is he old? Whats with the bitchin’ around? where is the funny? The answer is that Howard is simply not the same person he was. He is now an elder stateman of radio. He is the Grand Master of two channels (its kinda appropriate that he now enjoys chess, now that I think). Instead of being the greatest show on earth, he is runnig one.