Howard Stern once dubbed himself The King of All Media, so it should come as no surprise that the man has had a prolific career in multiple forms of media, along the way collecting praise and recognition from many of his contemporaries and fans, while at the same time drawing the ire of PTA groups, politicians, the FCC, and those who disliked him including other less successful and imitative DJs who have lived in his shadow. Howard has been no stranger to controversy, he received some record-high fines from the Federal Communications Commission for violating standards of decency. Stern has amassed more than $2.5 million in fines from the period of 1990 to 2005, when Stern embarked for satellite radio, taking his program and leaving behind the regulations.
Perhaps the most famous and impactful radio broadcast in history, The Howard Stern Show has aired for more than 3 decades. Titular host Howard Stern has built a career on shocking conversations, insightful interviews, off-color commentary, and edgy theater of the mind. The show was ground-breaking at the time, and shook up radio competition in every market it entered through syndication. Stern famously traveled to cities like Philadelphia, and Cleveland to host mock funerals for the jockeys who had been displaced from the number 1 ratings spot. Stern’s good ratings streak continued, he remained the top dog and a consistent leader. Howard has made a substantial living to say the least, grabbing $500 million for his first 5 year contract, as well as many bonus packages compensated to him. His latest radio contract alone is estimated at $90 million/year for the each of the next 5 years. He recently made headlines as the highest paid performer on TV.
Now we will look at the 10 most shocking moments in Howard Stern’s career.
10. Making Friends with Former Enemies
Back in the 1990s, Stern garnered a lot of attention and popularity with his politically incorrect, every-man dialogue. He also had an army of fans with too much time on their hands, making it their mission to insert Howard Stern’s name (and sometimes a reference to a certain appendage of his) into media broadcasts across the country. Stern also had a staff bent on asking celebrities at press events outrageous, trying questions, and lobbing sometimes cringeworthy (in a good way) personal insults at them, only inches from their faces. Stern has also used his own mouth on plenty of occasions. Over the years Stern has lashed out at politicians, staff and management at his radio station, competing dish jockeys, and high-profile celebrities.
A few examples of this behavior include Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, Kathy Lee Gifford, and years later (in perhaps his shortest feud ever) Lena Dunham. Stern has since made nice with all of these ladies, apologizing to each of them for his rude, unthinkable behavior.
9. The Sybian
Essentially a vibrator attached to a saddle, the Sybian was built with the goal of providing women everywhere the same sexual pleasure they’d get with a man from some kind of mechanical bull apparatus. When Stern moved his program to Sirius Satellite Radio in 2006, his studio was equipped with one of these. Over the Sirius years, many adult film stars, curious employees, and even celebrities have gone for a ride on the Sybian.
8. Dana Plato
Dana Plato was famous for playing the daughter of Mr. Drummond on TV’s Diff’rent Strokes, alongside Gary Coleman. As she grew up, Plato struggled with substance abuse. On May 7, 1999, she appeared on the Howard Stern Show, where she discussed with Stern the troubles in her life and that she is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. When callers pressured her about her drug use she maintained that she had been sober and still is. She even offered to submit a drug test to the show and gave a snippet of hair for testing. However, when the show went to commercial break, Plato reportedly freaked out and begged to get the sample back. “She said, ‘I want my hair back.’ That’s when I knew she was lying,” reported Howard Stern.
The next day, Dana Plato died of a prescription drug overdose. Her death was ruled a suicide. Some criticized Stern immediately after her death, but ultimately he had only interviewed her, and had even defended her against callers’ accusations. Her troubles did not begin that day. Nevertheless, Dana Plato’s interview followed by her death hours later was a shocker.
7. Debbie Tay’s Ashes
Debbie Tay is a woman who had appeared on Stern’s show several times. She was well-known for her stories of encountering alien women and having lesbian affairs with them. She died in 1995 of a heroin overdose. Chauncey Hayden, at that time a contributor to the program, was close with Tay during the last year of her life. He was given some of her remains following the cremation and brought them to the Stern Show. Hayden and Stern then handled the remains and made a comedy bit out of the whole thing. The family sued Stern for $8 million, alleging emotional distress.
6. Kitten Donation Show
When your career highlight reel includes decade’s worth of naked women performing various stunts, giving hot-headed celebrities brutal tongue lashings, controversial dark humor, and the largest fines in FCC history, naturally people will be shocked. But for hardcore fans and followers of Stern and his show, the shock jock topped himself when he devoted an entire hour of his radio broadcast to helping place kittens in foster homes along with his wife, Beth Ostrosky Stern.
5. Parodying Selena’s Death
On March 31, 1995, a Mexican-American singer dubbed the “Queen of Tejano” and the “Tejano Madonna” was shot dead…by a close associate, Yolanda Saldívar. Saldívar started the Selena fan club in their shared home state of Texas. Eventually she came into contact with the singer, working closely with her in a management position; however Saldívar became obsessed with the singer and eventually murdered her.
Robin’s News is the segment during every Stern show in which co-host Robin Quivers reads news stories and provides audio, and Howard, Fred and the crew crack jokes and give their perspectives on the news stories. This feature in its heyday would often be the most captivating part of the broadcast. When Robin reported the story of Selena, of course Howard chimed in with some off-color jokes to make light of the situation, saying, “This music does absolutely nothing for me. Alvin and the Chipmunks have more soul … Spanish people have the worst taste in music. They have no depth.” Stern then played one of her songs while his engineer played sound effects of chickens clucking and gunshots firing. It was the furthest thing from tasteful, but not damning. However, after an uproar an arrest warrant was issued by a Texas court charging him with disorderly conduct, Howard issued an apology on-air the next day, in Spanish no less!
4. Signing with Sirius Satellite Radio
In 2004, Howard Stern’s popularity in radio was solid, however fear of more FCC fines lead CBS Broadcasting to censor the show heavily, sometimes cutting entire segments and chopping bits up in such a way that they had lost all intended meaning and purpose, and just seemed odd. The commercial breaks were also so frequent that they often interrupted the flow of the conversation and forced Howard to cut interviews short at times. This frustrated Howard greatly; these days his interviews range from 50 minutes to 2 hours. As the censorship increased, the offers started coming in from two satellite radio companies. Sirius and XM. Both courted Stern and he eventually wound up signing with Sirius. The move was a highly-publicized story with Yahoo! News covering his final show and running a live video stream.
3. His 4-year stint on America’s Got Talent
In 2011, Stern began to frequently speculate on his joining American Idol as a judge. Stern hyped up his credibility, comparing himself to judges like Ellen Degeneres and trying to build momentum for his hiring. Cowell had another idea in mind. America’s Got Talent was entering its seventh season and needed some re-tooling. The show is reminiscent of The Gong Show, but with a button rather than a gong. The show was relaunched with Howard replacing Piers Morgan as a judge, alongside Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel.
Emails leaked in the Sony hack in December 2014 show that producer Simon Cowell wanted Stern off the show as recently as 2014, suggesting that “the right thing to do” is for Cowell to step in replacing Stern. Although Stern did not deliver blockbuster ratings as may have been expected, he did manage to help carry the show and maintain some viewership, despite analysts expecting the show’s ratings to plunge.
2. Running for Governor
Stern flirted with politics briefly during his career. In 1994, Democratic incumbent Mario Cuomo was running for re-election against Republican George Pataki. Things got interesting when the Libertarian Party agreed to support New York icon Howard Stern as their candidate. Stern’s platforms? Pushing for the death penalty, allocating road work to night hours only, restructuring toll locations to alleviate traffic jams, and the promise of resigning once these goals had been accomplished.
Stern eventually dropped out of the race several months later. He refused to reveal his financial statements, as is required of those who seek public office.
1. Cutting Ties with Artie Lange
In 2001, Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling, a well-established and respected stand up comedian who played sidekick, segment producer, and executive writer on the Stern Show for the majority of its existence, left due to a contract dispute. Stern, feeling jilted when Martling delayed his contract and played politics, decided not to allow for his return, instead auditioning the spot to new comedians and regular guests. Many have sat in the chair but the clear favorite was a comedian from MadTV, a close friend of then regular guest Norm MacDonald. Lange had appeared several times on the show before being offered the opportunity to sit in for a week, and was a popular guest among staff and listeners. Lange himself had been a fan of the show since his youth in New Jersey. Eventually in 2001, Artie Lange replaced Martling permanently, or so it seemed.
During a 2006 segment involving homeless people being given lap dances for free, one of the vagrants began discussing his troubles with heroin. Lange sympathized with the man, and ended up confessing to struggling with heroin addiction himself. The rest of the show developed as somber, emotional discussion about Artie’s demons. From that point on, Artie’s troubles with heroin became a topic of discussion on the show frequently. Over the next few years of his time at the Stern show, jokes about Lange’s drug use were common. Artie would show up to the studio high, and sometimes pass out during the broadcast. There were a few brief periods of absence, and Artie’s “sick” calls were used as on-air fodder as well.
Lange’s behavior was at times erratic. In one segment Lange’s personal assistant/switchboard operator, for another show on the Howard Stern channel, Teddy, was accused of stealing money by Artie and of being unprofessional among other things. Lange ended up throwing something at Teddy and then chasing after him trying to attack. Lange was detained by security until he calmed down, and when he returned he said his goodbyes and exited the building. When the show returned the next week, Artie had returned as well. Sirius and everyone involved were able to look past the incident and allow him to maintain his employment.
In December 2009, Artie Lange attempted to take his own life, stabbing himself nine times with a 13-inch knife. Lange was found by his mother and rushed to the hospital. He survived the suicide attempt, but his relationship with Howard Stern had not. Lange’s suicide attempt and absence from the show went unmentioned by Howard for a long time. Eventually Howard addressed the issue through a caller. The caller, a woman named Dina, asked for “an update on what’s going on with Artie.” Stern snapped on the caller, advising her to go fuck herself and declaring that “I (Howard) will piss on my audience if I want to.
Lange has addressed the issue saying he feels “abandoned” by Stern, and has revealed that he and his former mentor have not spoken since that awful occurrence. Now Lange hosts his own podcast online, without the support of Stern and Lange also revealed that he is no longer welcome on the Stern Show even as a guest to promote his new ventures. Lange has not been replaced, and the seat has been vacant since 2010.