Sunday, December 28, 2008

Now The New York Times catches up with Tabloid Baby's coverage of Howard Stern's irrelevance and probable return to free radio

We've been discussing the disappearance and irrelevance of former radio star Howard Stern for about three years now, since he abandoned his loyal audience for a cashout in the private world of pay satellite radio. All signs have pointed to Stern's eventual return to free radio and this year's proliferation of free Internet radio is hastening the eventuality.

The Los Angeles Times followed our lead in October. This morning, the New York Times shared the writing on the wall.

Some highlights:

The New York Times
December 28, 2008

Satellite Radio Still Reaches for the Payday


DID you hear what Howard Stern said the other day? Neither did we. But we read about it on a blog.

Mr. Stern, the ribald radio jock who once commanded attention with each off-color utterance and obscene joke, mused recently on the air that he was thinking of retiring when his contract expires in two years. “This is my swan song,” he said.

Back in the day when Mr. Stern was on free radio and had an audience of 12 million, that remark would have cascaded through the media universe. But by switching to satellite radio three years ago, Mr. Stern swapped cultural cachet for big money.

Then — poof! — Mr. Stern all but disappeared. Even Jay Leno, during a recent interview with The New York Times about his decision to stay at NBC to host a prime-time show, cited Mr. Stern as an example of the dangers of obscurity.

…Mr. Stern’s retirement chatter did get one group talking: investors fretting over the fate of Sirius XM Radio, the satellite radio company that has been Mr. Stern’s home for the past three years.

Today, five months after regulators approved a merger of Sirius and XM, satellite radio’s pioneers and former rivals, in a deal that was supposed to deliver their industry to the promised land of profits and permanence, the company faces an uncertain future.

Although Mr. Stern brought listeners and prominence to Sirius, the move had a steep cost. His blockbuster, $500 million, five-year deal fueled a high-stakes competition between the two services that contributed to Sirius XM’s current bind.

…The company has never turned a profit and cannot predict when it ever will. Cap that with the struggles of Detroit — the bulk of new satellite radio subscribers come from partnerships with automakers — and you have a set of obstacles that Sirius XM has to overcome at the very moment the recession seems to be deepening.

The satellite radio industry… is facing a media environment that is shifting toward cheaply distributed content over the Internet.

…Who needs satellites… when the world is wired for broadband and Wi-Fi?

Mel Karamzin, the combative, longtime radio man who is the company’s chief executive… asks: “Would I like to have seen Howard get less money? Yes. But I think any company that deals with content would say the same thing.”

Mr. Karmazin, when asked if he thinks Mr. Stern has lost his place in the culture, says: “I think the size of the audience is less today. And I think one of the things Howard was looking forward to with the merger is that we’ll have twice as many subscribers potentially available to listen to him.”

Mr. Stern declined to be interviewed for this article, but his travails are emblematic of satellite radio and Sirius XM’s own shrinking horizons.

It seems that if Mr. Stern were to stay beyond his current contract, which expires at the end of 2010, he would have to accept less money, given the finances of the company and the fact that there are no longer two satellite radio companies battling each other…

“I’m starting to think that he might actually retire,” says Mark Mercer, who since the mid-1990s has written a daily blog about the Stern show, which has become a nearly minute-by-minute account of each program.

…Even Mr. Mercer, as diehard a Stern fan as there is, acknowledges that Mr. Stern’s gig doesn’t have the same influence it once did.

“Once you get used to hearing it on Sirius, it’s not as shocking as it was when you heard him on terrestrial radio and they’d be bleeping him out,” he says.

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