Stern is Sirius-ly rockin'

January 7, 2007

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New York Daily News -
Stern is Sirius-ly rockin'...

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

In the year since Howard Stern made his $500 million jump from free radio to Sirius Satellite Radio, he's been acting happier than a kid who got a box of brand-new strippers for Christmas.

"Radio had stopped being fun for me and now it is again," Stern recently said about his new world, free from FCC content restrictions. "This will save radio."

Less euphoric since Stern's Sirius debut last Jan. 9 is CBS Radio, which had to replace Stern on several dozen major stations, including WXRK, now WFNY (92.3 FM), in New York.

"No radio company has ever had to fill this kind of ratings and revenue void all at once," CBS CEO Joel Hollander said at the time.

He warned that it would take time, which it has, and CBS would suffer a revenue dip, which it did, and there would be stumbles, which there were.

David (Diamond Dave) Lee Roth, hired to replace Stern on WFNY, turned into a lump of coal in three months.

WFNY shares its current morning team, Opie and Anthony, ironically, with the other satellite radio company, XM.

And Stern's departure has scattered broadcast radio's morning audience.

In New York, Luis Jimenez and Moonshadow of WSKQ (97.9 FM) moved in and made history as the first Spanish language show to take the No. 1 spot. Jimenez promptly jumped to Univision, which owns rival station WCAA (105.9 FM), for a reported doubling of his $2.5 million salary.

Elvis Duran of WHTZ (100.3 FM) and Steve Harvey of WBLS (107.5 FM) thrived. Roth flopped and Star at WWPR (105.1 FM) was fired, despite strong ratings, for an offensive on-air remark.

But most radio people say they had bigger things to worry about in 2006 than Stern - because, first of all, Stern got smaller when he left most of his 10 million listeners behind.

"Howard's in a golden cage," says Tom Taylor, editor of the trade magazine Inside Radio. "He's doing very well for himself and for Sirius, but you don't hear as much about him as you used to. From the radio industry perspective, he's very much off the radar."

Sirius ended the year with just over 6 million subscribers and XM a little over 7.6 million. Skeptics have noted that's a small fraction of the 224 million "free" radios in the country.

But Sirius added 2.7 million subscribers this year, an 82% jump fueled heavily by Stern, while XM added 1.7 million.

"Satellite is doing great," says Eric Logan, XM executive vice president of programming. "We're a company with 7.6 million paying subscribers and close to a billion dollars in revenue, which are not numbers you can ignore."

Stern's jump also focused attention on satellite's spending spree for "brand name" content, like Martha Stewart and the NFL on Sirius or Oprah, Bob Dylan and Major League Baseball on XM.

Neither company is profitable yet, but Taylor says the hired guns have put satellite ahead in compelling radio content. "We're syndicating Opie and Anthony and Bob Edwards back to terrestrial radio," he says. "That's unprecedented."

Still, most people in radio say the big question for radio in 2007 and beyond goes well past terrestrial vs. satellite.

Within a few years, say Taylor, Ross and media consultant Robert Unmacht of iN3 Partners, today's radio will morph into a device that will offer almost infinite content from radio, the Internet and other sources around the world.

"Wireless broadband," says Ross, "will mean you can punch buttons on your car radio between Z100 and Capitol Radio in London."

"You may still have to wait a half hour outside the Lincoln Tunnel in 2015," says Taylor. "But your radio will bring you the world."

Earth-bound radio's biggest mistake this past year, then, says Unmacht, was failing to take steps that could secure its unique place in that exploding media landscape.

"What radio stations do best is be local," he says. "But this year, in New York and other cities, stations fired local deejays and replaced them with syndicated hosts or voice-tracking.

"What radio should have done in response to satellite and Stern is become more local. Instead, it went the other way."

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