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Lunchtime Briefing: Howard Stern Online

Frank Ahrens

Earlier this year, self-proclaimed King Of All Media Howard Stern left over-the-air radio for Sirius satellite radio, becoming the first mega-star to abandon Old Media for New Media.

Now, he's taking his act global by going online: Keep the kids away from the PC!

Sirius is offering a free, two-day online trial of the subscription service on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 25 and 26. The hope is that people will sign up for the free trial and like the service enough to pay $12.95 per month to keep it. (If you want a non-online version of Sirius--or its rival, Washington's XM--you have to buy a special radio receiver.)

Stern and his bawdy daily show is being offered as an extra enticement. That is, if you consider flatulence sound effects and live radio nudity enticement. But really, who doesn't?

The TV ads touting the two-day trial say that Stern left radio and "millions" followed. Now, "billions" can hear him on the Internet.

There's some truthiness to that statement.

Sirius finished 2005 with 3.3 million subscribers. Stern began his show in January. Earlier this month, Sirius was up to 5.1 million subscribers. (XM Satellite Radio has 7 million subscribers. XM, has provided online service to its subscribers since October 2004. Also, folks can buy an online-only version of XM, with fewer channels, for $7.99 per month.)

How much of Sirius's subscriber growth can be attributed to Stern is debatable. But why let facts get in the way of a good commercial?

I used to cover radio for The Post's Style section, and I always thought the three best radio broadcasters, in no particular order, are Rush Limbaugh, Paul Harvey and Stern. Each one loves radio and is a master at using it, material aside.

That said, if I had a kid, I wouldn't let him listen to Stern. Especially on satellite radio, which is not policed by the Federal Communications Commission for potential indecency violations. His act, which made him the most-fined broadcaster in FCC history when he was on over-the-air radio, has gotten raunchier now that the cuffs are off. (Or perhaps on, given the content of some of his shows.)

I signed up for the two-day trial to see if there were any parental safeguards. The only one I could see was the boilerplate that said that by clicking a button, I certified I was over 18. Yeah, okay. About as effective as the beer company Web sites that make you enter your birth date before you enter.

The two-day trial is the latest punch in the Sirius-XM satellite wars and comes as some Wall Street analysts are warning that the newish satellite radio market (XM launched in 2001) is already maturing, with subscriber growth flattening.

(Disclosure alert: I've been an XM subscriber since December 2001.)

By Frank Ahrens  |  October 23, 2006; 10:04 AM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
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Comments

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XM's Opie & Anthony have been available online and for free for a year or more. And there is nothing to stop children from access it, either.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 23, 2006 11:11 AM

I am a 35 yr old married female and longtime Howard and rock music fan. I have had subscriptions to both XM and to Sirius, and I find that I prefer Sirius both for the music selection and for Howard. I do not have small children so I don't have to worry about parental blockers, but I have many mom friends who do listen to Howard while broadcasting Sirius to an FM walkman.

I love Howard because every single day he makes me laugh. When I turn on his show, I feel like I am in a room with old friends. His show is replayed all day and on weekends--I find myself listening for about 20 minutes in the morning and then I end my day with him as I fall asleep. The best part is that this TV season has been so disappointing, that I often find myself turning on Howard at 8 or 9:00 like it's the 1930s.

With the music stations, I love that Sirius uses DJs and that many happen to be DJs from my youth growing up listening to KRock and WNEW in New York.

I encourage anyone who loves music or has enjoyed Howard as a guilty pleasure in the past to check out the freebie and evaluate everything about the channels. My favorite music station is 18--the Spectrum.

Posted by: ArtieLover | October 23, 2006 12:14 PM

Undeniably, Sirius' growth is fueled primarily by Howard. "Sirius finished 2005 with 3.3 million subscribers" - yes, and they had less than a million at the start of that year. Millions of those subscribers were there waiting for Howard. Sirius' estimate is that bout 2.9 million subscribers listen to Howard eacxh day - that seems conservative actually.

I listen each day and find Howard's show stronger than ever before, a blast, and well worth the money.

Posted by: Scott McFarland | October 23, 2006 12:21 PM

I wouldn't allow my children to listen to Rush.

Posted by: DC | October 23, 2006 1:25 PM

Frank- I always found you to be a boring, stuffy blowhard in your Post columns. I see that nothing has changed! Sirius was around for several years and had only 600,000 subscribers when Howard announced his move to satellite. Now after only 10 months of Stern on the air, Sirius has over 5 million subscribers and growing rapidly. Yet you seem hesitant to give Howard credit. I don't know of any other major changes at Sirius content wise. Nascar doesn't start until next year. It's pretty obvious that Howard is responsible and if you don't believe me just watch how many people sgn up over the holidays after this promotion. Sirius will overtake XM in subscribers very shortly.

You rate Howard as one of your top 3 radio broadcasters and yet repeatedly insult him in one way or another in this column. Just stick to reporting the facts (ratings etc). No one is really interested in your opinion anyway. The public will decide what's good and what shows will be successful. For the past 20 years or so the public has clearly chosen Howard Stern.

Posted by: Checkmate | October 23, 2006 2:26 PM

I almost got XM a few years ago for baseball but it was not enough when i could get the content in many other places. Stern however was enough to get me to purchase Sirius. The best part is I have found that you get a whole lot more than Stern. Sirius as a whole has been great. Have not listened to terrestrial since.

Posted by: Kenny | October 23, 2006 2:48 PM

Rush Limpd!(k is far worse than Stern. At least Stern is true about who he is while Rush preaches one thing and does another.

Posted by: Kenny | October 23, 2006 2:55 PM

Here are the earplugs, kids!

Posted by: The Ralph Show | October 23, 2006 2:58 PM

You disclosed you're an XM Subscriber. Do you pay for the subscription? Or is it free like DCRTV Dave's?

Posted by: J. Jackson | October 23, 2006 3:13 PM

Good point, J. Jackson. I should have said I am a PAYING XM subscriber and have been since sign-up.
Further, in case you're wondering, no Post Business reporter can own stocks (outside of mutual funds) of companies we cover or companies in sectors we cover.
Thanks for reading.

Posted by: Frank Ahrens | October 23, 2006 3:29 PM

I love Rush Limbaugh. You are definitely right in your opinion; Rush is #1.

Posted by: K. Cameron | October 24, 2006 12:45 AM

The only thing Rush is #1 at is being a hypocrite. Isn't he the guy who said all drug abusers should be thrown in jail, and yet when it was disclosed that he was illegally using prescription drugs he got a high priced lawyer to get him off? I guess he meant only the poor drug users should go to jail. HYPOCRITE!

Posted by: Checkmate | October 24, 2006 7:39 AM

Rush is a major hypocrite and that is why I stopped listening to him and started listening to Jim Kramer and Penn Gillette!

Posted by: No-Life | October 24, 2006 8:58 AM

"Checkmate's" post above is right on. I'm always amazed at the beating Howard takes by the press. To quote the author "if you consider flatulence sound effects and live radio nudity enticement. But really, who doesn't?" Howard's show is much more complex than farting and if these so called critics would take the time to listen to his show, they might get it. Many professionals, like myself, are long time listeners, and we appreciate Howard's intelligence, candor, and politics. There isn't an entertainer around who is in his league. He can provide 4-5 hours of content every day that's hilarious, provocative and innovative. Of course he isn't perfect and a lot of bits fail, but he is unique. Also, get your facts straight. Sirius subsribers went from 600k to 5 million because of Stern. With internet access, this could potentially reach 10-20 million within 6-12 months. I don't think any other entertainer around could command that kind of audience.

Posted by: Physician in PA | October 24, 2006 9:22 AM

Rush Limbaugh, Paul Harvey and Stern...in no particular order!?!?

Frank, Frank, Frank...

Posted by: P. Pendergast | October 24, 2006 9:46 AM

"Physician in PA" makes a very important point. Howard's talent and appeal goes way beyond fart jokes or nudity. He's the most successful broadcaster in history. Hundreds if not thousands of other DJ's attempt to copy him and frequently blatantly rip him off. If all he did was fart jokes then we'd all be radio superstars. Clearly he has something special that sets him apart from all the wannabe Stern clones. Those of us who listen everyday (in my case for over 20 years)understand this.

Frank- I would expect such a lame stereotypical critique of Stern's style from an average non-listener. But you're supposedly a professional writer who understands radio and is paid to comment on the industry. This is the best you can do?

Posted by: Checkmate | October 24, 2006 9:59 AM

Hoo-hoo, they're ripping me off. Howard is a hack who is past his prime and no longer funny. I listened to Horward for 16 years. Once Opie and Anthony came to XM I dropped Howard in an instant. I have not missed him at all. Did anybody stop and think that Sirius is offering the free trial due to the fact that Howard has not driven subscriptions the way they had hoped? Keep drinking the Howard Kool-Aid if you believe he actually drove subscriptions from 600K to their current level.

Posted by: Grady from the Overlook | October 24, 2006 12:04 PM

Grady- Your comments are absurd! The Wall Street Journal said a million fans would need to sign up to make the Stern contract a good deal for Sirius. Obviously a lot more people have signed up. If people aren't signing up for Howard then what is it? The Opera? If it's just for music then why Sirius over XM since the music is about the same. And if O&A are so great, then how come Sirius has signed up more subscribers for 4 straight quarters? XM is rapidly losing their market share and will soon be overtaken by Sirius. Where's the millions of O&A fans?

All companies do promotions, particularly right before Christmas. XM is in the middle of a major ad campaign right now as well. You'd have to be a complete idiot to not understand that. And can you honestly say that you don't see Stern's influence on radio and TV. Not only have I seen and heard Stern clones, I've seen them rip off his exact bits. One of the funniest was when a Chinese DJ was reading a transcript of the Stern show word for word and thought he would get away with it because it was in another language. He failed but it made for hilarious listening the next morning on Howards show.

The Stern show is now as strong as I've ever heard it in over twenty years of listening. Plus we get to hear the old classic tapes replayed and they're funnier than ever because it's now uncensored. Both the new show and the old tapes run 24 hours a day on two channels in addition to other content. So if you miss something in the morning you can catch it later.

It's the best deal in radio free or otherwise, and that includes the lame Dopey and Anthony show!

Posted by: Checkmate | October 24, 2006 12:56 PM

Having listened to Howard for 20+ years, I am always amazed by writers such as this guy that find it so even handed to only describe Stern based on the more salacious parts of his show / career.

Take Howards T&A act out of his show and whats left is what and why people have been tuning in for 20+ years. His skills as both a comic, conversationalist and an interviewer best some of the biggest names in the business. Clearly as a broadcast talent he has orchestrated a show / format and a career that surpasses anything in radio, especially in the Radio Lame Zone called Washington DC. In short, you dont pay $500MM to a guy with no talent.

Why is it that so many print writers, with no chops for broadcasting, denegrate Stern. No one says that you need to like him, but if he were so vile and useless, he would have never atrracted, let alone maintained an audience of multi-millions that is now set to become global.

So please keep your children away from the 2 free days of Stern on the internet, but while you are at it, keep them away from half of the mentally debilitating crap on regular and cable TV. It's that type of programming that is harming your kids more than Stern ever will. But lets not go there, because it might offend some advertisers of the Post.

Please take up that mantle first, before opting in for the ever popular cheap shot at Stern. Do your readers a favor and use some of your talent for the big issues first.

In closing, here is a guy, like him or not, that is blazing a new trail. Like him or not it will be interesting to watch.

For the record, I subscribe to both Sirius and XM,

Posted by: Steve in McLean | October 24, 2006 1:36 PM

XM appears to have been given up. I dont see XM advertising anywhere. Sirius on the otherhand is becoming synonimous with satellite radio..what happened to XM? I can't stand Howard Stern, but as a Sirius investor..there is no denying his brand, and what he has done for Sirius.

Posted by: Jason Entorini | October 24, 2006 6:04 PM

Grow up-- satellite radio is the best idea since the internet; mainly because of the freedom and honesty of idea's and thought, found nowhere else in media outlets today. I really don't think your kid's have anything to fear listening to Howard Stern when all they have to do is turn on Fox or CNN and see young student's shot dead by school violence. Stern's show is simply good natured, albeit baudy humor, that help young people (and old) cope with the crazy state of the world today. Grow up.

Posted by: willi | October 24, 2006 6:21 PM

Willi is absolutely right. Also, most of the children use the kind of language that is worse than what you hear on Stern. It is the "grown ups" who have to grow up and face the reality in the world.

Posted by: brooklyn | October 24, 2006 8:42 PM

The reason Howard Stern became so successful is because of the taboo/rebellious nature of his show. People were always wondering what Howard would do next and how much he could get away with and whether or not he would get into trouble. Unfortunately now all of that is gone. Yes he has his zealot fans but he'll always have problem generating new listeners in the absence of controversey. There is no controversey. People dont want to pay to hear him uncensored. The younger generation doesnt care about him. I personally think his show was funnier when it was on the public airwaves.

Howard was able to cash in at the opportune time, at the top of the satellite bubble.
If you believe that he left for any other reason than $500 million you are definitely drinking the kool-aid.

This latest move to offer two free days over the web is obviously a sign of desperation. It is clear that the original model isnt working like SIRIUS had wished.

Posted by: Bone | October 24, 2006 9:30 PM

XM needs some sort of counter for the "Stern Effect" which has let Sirius outsell them in the retail sector for 5 quarters straight. The buying public obviously saw Oprah's recycled content as littlre more than a marketing stunt. But XM doesn't have any other large names that can do an entertaining morning show to compete with Stern. The problem is, Stern really doesn't have any competition. Everyone who's gone up against him as failed. The only personality that has come close is "Bubba The Love Sponge" who did fairly well in Southern demos before getting fired. And now he works for Stern!

Posted by: Lil Jimmy | October 25, 2006 12:02 AM

Hey Bone,

You must work for XM or terrestrial radio because your comments are laughable propaganda. You claim Howard needs controversy to be successful and that no one wants to hear him uncensored? That's absurd. It was frustrating having him constantly edited on regular radio. His show was chopped up like swiss cheese by censors. And not just for certain words but even overall subject matter. Imagine watching your favorite movie and having all the risque parts taken out. If that's what you want move to China. The Stern show is funnier than ever.They even play the old classic tapes uncensored and it's funnier than the first time we heard them.

A lot of the stuff he did early in his career is no longer allowed by the FCC and/or nervous station owners. Thank god for satellite radio!!

Howard already had plenty of money and would have retired if not for satellite. He's already achieved tremendous success on regular radio for over twenty years. Why would he stay around and deal with stupid censorship and possibly being personally fined. That's a bunch of BS.

Stop your propaganda and face the facts. Howard signed the biggest deal in show business AND got complete artistic freedom in the process. He can do anything he wants creatively and he has two 24 hr per day channels to broadcast on. Compare that to what he had on terrestrial radio and it's clear why he moved to satellite. He's got his cake and gets to eat it too! Good for him, he deserves it and we Sirius subscribers get the fun of joining him for the ride. Too bad for you that you don't get it.

Posted by: Checkmate | October 25, 2006 10:15 AM

Some notes concerning XM. Anybody can get a free 3 day trial online of XM just by signing up via XM's website anytime. If you don't want to buy a receiver you can get an online only account for $7.99 or free with a normal subscription.

Posted by: James | October 25, 2006 2:31 PM

HOWARD STERN IS THE SHIZZZNIZZLE!!!!!!!!!!!!! F U ALL you think other wise.>. YEA!! SIRIUS ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! F U PETE!!!

Posted by: Artie is a Lard | October 25, 2006 5:01 PM

Rock on Howard! I look forward to the on-air funeral that Howard will be throwing for O&A when Sirius gets more subscribers than XM, which will be very shortly.

Posted by: schoolboy2000us | October 26, 2006 5:43 PM

James said "Some notes concerning XM. Anybody can get a free 3 day trial online of XM just by signing up via XM's website anytime. If you don't want to buy a receiver you can get an online only account for $7.99 or free with a normal subscription."

And even still, they continue to lose market share to Sirius. Why? Because XM & O&A suck!

Posted by: schoolboy2000us | October 26, 2006 5:45 PM

Does anybody realize that even if Sirius passes XM in subs O and A will still have more listeners than Howard? Satellite is the wave of the future but for now terrestrial radio pulls in the big #'s.

Posted by: Grady from the Overlook | October 30, 2006 6:16 PM

Hey Grady,

Nobody cares if O&A have more terrestrial radio listeners. When Howard was on terrestrial radio he had more listeners in more markets than O&A could ever dream of having. Not to mention Howard was #1 or close in almost every major city nationwide. I believe Howard was #1 in NY for over 10 years!

But Howard was sick of dealing with censorship and long commercial breaks and he chose to move to a smaller audience so that he could do exactly what he wanted on the radio with zero censorship. And he got paid 500 million to do it! What a deal! A ton of cash AND total artistic freedom.
O&A didn't have that kind of deal with XM and were failing. That's why they had to go back to terrestrial radio in desperation. And now Sirius is about to overtake XM even with O&A plugging XM on all those terrestrial radio stations. Obviously it's not working for them or XM. That's because they suck and the management at XM sucks. One dumb decision after another. I wouldn't be shocked if Sirius overtakes XM by the end of the year. If not it'll be soon after.

Posted by: Photomaniac | October 31, 2006 11:00 AM

Looks like the Sirius/Howard Stern internet promotion was a smashing success!

According to Hitwise data, traffic to the Sirius.com website on Oct. 25 was up 91% compared to the week before (Oct. 18) and up 201% vs. same day a year ago. The score for Sirius in Yahoo's Buzz Index, which uses a scoring system to measure searches on Yahoo, jumped 78% on this past Oct. 25 over the Monday before and searches for Howard Stern surged 51% over the same weekly period.

So for those such as "Bone", who posted above that it was an "act of desperation", I guess you were wrong. Way wrong! Loud wrong!!

Bone, stick to your day job handing out french fries at the drive-thru window.

Posted by: photomaniac | November 2, 2006 10:34 AM

Howard rocks! I subscribed to Sirius last May without knowing he was the main draw. Now, I'm addicted.

I have listened to Opie and Anthony on my computer and they suck hard. No imagination. No creativity. No team. They suck.

Posted by: Big Mike | November 4, 2006 3:02 PM

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