Howard Stern biography
Howard Stern was born on January 12, 1954, in New York City. He brought his signature "shock jock" radio style to New York listeners in 1982 and by 1986 his show went into national syndication. Repeated fines and interference from the FCC eventually drove the self-styled "King of All Media" to satellite radio in 2004. Stern's bestselling 1993 autobiography is titled Private Parts.
Radio disc jockey, author and television talk-show host Howard Allen Stern was born on January 12, 1954, in New York City, the youngest of Ray and Ben Stern's two children. The self-proclaimed "King of All Media" spent the early part of his youth in the mile square town of Roosevelt, Long Island.
Stern's early taste for radio and recording seems to have been inherited from his father, the part-owner of a recording studio who frequently taped his son and daughter on the holidays. The sometimes short-fused father frequently quizzed his children on current events, an open invitation to his young boy to get sarcastic when he didn't know the answers. "So when I asked him these serious questions, he ends up being a wise guy," recalled Ben. "And so I got mad and said, 'Shut up and sit down. Don't be stupid, you moron.'"
Stern showed an early love of not only performing, but also the outrageous. In the basement of the Stern family's Roosevelt home, Howard frequently put together elaborate puppet shows for his friends. The performances had come at the urging of his mother, but Stern quickly gave them his own twist, his marionettes more than living up to his title for the performances: The Perverted Marionette Show. "I took something so innocent and beautiful and really just ruined it," Stern said. "My parents weren't privy to the dirty performances. My friends would beg me for puppet shows."
Stern's love for attention was coupled by his outsider status, an identity he's clung to for much for his career, which settled into his life at a young age. In the largely African-American community of Roosevelt, the white Stern had trouble fitting in. Over the years, Stern has referred to a rough childhood that saw him the target of periodic school fights. One of his best black friends, Stern once recalled, was beaten up for hanging out with him.
In 1969, the Sterns moved to Rockville Centre, a largely white community that seemed completely alien to the 15-year-old high school student. "It wasn't any better in Rockville Centre," Howard Stern wrote in his 1993 best-selling autobiography, Private Parts. "I couldn't adjust at all. I was totally lost in a white community. I felt like Tarzan when they got him out of Africa and brought him back to England."
Howard dominated his high school years by staying close with a few buddies, playing poker and ping-pong. In the fall of 1972, Stern left New York and enrolled at Boston University where the first hints of his future "shock jock" career would make a showing. At BU, Stern volunteered at the college radio station, and got his first taste of the business.
After his debut program, a broadcast that included a racially charged skit called "Godzilla Goes to Harlem" BU cancelled the show.
It was also at BU that Stern met his future first-wife, Alison Berns, whom Stern had chosen to cast in a student film on transcendental meditation. On the couple's first date, Howard treated Alison to a screening of the recently released Dustin Hoffman movie, Lenny, about the late comedian Lenny Bruce.
Following his BU graduation, which saw him finish with a 3.8 GPA and a bachelor's in communications, Stern immediately set out to begin his radio career. His first gig came at a small radio station in Briarcliff Manor, New York, and it was here that it dawned on Stern that he would forever be relegated to a life of mediocrity if he continued on as a straight deejay. "So I started to mess around," he said. "It was unheard-of to mix talking on the phone with playing music. It was outrageous. It was blasphemy."
But it was exactly what Stern wanted to do. So the deejay moved to Hartford, Connecticut, and then Detroit. When the Michigan station changed its format to country and western, Stern fled to Washington, D.C.
In D.C., Stern made significant career inroads. There, he meet Robin Quivers, a newswoman and former Army nurse, who became a part of the Stern radio team ever since. Stern also began developing a reputation for his wild antics. In January 1982, following the crashing of an Air Florida flight into the 14th Street Bridge in D.C., Stern got on the phone and called the airline. "What's the price of a one-way ticket from National Airport to the 14th Street bridge?" he asked. "Is that going to be a regular stop?"
Later that year, Stern moved back to New York after he accepted a job with WNBC-AM. But trouble awaited the deejay before he even got behind the microphone, as his new—and apparently nervous—bosses handed the jock a long list of orders. The list prohibited Stern from using, among other things, "jokes or sketches relating to personal tragedies," as well as "slander, defamation or personal attacks on private individuals or organizations unless they have consented or are a part of the act."
At first, the neutered Stern tried to play nice and follow the station's mandates, but within short time the deejay openly went to war against the station. He began showcasing bits like "Sexual Innuendo Wednesday" and "Mystery Whiz" in which listeners tried to guess who was going to the bathroom. Finally, in 1985, Stern was fired, freeing him to eventually sign on with the New York City-based WXRK, better known as K-ROCK.
The Howard Stern Show
At the new station, Stern took his radio career to new, pioneering heights, confronting two of his favorite subjects—race and sex—in controversial ways. To the surprise of radio executives but not hard-core fans, Stern, seated in the station's morning slot, knocked off WNBC's Don Imus to claim the ratings mantle. A year after his arrival, Stern took the unprecedented step of syndicating his show, allowing him to break into other big markets like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and eventually Los Angeles, New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Dallas, Boston and Chicago.
Armed with an identifiable and talented on-air team that included Quivers, as well as producer Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate, writer Fred Norris, and stand-up comic/writer Jackie "the Jokeman" Martling, Stern proved to be a ratings force. By 1993, he was in 14 markets and claimed some 3 million daily listeners.
Much of it was tied to the show's fearless approach. In one memorable instance in 1992, Stern deployed correspondent "Stuttering" John Melendez to a Gennifer Flowers press conference in which she planned to take questions from reporters about her alleged affair with then-Presidential candidate Bill Clinton. To the dismay of his "colleagues" at the event, Melendez didn't hold back, asking Flowers if Clinton practiced safe sex and whether she planned on sleeping with any other candidates.
Stern's popularity was taken to new heights soon after with the release of his autobiography, Private Parts, a detailed, funny look at his Stern's life that also served to pay homage to his wife Alison, her patience with him, and the job she'd done to raise their three daughters, Emily Beth (b. 1983), Deborah Jennifer (b. 1986) and Ashley Jade (b. 1993). With more than 500,000 copies in print its first month, Private Parts proved to be the fastest-selling book in Simon & Schuster's 70-year publishing history. After taking the top spot atop The New York Times bestseller list in October 1993, it remained there for a full month. Five years later, the book was turned into a successful movie starring Stern himself.
The increased success and salary (by 1995, Stern was reported to be earning $8 million a year from just the radio program), hardly constrained Stern. Instead, it seemed to only unleash more of the very things that had made him successful. Following the death of Tejano singer Selena, Stern mocked the star by playing gunfire over the performer's music. In addition, Stern went to say that "Spanish people have the worst taste in music," prompting protests and a warrant for his arrest by the justice of the peace in Harlingen, Texas. Stern later apologized for the comments.
Four years later, another firestorm erupted when, just a day after the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999, Stern questioned why the killers didn't try and have sex with some of the girls before they shot them. The Colorado State Legislature issued a censure against the shock jock.
Of course, Stern's behavior didn't just catch the attention of a portion of the radio listening in public. He also proved to be far from popular with the Federal Communications Commission, too. By 2005, the FCC had levied some $2.5 million in fines against Stern's employers.
Final Straw for Clear Channel
Stern, though, is a lesson in contrasts. For all his bravado and wild behavior, he is by his own admission an insecure person, whose self-deprecating humor factors greatly into his show. "Maybe it was the way I was raised, or something, but I always feel like I'm garbage," he told The New Yorker in 1997. "I think what it comes down to, and maybe this is a personality flaw again, a character flaw, but I could to a book signing and see twenty thousand people out there and I don't feel great from that.
Which is a shame. You'd think that that kind of adulation would make you feel on top of the world. And yet I don't. I don't know why."
He's also more of a quiet personality off the radio than might be assumed. His first wife, Alison, whom he divorced in 2001, has praised him as a father and, even today, Stern is more than happy to stay home and play chess rather than hit the clubs or socialize with other entertainment superstars.
But criticism is a constant in his life. In early 2004, Clear Channel, then the country's largest radio station chain, pulled the plug on Stern after an especially contentious show that saw the use of a racial slur from a call-in listener and featured Rick Solomon, Paris Hilton's ex-boyfriend and the man involved in her infamous sex video, describing in detail his relationship with the famous socialite. The resulting fines, and the further fights with the FCC over control of his show, set the stage for Stern to leave terrestrial radio for good. In 2005, he signed a $500 million deal with Sirius Satellite Radio. He began broadcasting exclusively on the subscription-based radio service on January 9, 2006.
Move to Satellite
Freed from the constraints of the FCC rules, Stern's show has taken his shock jock formula into new territory. It's also made him wildly wealthy. In addition to his contract, Stern also helped catapult satellite radio's popularity. In 2005, Sirius boasted 2.2 million new subscribers, a 190 percent increase from 2004. The better than expected numbers netted Stern roughly $200 million in Sirius stock.
Stern, who's said that the last 10 years under the FCC made him "hate" going to work, has sounded and felt refreshed since making the move to satellite. He signed on for another five years in 2010. But it hasn't all be smooth sailing for the shock jock and the satellite radio giant. He engaged in a legal battle with Sirrus, which merged with satellite rival XM in 2008, over stock rewards in 2010. He claimed that the company owed his production company and his agent $330 million. A judge threw out the suit in 2012, and Stern plans to appeal the ruling.
Even if he leaves satellite radio, Stern appears to have a future in television. He has signed on to be a judge of the popular competition America's Got Talent. Some of the show's tapings have moved to New York to accommodate Stern. "Everyone thinks he's going to come in really outrageous," said fellow judge Sharon Osbourne. "He comes to us with great experience, especially about music."
Stern is married to model Beth Ostrosky. The couple wed in October 2008 in a ceremony at a restaurant in Manhattan. The guest list included longtime friends Barbara Walters, Billy Joel, John Stamos, Joan Rivers, Donald Trump and Sarah Silverman.