Taking Howard Stern seriously

The last interview you'll ever need to read with radio's greatest, loudest talker--and, just maybe, Hollywood's newest movie star

When the settlement was reached with Infinity, FCC chairman Reed Hundt issued a statement proclaiming victory: "The settlement...represents the largest amount ever contributed to the U.S. Treasury by a broadcast station licensee."

Commissioner James Quello--a former newsman and a self-proclaimed regular listener who, four years ago, said Stern had "tamed" his act--issued a statement through the agency that hinted Infinity had acknowledged Stern's licentious actions by paying up. "I am...encouraged," Quello wrote, "that the ownership of Infinity itself has taken positive and concrete steps to more carefully train, supervise, and monitor its on-the-air personnel."

A month later, Stern was back in the FCC's bad graces with a broadcast about having sex with his wife. According to government transcripts, it was an exhaustive broadcast that included references to anal sex, vibrators, and lubricants ("the vibrator disappeared"), black music (or "Negro race music," as Stern calls it, "because to me, that's the music you have sex to...this music was so rhythmic a Mongoloid could feel the beat"), and oral sex. It's the sort of fodder that regularly fills four hours every single weekday, a peek behind the curtains at the Stern house.

"They're funny, aren't they?" Stern says of the FCC's transcripts of his show. "I mean, you read through them, and you just giggle. That was my perception with the book [Private Parts], that if you could somehow get it onto paper, it would look funny. It's harmless."

In reality, the monetary amounts of the fines are secondary to the larger issue of how the FCC uses the citations against Stern to refuse to grant Infinity Broadcasting licenses in other markets; documents obtained from the commission show that the FCC slowed Infinity from obtaining stations in Dallas and L.A., among other cities.

During a speech delivered March 17, 1994, before the Federal Communications Bar Association in Washington, Quello explained that if the FCC were to continue granting new licenses to Infinity, that might be "misinterpreted as the FCC endorsing Infinity and Howard Stern's actions, [and] I believe it is antithetical to the public interest to authorize additional stations for probable dissemination of gross indecency and possibly obscene broadcasts by Stern." However, not all Infinity stations broadcast Stern--and not all of Stern's affiliates are Infinity licensees.

Infinity tried, on several occasions, to take the FCC to court: The broadcasting corporation tried to goad the commission into proving Stern was legally obscene and indecent, which is supposed to be determined by a particular community's standards. But the FCC never called the bluff; instead, the government agency engaged in what Stern calls "blackmail," holding up Infinity's licenses until the company paid the exorbitant fines.

"They should have brought me to court," Stern says. "That would have been the honorable thing to do. If they think I am doing something indecent or obscene, take me to court, and I should be in jail if I'm broadcasting indecent material. They never did. Infinity begged them to go to court. We kept filing papers saying we will go to court, but what happened was they delayed all of that for years, and they blackmailed Infinity. They cost them millions and millions of dollars.

"I don't know why this doesn't disturb journalists. I don't read about this. The United States government can't use blackmail in one situation through a government agency to get you to do something in a whole other scenario. What they did was unthinkable. And where were my fellow broadcasters? Where the fuck were these people? Where were the journalists? They think, 'Oh, I'm not gonna go to bat for Howard Stern. If it was Dan Rather who was having a First Amendment situation, we would go to bat for him.' Well, Dan Rather isn't gonna have a First Amendment issue. Dan Rather's not gonna test the envelope of free speech."

Gary Dell'Abate is perhaps the best known of Stern's associates. The producer of Stern's radio show, the man who actually keeps the runaway train if not on the tracks then at least near them, the large-toothed Dell'Abate has become sort of the show's mascot--"Baba Booey" he is called, so named because he once mispronounced the name of cartoon character Baba Looey, and the name stuck. "Baba Booey" has become something of a mantra among the show's die-hards: Whenever Stern fans crank-call television programs such as Today, they almost always spout "Baba Booey" as code. He's also been fired by Stern a dozen times on the air--and yet Stern referred to him in the book Private Parts as "my main man."

Dell'Abate recalls the moment he realized Stern had transcended stardom and become a true celebrity. It occurred during the 1993 Private Parts book signing in Manhattan, when Stern closed down an entire Manhattan block. "I rode over with Howard to his very first book signing," Dell'Abate says. "And Howard had no idea. We got stuck on Fifth Avenue six blocks before the bookstore, and we're thinking there must be an accident up ahead. And when we got two blocks away and we saw the crowd, that's when it started to hit him that that's what was going on. As we got closer, as we got about a block away, everybody surrounded the limo and started pounding on the roof. It was like the Beatles! I got scared, because they were out of their minds. "All you could see was a sea of bodies, and I remember thinking, 'He's fuckin' big now, man. Wow!'"

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