About 100 reporters and photographers are milling around the plush Sirius Satellite Radio reception area in midtown Manhattan, waiting to be ushered into a press conference to document Howard Stern’s first day on satellite. Omelets are being served. Cappuccino is being poured. And we’re all listening to a woman describe the details of putting finger after finger up a man’s ass.
The new Howard Stern Show — the one he has been dying to share with America since he first took to the air 25 years ago — is being piped into the room. The idle chatter of the media is muffled as the audio play builds to a climax. The Associated Press reporter sitting next to me noticeably winces as the Stern regular they call "Evil Dave Letterman" asks sex-talk queen Heidi Cortez for the whole fist.
The theater of the mind has returned with a vengeance.
Fed up with the FCC’s murky guidelines as to what qualifies as indecent, Stern announced in the fall of 2004 that he was leaving "terrestrial" airwaves for a five-year, $500 million deal on Sirius satellite radio. He served out the rest of his contract with Infinity Broadcasting (which syndicated his show in 45 markets), but the last months of the show were strained. Old bits could no longer be played for fear of fines in the post-Janet’s-breast-at-the-Super-Bowl world. Strippers and porn stars, staples of Stern’s show, were noticeably absent. Eventually, the show devolved into one giant commercial for Sirius. Stern couldn’t wait to bust out.
On Monday, Stern busted.
Inside the new studio, custom-built for the show, Stern sat behind a massive U-shaped desk. To his left, sidekick Artie Lange and sound-effects man Fred Norris flanked the show’s writers and new addition, announcer George (Captain Sulu) Takei; newswoman Robin Quivers sat in a glass booth in front of Stern while a mass of robotic cameras for his on-demand cable-TV network swiveled overhead. All the goodies from the old studio, such as the Tickle Chair, Robospanker, and Wheel of Sex, stood guard to Stern’s right, next to a mirrored bookcase filled with show relics like the Gary Puppet (modeled after producer Gary Dell’ Abate), as well as bottles and bottles of vodka.
Stern’s first order of business was to address a rumor that he and long-time girlfriend Beth Ostrosky had gotten married over the holidays. He told everyone they had, only to recant, admitting that he was playing a joke on the staff (sort of a strange way to kick things off for a man who prizes honesty on the air). He then listed the darkest secrets of 11 members of the staff (which included masturbating while watching family members urinate, and sex with meat and vegetables), which would be matched to the confessor on a later show, and discussed varieties of oral and anal sex with Takei. All uncensored. You could hear the glee in Stern’s voice. The X-rated candy-store window he had pressed his nose up against for the last 25 years was smashed to bits, and all the sexed-up, grossed-out inventory was his for the taking.