The Host Most-Fined by the Federal Communications Commission
Howard’s ‘shock jock’ style of hosting has earned him a lot on both sides of fame. He has an extensive radio career, having built up his personality since 1981 when he landed positions in several stations, such as WRNW in Briarcliff Manor, WWWW in Detroit, WCCC in Hartford, WWDC in Washington, D.C., WNBC in New York City, and WXRK.
Since the beginning of his radio career, Howard has been one of the most famous radio personalities in the United States, with his radio broadcasts drawing a huge number of listeners every time they were aired. He stated during an interview:
“I think, if anything, I'm the voice of reason. I think that's why the show is popular. I think people can depend on me to say to someone, what the hell are you doing? You know, I sort of have a high moral—what some people would term moral—lifestyle. I'm monogamous.”
Howard’s electrifying and adamant style of radio hosting are just some of the many reasons that have made him very popular in the business. In a way, Howard’s inspiration for really doing well on his shows is his inward desire to become very famous. Aside from this, Howard is also very straightforward and honest in everything he says, which is one of the main reasons why his listeners like him very much. In an interview made with him during the middle years of his radio career, Howard stated:
“Pulling in more listeners. That's the game. I have tremendous insecurity. I would like—you wouldn't believe it looking at me, but I would like everybody who used to listen to me to come over with me. And maybe that's an impossible dream, but that's my dream. I think people will have a great time.”
Of course, along with his popularity also came a sort of ‘infamy’ due to Howard’s occasional ‘sarcastic’ remarks in his show. His radio show has been—for several times during its airing—shut down due to his comments that some find either ‘offensive’ or ‘indecent.’
In fact, Howard has the reputation of being the most-fined host by the Federal Communications Commission, after the FCC issued fines to station licensees. He’s believed to have paid over two million five hundred thousand dollars.
Self-Proclaimed King of All Media
In spite of these setbacks in his career, Howard did not falter and allow himself to be downtrodden by the issues that he faced; instead, he used these obstacles as challenges to shoot himself upward, making him more famous.
Howard constantly promotes Sirius XM Radio, a satellite radio service that he has become exclusive to. Howard believes that free broadcasting and hosting is something that is not controlled, and therefore something like Sirius Radio is more beneficial to his listeners. In an interview, he stated:
“I want you to experience radio the way I think it should be, the future of radio. Sirius Satellite Radio will dominate the medium. It is the death of the FM radio, the death of the FCC interference, the death of the FCC. Down with the FCC!”
Apart from his popularity in the radio industry, Howard has also made numerous endeavors in other parts of the media industry, such as television, films, and books, which were all very successful. His successes in the different parts of the media industry have caused Howard to dub himself as the “King of All Media.”
Howard has been featured in numerous late night television shows, home video releases, and pay-per-view events, and has even produced several television shows where he was the host. Howard’s two books, “Private Parts” (which is an autobiography of Howard’s early life), and “Miss America,” were very popular and were included in the New York Times Bestseller list, making it to the top spot during their respective releases.
In fact, “Private Parts” became so famous that later on, it was made into a biographical comedy film that became equally successful, topping the box office charts. In an interview, Howard said of the film:
“That was my most fun in my career, making that movie. The idea that I wrote a book and they turned it into a film was unbelievable to me.”
A Skilled Photographer
Aside from successfully venturing into the film and television industry, Howard has also made quite an astonishing feat with his amazing skills in photography. His shots have been featured in various magazines, such as WHIRL and Hamptons.
The greatest thing that makes Howard very famous with almost all of his listeners and viewers is his unbiased way of interviewing. Throughout his entire career, Howard has done interviews with people from all walks of life—from prostitutes to superstars. Being a naturally curious person, Howard does not discriminate the people he interviews. In one interview made with him, when Howard was asked regarding his interviewing, he answered:
“I thought, no, radio isn't easy. It's easy—yes, sure, anyone can go on the air and talk. But to open yourself up and actually break down all the walls and think about all your insecurities, and put those on the air, I think it isn't easy lifting. There's a lot of emotional lifting you have to do. But, having said that, when a guest comes in, I think the reason people might think I'm a good interviewer is that I'm genuinely curious about a person. I don't make judgments. If somebody's a stripper, that's great. If someone's a prostitute, I didn't make judgments. And that's what the show's always been about. I myself don't really have outrageous behavior, I don't think. But I'm a voyeur.”
Howard Stern was born in 1954 in Jackson Heights, New York City to Jewish parents Ben Stern and Ray Schiffman. Both of Howard’s parents come from a line of immigrants from Austria-Hungary and Poland who went to the United States to look for a better life, as well as to escape the discrimination that the Europeans had on Jews.
When Howard was two years old, in 1955, his father, Ben, moved his family to Long Island, New York City, where he became a co-owner of Aura Recording, Inc., a local recording studio in Manhattan where commercials and cartoons were being produced.
Aside from owning a recording studio, Ben also worked as an engineer at WHOM, a local radio station in Manhattan. Howard’s mother, Ray, was a homemaker, but later on worked as an inhalation therapist after the family got into Transcendental Meditation. Howard has an older sister named Ellen.
Even at a young age, Howard already developed an interest in the media industry, occasionally visiting Ben in his work. During these visits, Howard would see actors like Larry Storch, Don Adams, and Wally Cox voice his favorite cartoon characters. This inspired Howard later on to become a talk show personality rather than a record player. Howard recalled the beginnings of his interest in an interview:
“I can remember being 5 years old, and, you know, it goes back. My father was a recording engineer. I have told you this before. And my father used to look at Don Adams and Larry Storch and some of the great voice guys doing cartoons and commercials. And I would go down to my father's studio. Once in a while, he would bring me. And I would watch his eyes. And he would stare at these guys. And he would have such reference for the greats. You know, these guys were great. And I would watch these guys working. And I said, oh, my God. If my father looked at me like that, he would be so proud of me.”
Sarcastic but Witty
Ben often quizzed Howard and his sister Ellen on many issues, particularly current events, which opened an opportunity for the young and witty Howard to throw sarcastic statements whenever he did not know the answers. Ben, in turn, would be annoyed (being short fused) and would tell his son to simply quiet himself. In fact, during an interview with Ben, he says of Howard:
“So when I asked him these serious questions, he ends up being a wise guy. And so I got mad and said, 'Shut up and sit down. Don't be stupid, you moron.'”
This, in many ways, developed Howard’s reasoning skills, something that he would later on find useful in his career as a radio talk show host.
Growing up in a predominantly African–American community in Roosevelt, Howard, who was a white kid, had some problems fitting in with the kids in his neighborhood. This may largely be due to the racial discrimination that was prevalent during that time, which in a way put the African American people in a position where they hated the whites. Because of this, the young Howard frequently became the subject of occasional school fights, often being taunted as an outsider simply because of his skin color.
In fact, Howard remembered a time when his best friend who was black was beaten by bullies for hanging out with him. This rough childhood developed in Howard a deep sense of longing for attention that he would carry all throughout his life, coupled with his identification with the outsider status that he would later on cling to during his career.
Aside from seeking attention and fame, Howard’s ‘outsider’ status also developed in him a love for the outrageous. During his interviews, he often recalls how he loved putting together elaborate puppet shows for his friends in the family basement of their Roosevelt home.
Although his mother was the one who urged Howard to create the shows for entertaining not just himself but others as well (which also developed his social skills), she did not expect Howard to give dolls his own twist, using titles for his performances such as “The Perverted Marionette Show.” In fact, during an interview made with him, Howard recalled:
“I took something so innocent and beautiful and really just ruined it. My parents weren't privy to the dirty performances. My friends would beg me for puppet shows.”
After graduating from Washington-Rose Elementary School, Howard enrolled at the Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School to study secondary education. However, he was not able to finish his schooling there, because in June 1969, Ben moved him and the rest of the family to Rockville Center, and entered Howard to South Side High School.
And while Rockville Center had a large white community living in it, when Howard came to the place, he felt so alienated. In spite of having white people surrounding the 15–year–old Howard, he had a lot of trouble adapting to the situation. In an interview, Howard stated:
“It wasn't any better in Rockville Centre. 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.”
Nevertheless, Howard did not let this apprehension of a new environment keep him from enjoying his life. Even though he felt this certain sense of being ‘alien,’ Howard did have a few friends, who he played poker and ping pong with. Howard graduated from South Side High School in 1972, and decided to leave New York so he could study at Boston University.
Soon after his graduation, Howard took his plans to succession and left home for Boston. He applied for Boston University and spent the first two years of his college life at the College of Basic Studies. A year later, in 1973, Howard started working with WTBU, the college’s campus radio station, where he got his first taste of the business.
A University Radio Career Cut Short
Howard read the news, hosted interviews, and spun records, but he did not feel much about what he was doing back then. He said, “It has always been my fantasy to go on radio and not do a straight broadcast but to bring the audience into sort of my thought process.” And so, Howard, along with three of his fellow students, started a radio show which they titled “The King Schmaltz Bagel Hour.”
Initially, the show was successful, but after Howard did a skit titled “Godzilla Goes to Harlem,” which was found to be racially charged, “The King Schmaltz Bagel Hour” was cancelled by the university campus radio. Howard related his experience later on in an interview:
“I kind of had this fantasy where I would create a radio show where I would tell you everything, everything about me, everybody about—whoever walked in, complete honesty. We strip away all barriers. And this was my—my thing. We did a bit called "Godzilla Goes to Harlem." And no one ever heard anything like this. And it was a college station, carrier current. And we did this thing. And I got fired right on the air. And that was sort of an omen of what was to come. And my father wrote me a letter. And he said to me, you know, it is great that you are on the air and all of that. But I listened to the tape. And you go, ah, ah, ah every minute. And you don't sound professional. And you're not enunciating. And he said even a clown probably was a trained ballet dancer or something. And you need to go out and do a straight radio show and, in my opinion, learn how to, you know, do radio.”
Howard took these as words of advice and kept on honing his skills as a radio talk show host. In 1974, Howard was admitted to the School of Public Communications.
The following year, in 1975, Howard received his diploma at the Radio Engineering Institute of Electronics in Virginia. Afterwards, Howard applied for a first class FCC radio-telephone license (which he readily received), and went on to make his debut professionally by working at WNTN, a local Massachusetts radio station, where he performed newscasting, air shift, and production duties for four months. Returning to Boston University the following year, Howard completed his studies and graduated magna cum laude in 1976, receiving his degree in Communications.
Right after graduating from Boston University, Howard received an offer from WRNW, a progressive rock radio station at Westchester County, New York, to work during the evenings as a radio host. Howard declined the offer due to being unsure of his talent yet, as well as questioning his future in the professional world. And so, Howard took a job at Benton & Bowles, an advertising company in New York, where he did creative and media planning roles and later on sold radio time to advertisers.
After some time working with the company, Howard realized his mistake of turning down the offer made to him, and soon afterwards made contact with WRNW and was hired full-time in 1977. Howard’s talent in radio hosting found him rising above the ranks and soon enough, he was named the station’s production and program director, earning 250 dollars weekly.
While working in WRNW, Howard realized that if he kept doing the same thing over and over again, he would be relegated to life of mediocrity. And so, Howard made a bold step of ‘messing around’ by mix talking on the phone while playing music. Howard’s superiors were not that impressed, which forced him to leave the station. Howard then transferred to Connecticut to look for another work.
A No-Nonsense Hosting Style
In 1979, Howard saw an advertisement for a ‘wild, fun morning guy’ at WCCC, a rock station in Hartford, and sent an ‘outrageous’ audition tape filled with one-liners and flatulence routines. Howard was immediately hired, doing multiple shows and other work with an intense schedule. Soon enough, he rose to becoming the public affairs director and did a Sunday morning talk show.
During the 1979 energy crisis, Howard boycotted Shell Oil Company for two days, something that brought him to public attention. Eventually, in 1980, Howard decided to leave the radio station after he was denied a salary increase. He left Connecticut for Michigan, where he applied at the Detroit radio station WWWW.
WWWW’s management was greatly impressed with Howard’s audition tape and immediately hired him as a morning talk show host. While working with WWWW, Howard continually honed his radio hosting skills to such a point that he received the Billboard Award for Album-Oriented Rock Personality of the Year for a Major Market. This was due to Howard’s method of “cutting down the barriers, stripping down all the ego, and being totally honest” in his radio hosting. It looked as if Howard’s career was going upstream at this point, but soon enough Howard once again had to leave the radio station when it switched to country music, something that Howard did not find very interesting.
In 1981, Howard moved to Washington D.C. and started working with WWDC, the city’s local rock station as a morning show host. Howard wanted to improve his show, and began searching for a partner that had a sense of humor he could riff with. Howard found a partner in Robin Quivers, and in spite of the strict format of the station’s show, it became the second highest rated morning radio program.
Howard and Robin’s quirkiness and antics took their listeners on a wild ride across the current events, which is primarily the reason for the duo’s success. This caught the attention of the National Broadcasting Company, which approached Howard to work at an afternoon show in WNBC in New York City. Howard’s decision in working with WNBC strained his relationship with WWDC; he left the latter station and moved to New York so he could start working with WNBC.
Getting into More Trouble
In April 1982, a news report was released on NBC that featured Howard’s ‘unorthodox’ and sometimes ‘indecent’ way of hosting. While this piece caused the NBC management to consider withdrawing Howard’s contract with them, they eventually decided to let him stay, on the condition that he would be closely monitored.
NBC warned Howard to avoid mentioning jokes or sketches that related to personal tragedies, nor words of slander, defamation and personal attacks on individuals or organizations unless they have been part of the act. Howard initially tried to play nice and follow the rules set by the station, but during his first month he was immediately suspended after airing a segment which he titled “Virgin Mary Kong,” which featured a video game where men pursued the Virgin Mary in a bar in Jerusalem.
As his career went further, Howard started to openly violate the rules set by NBC, showcasing segments like “Sexual Innuendo Wednesday” and “Mystery Whiz”—shows that the management found offensive. In 1984, Howard was invited for an interview on the show “Late Night with David Letterman,” which threw him into the national spotlight. Howard’s show received the highest ratings the following year. Eventually, Howard’s contract with NBC was ended in 1985, due to ‘conceptual differences’ with the company regarding his show.
Soon after leaving NBC, Howard signed a contract with WXRX to do afternoon programs for them. The show, gave Howard the freedom to talk about his favorite subjects in controversial ways, such as race and sex. After Howard’s radio show was moved to the morning slot and nationally syndicated in 1986, it became the highest-rated radio show, knocking off WNBC’s Don Imus. Howard became a national radio celebrity, and it was not long before he also became one of the most listened hosts on radio.
In 1987, Howard started his endeavor in the television industry by recording five television plots for Fox TV, which was the network’s way to replace Joan Rivers’ “The Late Show.” Howard’s initial television attempts were not successful, and the series he made was not picked up for being ‘boring.’ In spite of this initial disappointment, Howard never got discouraged and continued to hone his skills in television.
The following year, in 1988, Howard hosted “Howard Stern’s Negligee and Underpants Party,” his first ever pay-per-view event; the show attracted so many fans that it grossed over one million dollars. With this success, Howard began to make other home video releases, such as “Howard Stern’s U.S. Open Sores,” which featured a tennis match between Howard and his radio show producer, Gary Dell’Abate.
In 1990, Howard began to host “The Howard Stern Show” on WWOR-TV, which lasted for two years. It was a success, running 69 episodes to over sixty markets all over the country. Sometime that same year, Howard was fined by the Federal Communications Commission for alleged indecency in certain segments of his radio program.
The following year, Howard released “Crucified by the FCC,” a collection of censored statements that he made on radio regarding the fine he received from the FCC. In 1992, he started hosting a Saturday night television series called “The Howard Stern ‘Interview’” on E! Channel.
In 1992, Howard appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards dressed as “Fartman,” a fictional superhero that was featured in the National Lampoon, a humor magazine series. Howard was approached by New Line Cinema to create a film based on the superhero, but after he rejected multiple scripts, the relationship between him and New Line Cinema turned sour and the project was abandoned.
The following year, in 1993, Howard collaborated with Simon & Schuster to publish his very first book, which he wrote with Larry Sloman. Entitled “Private Parts,” the book was an autobiography by Howard that depicted his early life and his ventures into radio hosting. Upon its release in October, the book’s initial print of 225,000 copies sold out within hours of going on sale, making it the fastest selling title in the history of Simon & Schuster. The book went on to sell over a million copies in the next few weeks, and spent 20 weeks in the New York Times Best Seller list.
The Miss Howard Stern New Year’s Eve Pageant
Howard’s fame and success continued throughout the following years. In 1993, he released his second pay-per-view event titled “The Miss Howard Stern New Year’s Eve Pageant,” which broke the subscriber records for a non-sporting event—the event grossed an estimated 16 million dollars. That same year, Howard was named by Radio & Records magazine the most influential air personality of the past two decades.
In 1994, Howard announced that he was going to run for the Governor of New York under the Libertarian Party. In his announcement, Howard stated that his platform consisted of reinstating the death penalty, staggering highway tolls to improve traffic flow, and limiting road work to night hours only.
While he won the party’s nomination, Howard eventually dropped out of election after refusing to disclose his financial information. That same year, Howard established the Howard Stern Production company for original and joint production and development ventures.
In 1995, after the gunning down of the famous singer, Selena, Howard was accused of making indecent and racist comments regarding her and the Hispanic community. He was accused of disrespecting Selena by using gunfire sound effects while playing her songs. He said on a radio program: “This music does absolutely nothing for me. Alvin and the Chipmunks have more soul...Spanish people have the worst taste in music. They have no depth.” A few days later, Howard released a statement in Spanish, explaining that his comments were made in satire, and he had no intentions in hurting the fans of the famed singer.
That same year, Howard released his second book titled “Miss America,” which was published by ReganBooks. In the book, Howard related about the Prodigy service, a cybersex website, his private meeting with renowned singer, Michael Jackson, and his personal battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
A Bestselling Author
On its release, “Miss America” sold over 33,000 copies and by the following weeks, over 1.39 million copies were distributed, making it the third best-selling book of the year; it stayed on the New York Times Bestseller list for 16 weeks.
In 1996, Howard produced a film adaptation of “Private Parts,” which he released in February. The movie, which shares the same title with the book, became a success, earning over 14 million dollars in its opening weekend. The movie went on to make over 41 million dollars domestically. Private Parts was a financial and critical success, and was praised by critics for its theme. Howard himself was praised for his performance, and received a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Best Favorite Newcomer.
Howard’s successes in the radio and television industry went further in the following years, starting with his return to Saturday night television with “The Howard Stern Radio Show” on CBS and its affiliates. The show, which featured radio show highlights as well as unseen material from his show on E! Channel, competed for ratings with already popular comedy shows, such as “Saturday Night Live” and “MADtv.”
Throughout the next eight years, The Howard Stern Radio Show became among the United States’ most watched shows, bringing Howard to a success that he has never had before.
In 2004, Howard decided to leave ‘terrestrial’ radio and signed up with Sirius, a satellite radio service. His decision to switch was greatly influenced by Sirius Satellite Radio being free from FCC regulations, as well as an incident that involved a controversial Super Bowl halftime show that caused the FCC to become stricter in what content was shown.
Howard hosted his last broadcast on terrestrial airwaves in December 2005 and finally moved over to Sirius satellite. In an interview regarding his switch to Sirius, Howard stated:
“That's Sirius, yes. It's great. You know, someone asked me the other day, 'What is the most important part of media right now?' And I said technology. A guy like me was dead in the water on terrestrial radio. I was dead creatively. They were taking away all my stations. Clear Channel fired me, I was gone. I couldn't work anymore with all the censorship. Because of technology like this, we have a complete rebirth. And that's brilliant.”
Howard’s time with Sirius became very productive, making satellite radio more famous than ever. For the next six years, Howard’s work with Sirius improved the company’s popularity among the Americans. He renamed his show “Howard TV,” which enabled him to freely discuss topics that he wanted to without having the FCC on his tail.
In 2006, CBS Radio filed a case against Howard and Sirius for allegedly using CBS broadcast time to promote Sirius. Eventually, a settlement was made after Sirius paid two million dollars to CBS so they could take control of Howard’s 20 years of broadcast archives.
In 2012, Howard was appointed as a judge for the seventh season of the popular television show, “America’s Got Talent,” replacing Piers Morgan, a well-known television personality and talk show host. Due to the commitments that he made to his radio show, Howard moved the live episodes of Howard TV to New Jersey so he can do both. Howard has renewed his contract and will continue to be a judge for the eighth season of America’s Got Talent.
Howard’s style of hosting primarily relies on him being an honest and open person, which is why a lot of people listen to him. He does not beat around the bush but goes straight to the topic and says whatever’s in his mind. This makes him relatively funny at times because of the comments he makes. He said:
“I never relied on being the funny one. I always thought I could be provocative and interesting. And if the laughs come, I think I have a pretty good natural sense of humor. I have a—I think just—that comes from growing up in a family where the praise that I got was for telling good stories and constructing the perfect story. And my parents would laugh and I lived for that.”
Howard Marries for the First Time
Howard’s personal life is just as successful as his career, albeit with some issues as well. He met his first wife, Alison Berns, while he was still a student at Boston University. They got married in June 1978 and had three children: Emily Beth (born in 1983), Debra Jennifer (born in 1986), and Ashley Jade (born in 1993). He is very proud of his children, especially his daughter, Emily, who played the role of Madonna in a film. He said of her:
“My daughter Emily is my oldest daughter. She's 22 years old. And she's a great kid. And she's an aspiring actress. And I'm extremely proud of her. And, she—you know, 22, in charge of her own career. And it is certainly gratifying to me to see her doing well. And she, you know, went, and did a show. I was unaware of the show. I'm not a—I haven't seen the show. Don't know too much about the show. But, you know, she—it's her prerogative. What she wants to do, she does.”
Howard’s Second Wedding
In 1999, Howard and Alison announced that they have decided to separate. The following year, Howard met Beth Ostrovsky, a famous model and television host, and began to date her. Seven years later, in 2007, Howard and Beth announced their engagement and got married the following year.
One of the major things that Howard credits for all the successes that he has achieved and the strength he has for overcoming all those obstacles that he has encountered is Transcendental Meditation. Taught to him by his parents when he was young, Howard credits the practice for helping him overcome his smoking habits and becoming successful in his radio career. He still practices Transcendental Meditation today, as he believes that it relieves him of the stress in his life and career, and it is far better than taking drugs.
Howard Stern’s life has been a mix of ups and downs, but one thing that has allowed him to stand tall through it all is being true to himself. He is a good example of someone who is open and honest, not afraid of what other people might say about him.
Videography, Filmography, Discography and Television Work
- 1982: 50 Ways to Rank Your Mother
- 1986: Ryder, P.I.
- 1987: The Howard Stern Show
- 1988: Howard Stern’s Negligee and Underpants Party
- 1989: Howard Stern’s U.S. Open Sores
- 1990-1992: The Howard Stern Show
- 1991: Crucified By the FCC
- 1992: Butt Bongo Fiesta
- 1992-1993: The Howard Stern “Interview”
- 1993: The Jon Stewart Interview
- 1994: Howard Stern’s New Year’s Rotten Eve
- 1994-2005: Howard Stern
- 1997: Private Parts
- 1997: Private Parts: The Album
- 1998-2001: The Howard Stern Radio Show
- 2005-present: Howard TV
- 2012-present: America’s Got Talent
Awards and Achievements
- 1996: Received the Golden Apple Awards for Sour Apple
- 1998: Received the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Male Newcomer (Private Parts)
- 2000: Received the Adult Video News Special Achievement Award
- 2006: Included in the Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list
- 2006: Included in the TIME 100 list
- 2011: Included in the Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list