His show is more than just dirty words

December 15, 1991|By Eric Siegel

If your image of shock radio is merely a steady stream of sexual and scatological references and dirty words, think again.

At least in the case of the Howard Stern show, there's more to it than that.

To be sure, there's plenty of the above on Mr. Stern's 6 a.m.-to-11 a.m. show -- enough so that last year the Federal Communications Commission levied a $6,000 fine against the company that broadcasts it, charging a 1988 Christmas program violated decency standards. The fine is currently under administrative appeal.

And, in fact, in the first several weeks Mr. Stern's show has aired in Baltimore he has made frequent references to virtually every body part and to common and not-so-common sexual practices, denounced the FCC as a "bunch of ratbastards" and derided the celebrated author and radio host by saying "[beep] Garrison Keillor."

He has also more than lived up to his reputation as an equal opportunity offender. He once segued from talk of dieting to CBS newswoman Connie Chung by saying, "How fat can you get on a rice diet?" On another occasion, he wondered aloud whether a polio victim who called his show had a "brace for his penis."

But Stern also regularly lands guests making pop cultural news, from LaToya Jackson to Wilt Chamberlain to Geraldo Rivera, often peppering them with the kinds of question that don't get asked anywhere else.

He also has a canny sense of the offbeat as well as the off-color: He once allowed himself to be interviewed by a student journalist from Suffolk (Long Island, N.Y.) Community College, an exchange that turned at once into a parody of a celebrity Q&A and a marvelous send-up of the exploitation of youthful innocence.

And he sprinkles his sexual references with social commentary that is generally libertarian on issues of individual expression and conservative on matters of social action, but which can have surprising twists.

Mr. Stern was one of the first commentators in the country to highlight the question of Magic Johnson's promiscuity after the basketball star revealed he had tested positive for the AIDS virus. Last week he castigated NBC for again broadcasting the name of the woman who charged William Kennedy Smith with rape, saying "There's no principle here, there's ratings," and called anchorman Tom Brokaw "spineless" for not demanding the network protect the woman's anonymity.

His philosophy was perhaps best summed up in a statement on that same show. "I don't need to be objective," he said. "I'm Howard Stern."

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