Stern to return to 4 markets where he was cut

July 01, 2004|By Bob Baker | Bob Baker,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Howard Stern, who has been vowing to quit broadcasting in the face of regulatory and business pressure, took a more combative stance yesterday by announcing his return to the air in four of the six markets where the high-rated shock jock had been removed by radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications.

Stern's employer, Infinity Broadcasting Corp., shuffled programming at its San Diego, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Fla., and Rochester, N.Y., stations to make way for Stern's libido-charged morning show. Five other Infinity stations in Fresno, Calif., Houston, West Palm Beach and Tampa, Fla., and Austin, Texas, also will add the Stern show, Stern announced at an on-air news conference.

The nine stations have a wide variety of formats - from classic rock or talk to business news or romantic music. The stations will begin airing the Stern show July 12, when he returns from vacation.

Clear Channel in February took Stern off its six stations that aired his show for allowing a racial epithet to be aired. Stern claimed Clear Channel was punishing him for his criticism of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. Last month, Clear Channel agreed to a record $1.75 million settlement with the Federal Communications Commission to resolve indecency complaints against Stern and other radio personalities.

In New York federal court yesterday, Infinity sued Clear Channel for canceling Stern, asking for $10 million in damages. The lawsuit claims Clear Channel breached a licensing agreement to air Stern's show. Stern's own company, One Twelve Inc., joined the lawsuit.

From the moment Clear Channel dropped him, Stern has filled his show with an unusual (for him) amount of bitter political commentary. More recently, as Congress weighed legislation giving the FCC more power to fine performers and stations for indecent language, Stern threatened to quit once his contract expired in early 2006 - a threat he had, in better times, routinely made.

Yesterday, Stern said Infinity's move "will teach the FCC a lesson that we fight back." He said he was thrilled to return to the four markets where Clear Channel dismissed him. "I am going to kick their [rear ends]."

Joel Hollander, president and chief operating officer of Infinity, said the company had immediately wanted to get Stern back on the air in the markets Clear Channel abandoned but needed time to make format changes to get "all our ducks in a row" for a simultaneous transition.

Asked about Stern's resignation threats, Hollander said: "I think he's happy again. We expect to be in the Howard Stern business for a long time."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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