An ebullient Howard Stern, newly unconstrained by federal regulations that limit obscenity over airwaves, launched his satellite radio program yesterday morning and claimed, none too modestly, that he was at the forefront of a radio revolution.
Predictably, his debut was peppered with curses and references to sex - the same fare that made him notorious years ago.
"It's a great triumph for us," Stern crowed during his first four-hour show, which was commercial-free, on Sirius Satellite Radio. Last year, Sirius enticed Stern away from his long-standing terrestrial employer, Infinity Broadcasting - now the CBS Radio unit of CBS Corp. - with a contract worth about $500 million over five years.
Sirius is transmitting everything from news and sports to traffic and music of all kinds on dozens of channels, some devoted entirely to one musician, such as Elvis Presley or Bruce Springsteen, or groups such as the Rolling Stones.
"We have these two channels and we can do anything we want with them," Stern said, almost gleefully. Later, he described his satellite debut as "monumental," and belittled competing technologies.
"This, to me, is everything iPod can't be," Stern said. "Because iPod can't bring you content, and we can."
In an indication of Stern's drawing power, his new employers said they would give Stern 34.4 million Sirius shares - worth about $219 million - honoring a clause in his contract that was triggered after the company had met its end-of-year subscriber targets. Sirius officials say that more than 3.3 million subscribers - about half the number of its competitor, XM Satellite Radio - have signed up for the $12.95-a-month service.
"Yesterday alone they could not handle all the subscription requests," said Stern, 51, the self-proclaimed "King of All Media." "They were nine hours behind."
Last week, Sirius announced that 1.1 million people had purchased its service during the fourth quarter of 2005. FMQB.com, which tracks the radio industry, quoted a Bridge Ratings study that said 60 percent of the listeners who signed up for Sirius in the final three shopping days of the holiday season did so to hear Stern. Bridge Ratings, a company that also analyzes radio trends, predicted that this month, an additional 390,000 new subscribers will sign up to hear Stern, the Bridge Ratings Web site said.
"You own this place!" Stern's sidekick, Robin Quivers, exclaimed, referring to his influence over Sirius, which is based in New York.
Stern seemed to agree even as his audience, for the moment, amounts to only about a third of the approximately 9 million people who tuned in when he was broadcasting on Infinity.
"We're all dedicated to getting this thing off the ground," he said, responding to a question from a reporter, several of whom were invited into the studio. Stern, ever mindful of his audience's predilection for humor laced with sex, asked the female reporters, one by one, whether they had slept with such-and-such celebrity or sports figure.
And, trading on what appears to be great interest among his fans about his personal life, Stern, who is divorced, announced that he had married his girlfriend, Beth Ostrosky. He then reveled in the outraged, disbelieving reactions of his coterie of hangers-on, most of whom came to Sirius with him from his FM days. Later, he admitted he and Ostrosky were not, after all, married, although he volunteered that their sex life was just fine.
But, in a move that some fans might consider heretical, Stern declared that he did not want his new show "to be about the F-word," and chastised a couple of his cohorts for using it.
"What this represents this morning is the freedom to do anything we want," Stern said. "That doesn't mean the F-word. If that's what satellite radio is about, that's ridiculous."
And yet earlier, he had invited one of his guests, Playboy model Heidi Cortez, to simulate a graphic sex act. She did so, and the crowd in the studio hooted and bayed.
Stern took a few swipes at politicians who bemoan the lack of restrictions in satellite radio. He expressed concern that federal regulators would come after satellite radio's mores in the same way they had gone after his language while he worked for terrestrial broadcasters - by levying hefty fines.
"There is no legal justification for censoring anything on satellite," he said. "If they do so, it's the end of the First Amendment."