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Stern's move to satellite may expand FM raunch

| Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006

Howard Stern, FM radio's most infamous DJ, left the airwaves earlier this month for the world of satellite broadcasting. The move came amid more fanfare than Stern bestows on the naked bikini models that occupy his popular morning show as the Sirius satellite radio network spent an eye-popping $500 million on the hire.

Although local listeners will lament his broadcast passing, and Pittsburgh's morning DJs are glad to be rid of the competition, something tells me we haven't seen the last of Stern.

Sirius, which has 3 million subscribers, is hoping the wild and vulgar Stern does for satellite radio what pay-per-view boxing and softcore porn did for cable TV premium channels -- make the dirty and crazy acceptable, and maybe even profitable.

How?

Well, remember when nobody watched HBO and other pay-per-view cable TV networks much• Back in the 1980s, network TV fare and the stuff on cable couldn't have been more different in content or character.

They talked dirty on HBO comedy specials during the '80s and '90s, while network TV maintained a system of clean-cut standards and practices that were virtually unchanged from the 1960s. Swear on TV -- as "Saturday Night Live" star Charles Rocket did in 1981 -- and you'd likely never to be heard from again.

Talk about sex, make too many risque jokes or mention homosexuality -- as Tony Randall did on the short-lived NBC sitcom "Love Sydney" -- and networks would tank a program faster than you could say, "FCC penalty."

Ah, but the networks didn't count on our national appetite for raunch. As shows like HBO's "Six Feet Under," "Sex and the City" and "Deadwood" garnered big numbers of viewers with the kind of language and imagery that got Howard Stern in trouble with the FCC, the networks saw the writing (read: dollar signs) on the wall.

The networks and their advertisers realized that viewers wanted realism, not censorship, and the next thing you know, we're party to shots of naked men on "NYPD Blue," sex-crazed, alcoholic firemen on "Rescue Me," and gay jokes that would have gotten Lenny Bruce arrested broadcast on popular prime-time sitcoms like "Will and Grace."

In turn, when broadcast radio starts losing serious numbers of listeners -- and advertisers -- to satellite networks, you can bet your g-string that the FCC will back off of penalizing and issuing fines to its popular shock jocks. Which will finally make the FM airwaves safe again for the likes of Howard Stern.

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