By Erin Sherbert
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A month later, Stern was back in the FCC's bad graces with a broadcast about fucking his wife. According to government transcripts, it was an exhaustive broadcast that included references to anal sex ("I'm manipulating her, spreading the cheeks"), vibrators and lubricants ("The vibrator disappeared"), black music (or "Negro race music," as Stern calls it, "because to me that's the music you have sex to ... this music was so rhythmic a mongoloid could feel the beat"), and oral sex ("My tongue was used"). It's the sort of fodder that regularly fills four hours every single weekday, a peek behind the curtains at the Stern house.
"They're funny, aren't they?" Stern says of the FCC's transcripts of his show. "I mean, you read through them, and you just giggle. That was my perception with the book [Private Parts], that if you could somehow get it onto paper it would look funny. It's harmless."
In reality, the monetary amounts of the fines are secondary to the larger issue of how the FCC uses the citations against Stern to refuse to grant Infinity Broadcasting licenses in other markets; documents obtained from the commission show that the FCC slowed Infinity from obtaining stations in Dallas and L.A., among other cities.
Infinity tried, on several occasions, to take the FCC to court: The broadcasting corporation tried to goad the commission into proving Stern was legally obscene and indecent, which is supposed to be determined by a particular community's standards. But the FCC never called the bluff; instead, the government agency engaged in what Stern calls "blackmail," holding up Infinity's licenses until the company paid the exorbitant fines.
"They should have brought me to court," Stern says. "That would have been the honorable thing to do. If they think I am doing something indecent or obscene, take me to court, and I should be in jail if I'm broadcasting indecent material. They never did. Infinity begged them to go to court. We kept filing papers saying, 'We will go to court,' but what happened was they delayed all of that for years, and they blackmailed Infinity."
"I don't know why this doesn't disturb journalists. I don't read about this. The United States government can't use blackmail in one situation through a government agency to get you to do something in a whole other scenario. What they did was unthinkable. And where were my fellow broadcasters? Where the fuck were these people? Where were the journalists? They think, 'Oh, I'm not gonna go to bat for Howard Stern. If it was Dan Rather who was having a First Amendment situation, we would go to bat for him.' Well, Dan Rather isn't gonna have a First Amendment issue. Dan Rather's not gonna test the envelope of free speech."
But Stern was worth the money to Infinity. It was a minute amount compared to how much he brings in for the company and its affiliates every year. Stern won't disclose how much he makes in each of his markets; after all, this is the man who claims he dropped out of the last New York gubernatorial race because he didn't want to disclose his financial records. But it has been reported that his seven-year contract with KLSX-FM in L.A., signed in July 1991, is worth a little less than $1 million a year -- plus percentages of the ad revenues he generates. The average Stern makes in the major markets per year is $700,000, usually with a cut of the ad money; such was the deal he struck with Dallas' KEGL-FM in 1992. In the smaller markets (including San Jose), the number drops to about $400,000.
The only concrete evidence of Stern's salary in syndication was offered in October 1993 when Stern sued Chicago-based WLUP for dropping his show after 10 months into a three-year deal. The station, owned by Evergreen Media Inc., claimed it canceled Stern because he had lousy ratings and because of his never-ending trouble with the FCC; it was an "unacceptable risk," Evergreen insisted in a response to the Stern suit.
Stern, who's seeking $35 million for breach of contract and $10 million in putative damages from Evergreen, countered that the company knew about his problems with the FCC and that Evergreen's claims were "made maliciously, with the intent of injuring" Stern's show. Court documents revealed that Stern was to earn $2.6 million over three years with WLUP.
The case is still pending. After Evergreen filed myriad discovery proceedings against Stern and Infinity -- just how, the company wondered, did Stern arrive at the $45 million sum? -- the files were sealed by the court, but not before they revealed, according to Howard Stern: King of All Media author Paul Colford, that Stern and Infinity claimed Evergreen had succeeded in keeping the talk-show host out of Miami and Phoenix. (He's in both markets now.)
Evergreen "knows they're wrong," Stern says, his voice rising to a familiar boil. "They owe me the money. They're just doing bad business. They're a bunch of shits. They really are. I knew it the day I signed with them. I told Don [Buchwald], my agent, I said, 'I don't trust these guys, they're slimy, and I know it from dealing with these [kinds of] pricks my whole life.' They're slimy broadcasters. They did some shifty things. First they had me on the FM, then they moved me to the AM. Shaking the guy's hand -- you know, sometimes you get a vibe? I just knew they were evil people, and they've proven it to me.