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By Darren Johnson

Campus News and Nu2u

I was a bit worried about the state of “The Howard Stern Show” before the break, and wrote a somewhat uncomplimentary assessment of the show. It was newsworthy in that Stern was debating whether or not to sign a new contract with SiriusXM, and the piece got a lot of clicks. Even some PR person from SiriusXM called to chew me out a bit. But he was right, and I was wrong — the show is actually still good. I realized that over the break, and, coming back, the early shows of the 2016 new year find us with a re-energized Stern.

But I was right to feel the way I had felt. It seemed that Stern radically changed formats of the show — he started doing long-form celebrity interviews that ate up hours of time and had little time for the hijinks that had made the show famous. Second, he had started censoring his own show — the First Amendment is being challenged all over America by the PC crowd — and, in the 1990s, love him or hate him, he was a fighter for free speech rights. This self-censorship, along with the celebration of A-listers, appeared to make him a sellout.

There are two reasons why this change in formats was disappointing:

  • Long-form celebrity interviews really tell us nothing. These people are PR polished to the point of seeming soulless. The interviews also went way too long and had become pat. And, in this age of the Internet, it is easy for us to find similar long-form interviews that these celebrities conducted, say with Charlie Rose or Marc Maron. Now, Stern had always interviewed celebrities — but the A-listers used to largely avoid him, for fear of being tormented. He did his best with celebrities who had fallen from grace and now were trying to recover their careers, say Tom Sizemore or Tom Arnold after they had hit rock bottom and were unemployable, whom he could tear down and build up again.
  • His large, talented staff was largely wasted during Stern’s two-year stretch of being more PC and conducting celebrity interviews. He also seemed to stop bringing in edgy comedians to sit in. The show started resembling a podcast.

But, over the break, I drove over 3000 miles and listened to a lot of podcasts, including a lot of the Adam Carolla projects. They were funny and interesting, for sure, but Stern’s show, at its best, is different.

Whereas in podcasts, one person talks, and then another, in some type of linear order, Stern’s tightly produced show has all kinds of sounds and voices coming in, from all angles, with perfect timing. It’s theater of the mind. Plus, Stern’s sidekick, Robin Quivers, actually straightens him out when he goes astray. Carolla’s staff seems afraid of the guy and lets him go off on dead-end tangents for long stretches.

Stern also has something called “The Wack Pack,” which is a bunch of real people who have had unfortunate lives, made famous, and validated, by airtime. In the past year, several have passed away, including Crackhead Bob; Eric the Actor, a little person, and Riley Martin, an alcoholic who claimed to have been abducted by aliens and even could speak in their alleged language.

Last week, Stern seemed happy and energized — perhaps because he is no longer doing that horrible NBC TV show “America’s Got Talent” (which seemed to be the root of his vanity, dieting, Hamptons-traipsing, angst and celebrity desire) — and no longer has to kiss the mainstream’s butt.

He only did one celebrity interview — Steven Tyler of “Aerosmith,” who has a terrible solo country album out (talk about selling out!) — and spent the rest of his time teasing his goofy staff and with wack packers. He even did one of the best bits in, perhaps, years — “Special People’s Court,” which resolved the recent arrest involving two wack packers by having Wendy the Slow Adult, whose IQ is 66, preside as judge.

Stern even started using some politically incorrect terms again. And he had an edgy comedian, Kyle Dunnigan, sit in for the news — doing voices of previously untouched subjects, such as Caitlyn Jenner. The guy was spot on. It just felt right.

In any case, I’m glad the show seems to be back to abnormal, and apologize for almost selling my SiriusXM receiver and giving up last year. His show can make long commutes bearable. And the way it’s put together is an art form that will probably die with his retirement some day; though at least not for five years.


Darren Johnson writes a regular column called “It’s New to You!,” where he explores all types of digital entertainment. Sign up for his pieces via safe, spam-free Google News Alerts by clicking here.