By Darren Johnson
Campus News and Nu2U
In the 1980s and ’90s, there were something called “radio wars,” where a DJ from one channel would dis a DJ at another channel. They would go back and forth, getting nastier each time. This was during a period when syndication began, as shows were entering new markets, and DJs would claim turf. Being No. 1 in a market meant great financial rewards. Advertisers wanted to be with a No. 1, after all.
For the listener, it was riveting, as we turned from one channel to the other to hear what they were saying about each other.
That era is largely gone, as radio became more and more corporatized, filtered, pre-recorded – and people just don’t care about the medium that much anymore.
But the practice of warring between audio personalities does live on; just it has moved to podcasts.
Earlier this year, I found it very listenable when “The Adam Carolla Show” fired news personality Alison Rosen (via email). Rosen had added a quirky, personable, original voice to the Carolla team, and it seemed a bit shocking that she was suddenly persona non grata. Carolla himself is a wordsmith and the best riffer in radio history. This had the feeling of an unfortunate divorce.
Rosen also has a podcast, “Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend” (which is hit-and-miss; on Thursdays, she does one with a bunch of chipper 20-somethings who try too hard to make themselves seem deep and interesting, talking over each other and making it hard to wade through; but other times she does one-on-one interviews; those are usually very good. She can get a guest to open up, perhaps based on her humble, even vulnerable, demeanor (that demeanor which made the firing by the at-times cold former “Man Show” founder seem all the more cruel)).
So, for a while, the two podcast divorcees took to their respective podcasts to dis each other, surely resulting in spikes in listenership for both. (Podcasts also mostly survive on ads, so downloads matter.)
Lately, an even better audio feud is going on between Sirius XM’s “The Howard Stern Show” and the “Artie Quitter Podcast,” which is led by Artie Lange, who, through 2009, was the blue-collar-style sidekick on Stern’s show and was largely responsible for the show being funny, and blue, as it transitioned from FM to satellite.
Now, radio wars don’t happen on satellite. The 200 or so channels don’t compete with each other. For a while, when Sirius and XM were separate entities, “Opie and Anthony” would try to rile Stern, but that show has been largely neutered by the corporate powers and is now known as “Opie Radio.”
“The Stern Show” did maintain its raunchy recipe for a few years after Lange’s departure (due to his drug overdose and attempted suicide), but over the past couple of years, after Stern accepted a sellout role on the NBC talent show “America’s Got Talent,” the radio show has become painfully PC and really hard to listen to. Stern, when he is in studio (his current contract only requires him to work 110 days a year, which he abides by, and nothing more), will devote entire segments to his wife’s kitten rescue efforts or interview “Real Housewives” and other vapid reality stars. The show went from being Rolling Stone to People Magazine. As Sirius XM listeners are largely working stiffs commuting in their cars – people with a lot on their plates – he may be misfiring with his target audience.
Lange’s podcast is unique in that it’s one of the only subscriber-only podcasts out there. It’s about $7 a month, though much of it gets leaked to YouTube.
Finally, after five years of being PC about his breakup with Stern, Lange has come out and, in the style of a “Brutus is an honorable man” soliloquy, really hit at Stern. The ball got rolling last month when Lange had another Stern castoff on, “Stuttering” John Melendez.
But recently, Lange has released some Stern details that make the shock jock appear to be a horrible human being. For example, Lange said he had called the show to ask if he could be on the air to promote his book, “Crash and Burn,” last year. The book did not have a single negative word about “The Howard Stern Show,” and Lange was well-known to Stern fans (Sirius XM also regularly plays old “The Howard Stern Show” repeats with Lange in them). Obviously, an appearance would help sell the book – which had a major print run with Simon & Schuster. Every other major radio show and podcast had Lange on, but Stern allegedly blacklisted Lange on his channels.
Then Lange said Simon & Schuster tried to buy ads on the show but were turned down. Meanwhile, Stern’s show largely has had ads for shady companies, such as Ashley Madison and gambling sites. They didn’t want a professionally read ad from a reputable publishing house?
As far as the details go, it seems that all Lange did wrong was be a heroin addict and attempt to commit suicide; thus the “Crash and Burn” title. He had been a trouper on the “Stern Show” and still is a fan favorite on Stern-related posting board sites. His blacklisting seems really awkward; addicts do bad things, but the guy is rather lucid now. Why not let Lange call in for a few minutes and get his closure?
Sure, Lange seems to have daddy issues – in his soliloquies he relates his father a good deal (who died after a tragic accident when Lange was a teenager) – but that makes these “podcast wars” even more multi-layered and riveting. Stern has been giving the on-air PR-style response that he “loves Artie,” but Lange keeps wondering why Stern won’t call him, “knowing how much that would mean to me.”
And Lange goes into great detail about his bad breakups over the years. He says his former love interests want nothing to do with him, and talks with real emotion and regret about this. So he doesn’t completely fault Stern for not returning his phone calls over the years. “Maybe I will write him a letter,” Lange said on his podcast. Still, he does find it “odd” that “The Howard Stern Show” has become so PC and out of touch with its listenership.
“Does it weird me out to hear Howard talking about cats for an hour? Yeah. Does it weird me out when he says to Ellen DeGeneres, ‘I look forward to you dancing every day?’ (Laughs.) Does it weird me out to see him on ‘America’s Got Talent,’ having ‘witty banter’ with Heidi [f-ing] Klum and Nick Cannon? Does it weird me out? Yeah! Does it make me want to jump of a [f-ing] roof? Yeah! I’m with you, but it’s him going through his life experience. … That’s his life. [If such success happened to you,] you might act even weirder. I just had a taste of that life, and I went nuts,” he says in episode No. 138.
Now, as this is a review column, it’s important to note that the “Artie Quitter Podcast” is also hit-and-miss. The show is done from Lange’s kitchen and seems to have production quirks. A recent podcast had cell phone beeps going off throughout, and they were the same beeps my cell phone emits, so I kept checking my phone. A contractor next door to Lange was drilling, as well, which could be heard. Sometimes he and his crew, mostly New York-based comedians, talk at length about professional sporting events, which have long since passed by the time I download. The plus with podcasts, though, which doesn’t exist in live radio, is a fast-forward button. Lange’s podcast is confessional and observational, told by a witty and blue comedian who at one time was a pretty big deal. It’s worth the $7 to support this effort and see where it goes. The shows have been excellent lately. Maybe he is starting to hit a stride, now that he has confessed about what really happened with Stern.
As for Stern, his show has become a major disappointment. I suppose he’s setting up his retirement by being nice to the vapid celebrities he will encounter at cocktail parties and such. I doubt anyone is subscribing to Sirius XM for Stern at this point.
Of all the shows mentioned above, “The Adam Carolla Show” seems to be the most well-rounded and on-target for its audience. As an added bonus, it’s free!
I’m hoping these podcast wars continue. It’s something no other medium can do, considering the corporatization of practically all media. Podcasts remain independent; a “pirate ship,” as Carolla calls his.
If you haven’t tried listening to podcasts yet, it’s quite easy. There are apps for smart phones (the iPhone app is installed automatically; it has a purple icon) or you can download on your computer by finding the podcaster sites. Here are the ones mentioned in this article:
“It’s New to You!” is a regular column that finds hidden gems in the dark crevices of the digital world. Have a podcast you’d like considered for review? Send your nomination to email@example.com.