American Icon: Howard Stern
His name alone will elicit a strong reaction from people. Some love him. Others love to hate him. Whatever your feelings about Howard Stern, you can’t deny the impact he has had on radio.
For a large part of the past four decades, he has dominated the medium, captivating audiences because of his larger-than-life persona and willingness to say almost anything on the air. He put the shock in the shock jock label. No topic is taboo. No subject off limits.
He was daring and that is why he appealed to so many, accumulating over 20 million listeners when he was on syndicated radio. And that is also why he had his fair share of critics, particularly the FCC which fined his employer, Infinity Broadcasting, over $2 million for multiple violations Stern had committed during his time on terrestrial radio. It is because of that he became a champion for First Amendment rights; it is also why he left for satellite radio in 2006.
It was at that time, some thought he would fade into oblivion. But the opposite has happened. SiriusXM, which earlier this year amassed 30 million subscribers, owes much of its popularity to Stern.
Today, he continues to shock, but it is tempered with a 62-year-old’s sensibilities. Over the past year, both the Washington Post and, most recently, the New York Times, have written in depth pieces focusing on Stern’s shift into more mainstream fare.
Just last week, Stern spoke about a dinner he had with friends he confided with when he was growing up. They shared happy memories about their childhood with Stern wishing that all of his listeners could have friends like his who make each other laugh whenever they get together. It bordered on the saccharine, but was undeniably sweet.
Yes, the self-proclaimed King of All Media has softened, something he admitted to the New York Times in July. “I couldn’t have done the show I’m doing now 20 years ago,” he told reporter David Segal. “I’ve changed a lot. I’d be sort of pathetic if I’d reached this point in my life and I hadn’t. How else do you have longevity? There are so many guys who started with me in radio, who have disappeared, because they can’t broaden their view of what entertainment should be, or get in touch with what they find to be exciting and fun and funny.”
Perhaps his greatest shift can be seen in his interviews. When he recently interviewed comedian Norm MacDonald, the two began talking about death. It was precipitated by Norm recalling an incident in which he was pronounced dead on his Wikipedia page. “Of course it’s not true, but you want to know why it shakes you? Because you understand one day those will be the words,” MacDonald told Stern. “All it is, they change one word. Instead of ‘Norm MacDonald is an American comedian; Norm MacDonald was an American comedian.’”
“Most people can’t spend more than a minute or two contemplating their own demise,” Stern chimed in. “It’s almost impossible for a brain to do.”
“That’s why we do stuff in life to avoid that thought,” MacDonald replied.
It’s not the type of exchange you would have expected from Stern a decade ago. But repeatedly, Stern and his guests have an honest exchange of thoughts and ideas that cover a range of emotions from the humorous to the sad. A perfect example: Tracy Morgan who was in the SiriusXM studio in August, revealing the pain he endured following his horrific car accident in 2014 that left the comedian hospitalized and took the life of his friend Jimmy McNair. “I thought about suicide man,” Morgan revealed. “I was that damaged in the hospital man. I didn’t want to live.”
It’s not just the brutal honesty that Stern has embraced in the latter stages of his career. It’s the humanity. When Madonna came in for an interview last year, she admitted she avoided Stern’s show because he used to ridicule her.
“I used to say bad things about everyone,” Stern explained. “I was angry, quite frankly. I was an angry young man.”
And so the man known for a caustic wit has mellowed. Whether it’s the result of his second marriage or serving as a judge on “America’s Got Talent”, audiences are seeing a side of the radio personality they have never witnessed before. “He seems warmer now and his interest in people has never had greater depth or range,” writes David Segal. “The interviews give the show a heft that it didn’t formerly have.”
When it comes to sunglasses, Stern reminds us of two brands that epitomize his career:
Ray-Ban – Sustained excellence is difficult for anyone to achieve. Yet Stern (four decades) and Ray-Ban (since 1937) have achieved this thanks to a commitment to their craft. Ray-Ban continues to serve as the torchbearer for what other brands hope to achieve when it comes to manufacturing sunglasses.
From the Wayfarer to the Aviator, their designs are cool with a refined polish that is reminiscent of Stern’s approach to radio.
Quay – The one thing Stern has brought to his work is humor. There is a playfulness that is refreshing, particularly in today’s society. One of our newest brands – Quay – is a reflection of these qualities. They are daring (like Stern), bringing an entirely new spirit to the world of sunglasses.
Put on a pair of Quays and you will be smiling all day long. And isn’t that how life should be?
Words of an Icon: “I love America. I love our freedom. And nowhere could a guy like me, a schlub like me have success with – where would I get this freedom of speech? They don’t allow this anywhere.” – Howard Stern