Pulse: Power: After Stern

With Howard heading for satellite, it’s a whole new day for Philadelphia radio

In November, with strippers in tow, Howard Stern stood on the streets of Manhattan and handed out the $150 Sirius satellite radios you’ll soon need to hear him ($12.95 monthly fee not included). Some of his eight million devotees will follow, but that leaves a lot of listeners up for grabs, especially in Philadelphia, where Stern has dominated for 17 years on WYSP. Says Michael Harrison, founder of radio trade magazine Talkers: “Every other station has an opportunity to gain.”

With adults 18 to 34, Stern’s rating over the past year is 17.8, compared with Y100’s 5.7 and WMMR’s 3.9 — a whopping lead WYSP will forfeit when Stern departs, along with what one radio exec estimates as 40 percent of the station’s total ad revenue. ’YSP remains tight-lipped about future plans, but some analysts suggest Chicago loudmouth Erich “Mancow” Muller as a potential syndicated replacement. The most likely local beneficiary is Y100’s “Preston & Steve Show,” recently named “Best Local Morning Show in Modern Rock” by the radio journal Friday Morning Quarterback. When asked if the raucous a.m. duo will get edgier to attract wandering Stern fans, Y100 program director Jim McGuinn pauses, then says, “We feel our show is only a secret because Howard is so huge. Now we’ll have a chance to get the word out.”

Sports talk on WIP and rock competitor WMMR will also get a boost, though likely a minimal one. As for the theory that John DeBella — devastated by Stern in the 1980s and currently on WMGK — could switch to sister station ’MMR and revive his Morning Zoo glory days, Rick Fineblatt, VP of radio for the stations’ parent company, says, “I don’t like to say never, but John is doing really well at ’MGK, and I see him there for the foreseeable future.”

It’s all up in the air, even Stern’s departure date, which many speculate will come well before his contract ends in December 2005. The only certainty is that WYSP is going to take a hit, though its Eagles football coverage may save it from a disaster like the one suffered by a Chicago station in 1998, when Mancow, its hugely popular Stern wannabe, left. In less than a year, his old station became “Jammin’ Oldies.”