Howard’s Beginning

How this most proper of cities launched Howard Stern, this most improper of celebrities

It is an odd place for an impromptu business meeting.

Backstage at Thee Doll House, a Delaware Avenue "gentlemen’s club," is a kitchen, and tonight it is full of young women eager to strut on stage for a testosterone-laden house and a group of judges who look like they just stepped off the set of Wayne’s World. The judges will decide which of the lucky contestants will be invited to participate in the Miss Howard Stern Pageant as part of the mass-media phenom’s New Year’s Eve pay-per-view special.

To the nervous women anticipating big breaks, it is a night dreams are made of.

To a couple of the judges, it is another night to share some disbelief over the realization of their own dreams. Huddled in a corner are "Stuttering John" Melendez and "Captain Janks," also known as Tom Cipriano of North Wales — two of the quirkier recurring characters on Howard Stern’s morning radio show, which plays to some 20 million listeners in 16 markets across the nation. Janks is the rabid Stern follower who shouts his savior’s name on live television at everyone from Larry King to Bruce Hamilton; Melendez’s fame as Stern’s thorn in the side of the rich and pompous grew to national proportions when he asked Gennifer Flowers during a 1992 press conference "Did Governor Clinton use a condom?" and "Will you be sleeping with any of the other presidential candidates?" (Others similarly skewered by the questions delivered by Stuttering John and written by Stern include the Dalai Lama — "Do people ever say, uh, uh, uh, ‘Hello Dollyl”’ — and Chevy Chase: "Do you read the scripts of movies you choose to make, or do you go ‘eenie meenie minie moe’?")

Melendez, who is tonight’s master of ceremonies in addition to being a judge, has arrived with his record producer, Bensalem’s Randy Cantor, while Janks has shown up with an entourage that includes John "Doc" Dougherty, his lawyer and business manager from Southwest Philly. That’s right: As a result of their celebrity, Melendez and Janks have both signed recording contracts with Atlantic Records. Janks’ collection of his best phony phone calls will be released this spring, and Melendez’s hard-rock album, recorded at Philadelphia’s famed Studio 4, is due out in March.

Now, as the Doll House crowd clamors for more babes and the professional strippers mingle with the wannabes, Janks pulls out a copy of his new recording contract — which carries an option for four additional albums — and Melendez breaks into a wide smile. "D-d-d-dude, you’re getting 40 thou up front, not bad," he says, his face taking on the studied look of a wily entrepreneur. "Congratulations, man."

"So, Captain, you going to get your own place now or what?" asks one of the guys in his entourage.

"My own house? Shit, I might buy DeBella’s house!" responds the 5’3" former shipping clerk to raucous laughter before returning to business with the professional stutterer. "But seriously, our albums will be out around the same time. Maybe we should coincide, so we release them a month away from each other — "