Howard’s Beginning

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

Kathy Duva, director of marketing for Main Event Television, producer of the New Year’s Eve pay-per-view special, has described Philadelphia as "the Howard Stern capital of the world." For his part, Stern professed his affection for Philly when Uncle Ed Savitz was making headlines, saying that "Philadelphia has more perverts per capita than any other market I broadcast in." It’s no surprise, then, that there is a strong Philadelphia flavor to Stern’s show. Popular culture is being invaded by Howard Stern, and we can take a lot of the credit — or blame. In effect, Philly was Stern’s proving ground, the place where he graduated from New York phenomenon to national sensation, shattering a whole host of long-held radio myths in the process.

"Philadelphia gave Howard Stern a track record outside of New York," says Tom Taylor, managing editor of Inside Radio, an industry newsletter. "Other markets were saying ‘Yeah, he’s funny, but he won’t work in my market.’ Well, Philadelphia was the first to respond to that by embracing him. Infinity [‘YSP’s parent company] was able to tell other markets ‘Philadelphia is not New York, yet Stern works there.”’

In 1985, WYSP was in a major slump. In the Arbitron ratings, it had fallen out of the top ten and was consistently overshadowed by WMMR. Most important, DeBella’s morning dominance was hurting ‘YSP’s across-the-board bottom line, because morning shows are a station’s most crucial commodity, accounting for about one-third of its total revenues and setting the ad rates for the rest of the day.

Infinity named Ken Stevens, then 35, general manager while entrusting the program director duties to 24-year-old radio neophyte Andy Bloom. Their charge, quite simply, was to reverse ‘YSP’s ratings.

Initially, Stevens and Bloom had little success. The Morning Zoo ground up whatever the ‘YSP brain trust threw its way, including the team of Michael Picozzi and Gary Lee Horn (currently the morning show on WHCN in Hartford), as well as Scruff Connors, an import from Toronto.

Meantime, in September 1985, the controversial Howard Stern was unexpectedly fired by New York’s WNBC-AM, where, in three years, he had taken the station from number 11 to number one in afternoon drive. Stern believes he was fired because Thornton Bradshaw, then-chairman of RCA, WNBC’s parent company at the time, was in his limousine one afternoon when he heard one of Stern’s patented bits: Bestiality Dial-A-Date.

After an intense bidding war for Stern’s services, Infinity president Mel Karmazin signed him for the company’s low-rated WXRK-FM. Stern went on the air in afternoon drive in November, but was soon moved to mornings. In 1986, after rehiring his WNBC sidekicks, Robin Quivers and Fred Norris, and recruiting Jackie "The Jokeman" Martling and producer Gary Dell’Abate, Stern passed WNBC in the a.m. ratings and staged a mock funeral for his former employer at Rockefeller Center.