Howard’s Beginning

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

Stuttering John, Captain Janks and Kenneth Keith Kallenbach are looking at a photo. Well, Stuttering John and Captain Janks are looking at a photo; Kallenbach is staring glassy-eyed into space when he’s not taking a swig from anyone of three Rolling Rocks he cradles. "He’s not all there all the time," Janks whispers.

The photo Janks has is an old publicity shot of Maria Merlino, an area comedienne. She is, they say, the first woman to have taken her blouse off for Howard in the K-Rock studios, which started a bare-breasted trend that continues to this day. She is also the wife of the Daily News‘ gossip columnist, Stu Bykofsky, who refers to Stern in print as "Howeird" and has written "there’s no denying [Janks] hasn’t got a life." Merlino admits to her place in history: "I don’t run away from my past, it’s something I did," she says, laughing. "I didn’t know Stu at the time. But I tell him ‘Look, you’ve got a beautiful wife, you should be proud of her.’ He just says, ‘Oh, Maria.’" Merlino does, however, want to make one thing clear: Her Stern "appearance" predated his penchant for spanking his female visitors. "I only get spanked at home," she notes.

"You’ve got to break this story, the story of who Stu’s wife really is," says Janks. "Stu will get his, man. I owe him."

"Y -y-yeah," Melendez says, "Every time I’ve talked to Stu, he’s been c-c-cool, then he rips me. This is why it’s good to have Janks on your side, man. He’s a fuckin’ maniac."

Melendez is asked how he likes Philly. He smiles slightly. "Is this on the record, man?" he says. "Nah, I’m just kidding. It’s cool. On my CD — the only CD that s-s-sskips — I thank all the toll-takers from New York to Bensalem for cuttin’ me breaks and all the state troopers for letting me talk my way out of it. That’s the n-nname of the first single, ‘Talk My Way Out of It.”’

Janks is handing out business cards with his 900 number on it; for a mere $1.99 per minute, you can hear a recording of Janks calling up KYW-TV’s Bruce Hamilton live during last winter’s blizzard, posing as a Bell Telephone spokesperson and saying — not once, but twice — that phone lines were down because of too many calls to 1-800-52-STERN, the number to order a copy of Stern’s Butt Bongo Fiesta videotape.