Friday, January 05, 2001

Stern behaves himself in debut

        Listening to Howard Stern's debut on WAQZ-FM (97.3) Thursday, I was shocked. Shocked!

        Shocked that Mr. Stern, the raunchy syndicated radio host, was so tame, even by Cincinnati's alleged conservative standards.

        No strippers or porn stars. No requests for female studio guests to peel off their panties (or tops), as he does on the video version of his radio show on the E! Entertainment channel (11 p.m.-midnight Sunday-Friday).

        Instead, Tristate listeners heard one subdued dude, even when talking about Cincinnati native Carmen Electra.

        “That chick's got really nice feet,” he said. “There isn't a bit of her that's unattractive.”

        That's all he could say about her? Amazing!

What about his low-key debut on Cincinnati airwaves? He has verbally trashed new markets in the past, or bragged about burying the competition. I expected some Big Pig Gig insults, or riffs about Mapplethorpe or Larry Flynt.

        The best he could come up with was stunningly ordinary: “I've never been to Cincinnati. I have no plans to come to Cincinnati. I can't even spell Cincinnati ... I think Cincinnati is one of the silliest names I've ever heard for a city.”

        When the self-proclaimed King of All Media returned to Dallas Tuesday after a 3 1/2-year absence, he declared:

        “I broke the shackles of conventional radio by speaking what is on my mind. I'm Columbus, Magellan, Ponce de Leon, Galileo, Wernher von Braun, the Wright brothers and Carrot Top all rolled into one."

        On Thursday, he seemed shackled by a cliche — acting as if he had never heard of a “Channel Z” radio station.

        “Channel Z? What is that?” he said opening his 6-10 a.m. national broadcast. “Find out what Channel Z means, because we don't get it. I've only been in radio for 20 years.”

        Actually, he's been in radio for nearly 30 years. Queens native Howard Allan Stern, who turns 47 on Wednesday, started at a Boston College station in 1972. For the past 15 years, he has been the morning DJ on New York's WXRK-FM (K-Rock).

        His radio career has been distinguished by big ratings and big fines. The Federal Communications Commission has levied more than $1.7-million in fines for indecency on Mr. Stern's employer, CBS' Infinity Broadcasting. The company also owns WAQZ-FM, WGRR-FM (103.5) and WKRQ-FM (101.9) here.

        During a brief on-air press conference Thursday, Mr. Stern said he had been asking Infinity for a long time to put his show on a Cincinnati station.

        He says his show has been successful in other so-called conservative cities, such as Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. He's No. 1 with men ages 18-34 in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Columbus, Louisville and Pittsburgh, according to WAQZ-FM. He has been less successful in Chicago and Memphis.

        The Howard Stern Show comes to Cincinnati as part of an Infinity expansion after the Private Parts author signed a new five-year contract last month.

        Mike Frederick, WAQZ-FM general manager, says he looked at Cleveland and Columbus research before buying the Stern show. The move had been expected since the WYLX-FM rock oldies format was dropped March 31.

        The station, established in Lebanon seven years ago as WMMA-FM, jumped from 12th to fifth with listeners 18-34 in the summer ratings after switching to alternative rock. It was No. 2 (to WEBN-FM) with men that age.

        “There seems to be a lot more acceptance of him after his movie (Private Parts, 1997),” Mr. Frederick says. “We feel that what he is doing right now is on par with what is already out there now.”

        That was true Thursday. The Stern show wasn't as tasteless as some bits typically heard on the syndicated Bob & Tom Show on Clear Channel's WOFX-FM (92.5) or on Clear Channel's WEBN-FM (102.7) Dawn Patrol.

        Mr. Stern spent the morning talking about his desire to place a $1-million bet at a Las Vegas blackjack table; chatting with actor Gary Coleman about his alleged virginity; and speculating on how much boxing announcer Mike Buffer gets paid to say “Let's get ready to ruuuumble!”

        Pretty tame stuff, by morning radio standards anywhere.

        Maybe the King of All Media was deliberately trying to make a good first impression here, to sneak into Cincinnati and then reveal his true self.

        “Spreading like a cancer,” is how he described the growth of his show. He could be right. I wouldn't be shocked.

       John Kiesewetter is TV/radio critic for The Enquirer. E-mail:


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