When Rush Limbaugh died earlier this year, I read so many people on social media sharing their accounts of what Rush Limbaugh meant to them.
The whole process made me a little jealous, mainly because MY version of Rush Limbaugh (whom I didn't listen to regularly) was still alive, but had abandoned me long ago.
I'm talking about the self-described King of All Media, Howard Allan Stern.
As a kid who grew up in the 90s, Stern was an icon. There was nobody better at taking the piss out of so-called "elites" than Howard Stern. That's probably why so many blue collared men and women (including my father) revered him and made him one of the most powerful voices in media for 20-25 years.
My history with the Stern show goes something like this - me, riding with my pops going to school, my pops (having questionable parenting instincts) putting Howard Stern on WCKG-105.9 in Chicago and the two of us laughing for twenty minutes, every day, five days a week.
Sure, there was a lot of stuff on Howard's show that was gross (throwing baloney on women's mayonnaise slathered buttocks) , much of it was sophomoric and dumb (talking about his bowel movements, making fun of Bababooey's teeth) , but the primary reason why I fell in love with Stern was that it seemed like he spoke for me.
Stern was - at the time - one of the only people in media who stood firm against people and the government trying to censor him and often mocked PC culture for its tortured nature and frivolousness. He was what many consider Dave Portnoy, Joe Rogan, Tucker Carlson or Kirk Minihane to be today - an edgy iconoclast and some one who says the things that many people THINK, but are not allowed to say out loud.
If this wasn't already clear, I adored Howard Stern and (regrettably) attribute much of my sense of humor and judgement to having listened to him for so many years. The problem is that, at some point in the 2000s, The Howard Stern Show stopped loving me back (or never loved me at all).
The only reason I decided to take this walk down memory lane was that I read a piece written by Maureen Callahan of the New York Post, titled Howard’s end: Shock jock Stern has lost his sting — and his mojo, which I highly recommend you read for yourself.
In the piece, Callahan writes an obituary of sorts for the current iteration of The Howard Stern Show - one that's devoid of humor, rocking the boat, creativity or . . . any real effort from the host himself:
[Stern] works three days a week, Monday through Wednesday, broadcasting maybe three hours per day, about 112 shows per year with 253 days off. . . .
Indeed, Stern sounds like a guy who should have retired years ago, one begging to be fired, an attempt to end his own misery....
Consider a typical show, consisting — on a daily, “Groundhog Day”-like basis — of such content as imitations of his nonagenarian parents and their hearing loss (“What?! What did you say?!”) — as enjoyable as talking to one’s own hard-of-hearing relatives — while revisiting slights and traumas from his childhood yet insisting that decades of three-to-four-day-a-week therapy have made him less angry and more evolved. .
If it’s Monday, we may get a recap of Howard’s weekend, which typically involves how many Peloton classes he took, updates on his lifelong disordered eating, current blood levels, and rants on why the one-percenters who live near him in the Hamptons, post-vaccine, won’t wear masks all the time.
Stern long ago abandoned his best attribute, going after famous hypocrites. Hilaria Baldwin, for example, pretending for years to be from Spain — when really she’s from Boston — and bagging a movie star would once have been Stern show fodder for days.
But Hilaria barely rates a mention. Why? Can’t piss off Howard’s good pal Alec in the Hamptons. . . .
To me, all of this rings so true. The show had already begun to suffer before Artie Lange, a long-time Stern Show co-host, attempted to take his own life at the end of 2009. Once Lange departed, Stern moved the show in a new direction - one that was more corporate, less controversial and significantly more boring.
The show became less and less about making Larry David-style critiques on etiquette or dramas of every day life that Stern and his crew of misfits exaggerated for effect and became more about interviews with Gwyneth Paltrow or discussions about fostering cats.
The days of mocking celebrities and cultural elites, like Jennifer Aniston, were replaced with stories of vacationing with Jennifer Aniston in Cabo.
Howard Stern mocking lame day-time television shows like Ellen was replaced with appearances on Ellen where he does stuff like this:
At some point in the early part of the past decade, what had once been a daily indulgence had become a daily source of sadness - so I just stopped listening.
The reality is that Howard Stern spent the better part of 20 years being the kid who shot spitballs at the cool-kids lunch table, but deep down it wasn't because he actually despised them - it was because he wanted them to accept him.
That rebellious free thinker that so many cherished and defended against calls for censorship? That was all just an act.
Stern acknowledged as much during an interview with the New York Times in 2019, when, looking back on his career, he said "I wanted to be interesting and entertaining to that guy driving the car. But, you know, it’s painful for me to look back on my career, because a lot of that stuff I said I don’t know how much I believed".
It's only on rare occurrences that I hear anything about Stern anymore, he's become as culturally irrelevant as the disc jockeys he used to lampoon during his rise to prominence. When Stern does surface in the news - it's often stories like Maureen Callahan's decrying his fall from grace or because Stern has said some "Resistance" approved thing like this:
Yes, it's pretty clear that Howard hates much of his audience these days and many of his former fans hate him right back (just go take a look at what people say on r/HowardStern these days).
That his fans have largely turned against him should come as no shock to Howard Stern - as I suspect many of them, like myself, were raised by Howard Stern to mock people like the man Howard Stern revealed himself to be - a self-righteous scold that loathes the people who helped make him rich and famous.
Happy Wednesday and God Bless America.
Cover image from Bill Norton under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0 - the image was modified and text was added.