Piers Morgan came into Howard’s studio today, trying to breathe life into his one-sided feud with Stern. Stern indulged him for a while, because it was good radio. But, really, here’s the only question Stern needed to ask Morgan in order to put an end to his fantasies: Can Morgan imagine that anyone, ever, would pay Morgan $500 million for his show?
If Morgan answers yes, he gets a D for delusional. If he answers probably not, he gets an A for honesty.
But Howard offered Morgan free and excellent advice for how to build audience: don’t be neutral. Have a personality. Have an opinion. It doesn’t have to be left or right, it just has to be you. A lot of attention, and credit, goes to Jon Stewart for trying to stake out a point of view between the kneejerk extremes. During the run up to what he called his “The Million Moderate March,” Stewart said our job is to take back the national debate from the 20 percent on either ideological extreme and from the cable news shows that depend on those extremes to provide reality-show-level drama and pundit fodder.
But again, Howard Stern was ahead of the curve on this. Long before Jon Stewart became Will Rogers, Stern had carved out an on-air political ideology that was neither Left nor Right, Democrat or Republican. He was, in broad strokes, Libertarian in the sense that he spoke out for gay rights, privacy, gun rights and limited government, Republican in that he liked Republican candidates who were truly fiscally responsible and for a strong military, and Democrat in that he appreciated the need for equal rights, fair taxation, public spending on education. In other words, like Stewart, he’s always been for competence, pragmatism, an expanded sense of self-interest and a strong but smart defense. These values aren’t left or right, but Stern—like, later on, Stewart—could get really passionate and worked up about them. The fact that his politics is values-based rather than party-based made his political opinions unpredictable and therefore refreshing.
Memo to Morgan: copy Stern. Figure out what values you stand for and defend and argue those with your guests. It works for Stern and Stewart, and it’s actually better for America.
A last thought on the $500 million. Arianna Huffington just sold HuffPo to AOL for $300 million. That’s $200 million LESS than the Stern Show got from Sirius five years ago. Granted it’s not an apples to apples comparison, but it shows you the enormous value Howard and his team created.
All you SeriousStern fans, you can follow me (as long as you’re following @HowardStern) an @EshmanRob
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