July 1, 2009
The show is on vacation this week, so they’re playing a radio documentary Stern and his team did on his life and career, “The History of Howard Stern, Part 2.” It may not be compelling to anyone but diehard fans, but it should be.
There’s a lot of universal insight and lessons there. One aspect that comes through over and over is how driven Stern is. Today the show went into how important it was to Howard to crush his competition when he expanded his show to Philadelphia. They had been on in New York, and going to Philly was their chance to prove they had a show that could be syndicated around the country.
But beyond that Howard could not abide the idea that anyone who could listen to him wouldn’t.
In the course of a segment, Howard talks about how he went up against the Number 1 deejay in the Philly market, John de Bella, and pulled out all the stops to crush him—insulting him, mocking him, railing against him.
Describing his motivation, Howard says something almost in passing that to me is so telling.
“I couldn’t accept not being number one,” he says. “I couldn’t accept failure.”
To most of humanity, not being Number 1 means you can be Number 2. After an “A” comes a “B.” But in Howard’s mind, after an “A” comes an “F.” The fact that this brilliant man can say that with no sense of irony shows his complete and utter drive—turning his career into a zero sum game where he can never settle for anything less than the top.
That’s a very demanding lens through which to see your world, your life, but it worked for him. It took 3 years, but Howard became the Number 1 deejay in Philly.