July 10, 2009
Raising the Dead
“There is no lower form of media than radio,” Howard is fond of saying—over and over. Throughout the “The History of Howard Stern, Part 2,” Howard slams radio as the bottom of the media industry, and D.J.s as the lowest media life form (this was before Harvey Levin, mind you).
Whenever reporters asked him why he was trying a TV show, or going into movies, or books, his answer always included his opinion of radio—that he worked in the lowest rung of the entertainment industry, and yearned for the respect and money and fame that FM radio could never offer.
And yet he stayed.
He had enough success to leave, and he stayed. He stayed and he turned radio—which, when you flip around the dials, really is awful—into great entertainment. By talent and will, he made morning radio important, and profitable.
Yes, he wasn’t the only radio personality to become famous or rich or influential. But he did it by doing something new and different, not more demagogic talk radio, not the Top 40. He took a dead disrespected medium and made it into something.
And that’s been an inspiration to me.
Because if radio is the lowest form of entertainment, Jewish journalism, when I started 16 years ago, was about the lowest form of journalism. A lot of it still sucks, as does a lot of radio, but what Howard taught me was that there’s no reason any medium has to be second-rate, it’s the talent and creativity and drive and discipline you bring to it. That’s what Howard did that to radio: he took it seriously. The guy with the reputation for being a big joking a-hole was, while others were taking him lightly, treating his profession with utter seriousness. I get that listening to his interview segments in the documentary. He was on a campaign, a mission, to make radio matter, and he figured out the ways to do that, and he did it. Instead of leaving radio behind for a more “important” medium, he planted his flag—because that’s what he really loves and where his real talents lie—and made it work.
I think about that a lot.
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