Marc D. Allan

After 20-plus years on terrestrial radio, Stern moved to Sirius Satellite Radio on Jan. 9.

Last week must have been a great one for Howard Stern. For The Howard Stern Show, not so much.

After 20-plus years on terrestrial radio, Stern moved to Sirius Satellite Radio on Jan. 9 and, like the Pied Piper, he took with him a couple million of his loyal followers (me included). His fans now pay $12.95 a month to hear him uncensored and free of FCC restrictions on Howard 100 and Howard 101.

Stern figured to come out with guns blazing, but the show last week sounded surprisingly tame, unplanned and unfocused. I listened for 45 minutes most days to two hours one day, and what I heard lacked the usual outrageousness. Stern's appeal has always been not the lesbians or the strippers, but that he'll skewer celebrity culture, blurt out whatever he thinks and ask any question on his mind, no matter how impolitic. To be fair, there were a few moments like that last week - like when he asked gay actor George Takei (Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek) if he swallows. (Takei, who was Stern's announcer for the week, said yes.)

Stern also joked that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon probably had a cold, not a stroke, because Jewish men always make their illnesses out to be much worse than they are. And Stern said that when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's child is born, Jolie's two adopted children would become servants in the Jolie-Pitt home.

But I also heard long, pointless rambling - like when he criticized Super Twink, an apparently wretched movie his underlings made about a gay superhero, and when he talked about his father's habit of going to the race track every day to watch the horses run. He belabored the movie criticism - we get it: the movie is atrocious - and the track story, while listenable, lacked a punch line.

The new show also has far too many commercials (although the live ads Stern did for ABC's Dancing With the Stars, in which he savaged several of the contestants, were great). And of course there was plenty of profanity, though little from Stern himself. Stern, in fact, actually cautioned his crew not to curse unless it worked in the context of what they were doing. It never did.

In past years - when I lived in New York and when he was on WNAP-FM (93.1) here - I would have to tear myself away from the radio when Stern's show was on. Like so many others, I couldn't wait to hear what he'd say next.

I didn't feel like that last week. But that was just Week 1 in his five-year, $500 million deal. His lack of fire probably was nothing more than rust from being off for nearly a month (he left terrestrial radio Dec. 16) and having to get used to new surroundings and equipment. He'll return to form, I'm sure. And if not, well, I can always change the station.


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