Howard Stern and free speech? Not after today; he's moving to satellite radio

Friday, December 16th 2005, 9:17 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The free ride for Howard Stern fans is ending.

Stern, a New York radio fixture for 20 years and host of a syndicated show for 12 million daily listeners, bid farewell to his fans with a final show on terrestrial radio Friday. On Jan. 9, Stern makes his move to satellite radio _ where his once-free speech will cost listeners $12.95 a month.

``Good morning, and welcome to the last show on terrestrial radio,'' Stern said to launch his grand finale. The sound of ``Taps'' played in the background.

The show opened with a Stern-centric remake of ``What A Wonderful World,'' and John Lennon's ``Imagine.''

As the show went on, thousands of people stood in a steady drizzle in midtown Manhattan, many waving signs that praised Stern and attacked the Federal Communications Commission. Among those onstage there were Stern regulars ``Jeff the Drunk'' and ``Beetlejuice,'' who led a sing-along.

``I'm a dedicated listener. I wanted to see this happen,'' said Chris Casavant, who drove from Farmington, N.J., at 4:30 a.m.

Asked why she was there, Donna Casavant made a face and pointed at her husband.

As he finishes up a quarter-century on terrestrial radio as arguably its most influential figure, Stern leaves behind a plethora of imitators spawned in the wake of his success, when his show enjoyed an unprecedented ratings run to hit No. 1 in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles.

His move to Sirius Satellite Radio, while somewhat risky, comes with a huge financial reward: Stern signed a five-year, $500 million contract to create two new channels for Sirius. The salaries, overhead and other programming costs come out of his windfall.

During his career, Stern evolved into the center of attention in First Amendment issues and censorship. Infinity Broadcasting paid $1.7 million in 1995 to settle complaints by the Federal Communications Commission against Stern. In April 2004, Clear Channel dumped Stern from six stations because of his show's content.

Sirius is depending on Stern to reverse its money-losing ways. Since the 51-year-old shock jock announced his move last year, the number of Sirius subscribers jumped from 600,000 to more than 2.2 million. That figure is expected to hit 3 million by the end of the year.