Howard Stern – Creative Genius

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One of the highlights of my career was meeting and getting to know Howard Stern.

Howard was recently given the honor of delivering Joan Rivers’ eulogy at the request of her daughter Melissa.

Today, I am pleased to share with you some of Howard’s words of wisdom.

“Hey now!” You may like him; you may not like him. Say what you want about Howard Stern, but the outspoken and sometimes controversial icon is truly a cultural phenomenon that many consider a creative genius. Easily one of the most successful broadcasters of all time, who grew up not too far from my home town.

Howard freely admits that as a child he was awkward, then ridiculed and picked on as a teenager. When he started out as a radio DJ, he recalled, “I was just plain awful.” He speaks often of the mishaps in the early days, but he emphasizes that he had a dream from childhood to become a radio personality, and that it drove him to keep moving forward.

Through the years, he has been quoted as saying, “Some kids wanted to be a fireman, others a policeman – I always wanted to be a disc jockey.” 

“The King of all Media” is more than his self-proclaimed boast; it is a very well-deserved description of his 35-plus-year career. Howard Stern has become a successful radio entertainer, a best-selling author, a movie star and a judge on TV’s America’s Got Talent. Howard has hosted numerous late night television shows, pay-per-view events, home video releases, and, in 1993, he starred in a hit movie about his life: Private Parts. Not bad for a guy who’s first job paid him $96 a week!

I did not interview Howard specifically for The Common Thread of Overcoming Adversity and Living Your Dreams, but during the time I spent with him I came to understand the type of person he is and how he deals with challenges and adversity. I have been a fan since the WNNNNBC days.

My company advertised on Howard’s radio show. Our marketing plan to promote heavyweight boxing champ “Smokin” Joe Frazier included an interview with Howard. During our advertising campaigns, not only was I lucky enough to have great meetings with Howard to discuss our promotions, but I also had the good fortune of being invited to a couple of his birthday parties.

You might think that with the level of success Howard has achieved, he wouldn’t make time for one-on-one meetings with advertisers. But I found just the opposite to be true. Howard could not have been nicer to me. He walked into the meeting and said, “Let’s get to it. What do you need from me to make your campaign successful?” As an advertiser, that was like music to my ears. Howard sincerely desired to put together spots for us that would work. He shared many creative ideas that worked very well on air. Every time I spoke to Howard or one of his staff members it was all about “tell us what you need and we’ll make it happen.”

He understands that for him to be successful and win against his competitors, he needs to help sponsors like me beat my competitors. “You can’t just take their money,” he says. Rather, he wants to make sure he delivers—and from my standpoint, Howard more than delivered!

When we advertised on his radio show, the results were amazing. Back then, in the ’mid-1990s, Howard had many “closet” listeners—people who listened but would not admit it. I knew I had a hit when my lawyer, accountant and business associates from around the country called me and said they’d heard our spot. In all my years of marketing, very few, if any, could compete with the Howard Stern Show. That is a real tribute to his attitude and his drive to succeed.

As a businessman and media personality, no one has come close to Howard’s innovation and creativity over the last few decades.

His unique way of broadcasting made him a pioneer in many aspects of his format. He knows his medium like no other. He went from one market to another, conquering each one and building up his audience the old fashioned way—through hard work and creativity.

Even with more success under his belt than most people on the planet could ever achieve, Howard publicly admits, “I still feel like I gotta prove something. There are a lot of people hoping I’ll fail. But I like that, I need to be hated.” 

Howard remained true to himself, despite being fired numerous times and enduring attacks from countless groups demanding he be taken off the air. From 1990 to 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined owners of radio stations carrying the Howard Stern Show a total of $3.2 million for indecent programming. Nevertheless, Howard stayed strong and continued to add new sponsors, building his career and his audience. He describes it like this: “I’m in a war, a cultural war.” 

Looking back at Howard’s decision to move to Sirius satellite radio, it would be easy to conclude that was a slam dunk. But in 2004, Sirius was very much an unproven business, operating in the shadow of its much larger competitor, XM Radio. Howard was at the top of his game—even after dealing with the FCC. He had built an enormous fan base, was making plenty of money and enjoying more success than any other radio personality.

Howard has no interest in discussing how much money he makes, and I won’t speculate. The lesson he shares is about gratefulness and giving back. Howard has made a huge impact through his support of the North Shore Animal League, the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization.

Many of Howard’s loyal listeners will tell you that he has significantly impacted their lives by providing them with plenty of laughs and pick-me-ups when they are going through difficult down times.

But now, Howard’s fans who had always listened to his show for free would be asked to pay. Without any guarantee of success, Howard continued to believe in himself and his abilities. He clearly knew that achieving his goals required him to be driven—to embrace competition. There are no two ways about it, and I have no doubt Howard Stern embraces competition.

I still treasure a hand written letter Howard sent me after our meeting. The note ends with this sentence: “Let’s eliminate the competition!”

Copyright 2014 Jerry Gladstone