Host post hears voices

NEW YORK — In a high-stakes version of open-mic “Survivor,” Infinity Broadcasting will give five or six personalities a chance to replace Howard Stern as host of Infinity’s syndicated morning show.

Infinity CEO Joel Hollander said he decided not to try to replace the morning icon with a single personality, a call he made after contacting celebrities such as Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg and Geraldo Rivera as potential replacements.

“We thought that would be a big mistake,” said Hollander, who appeared with Fox News Channel personality Bill O’Reilly at a gathering of advertising execs at the Museum of Television and Radio. “Howard was great for a number of years; he’s not replaceable.”

Rather, he said, the multiple hosts will be spread out over the 27 radio markets that formerly heard Stern; that group will be winnowed down after a year to 18 months when it becomes clear which hosts thrive in the format.

“We have all the talent we are talking to under contract,” Hollander said. “To my knowledge, there has never been in the history of the medium anyone who has had to replace 27 radio shows at once.”

Stern moves to Sirius Satellite Radio in January.

Hollander said news reports have correctly named some members of the group — he wouldn’t say which — but warned “there are a couple of surprises coming, too.”

Comedy Central’s Adam Carolla has told media outlets he will take over in the key L.A. market; Chicago radio personality Mancow Muller has been reported to be a candidate for Chi-area outlets. Rumors have long swirled that Kevin and Bean, Stern’s morning competition at Infinity-owned KROQ in Los Angeles, could expand their reach through syndication.

Talks on a Stern replacement began in December, soon after he announced his departure from Infinity for a five-year $500 million deal at Sirius. But Hollander said the strategy turned to multiple hosts when potential candidates balked at the early start time for morning radio or simply couldn’t fill two hours of free-form radio.

“It’s interesting — a lot of people thought it’s very easy to do, to open the mic up like Bill O’Reilly does,” Hollander said. “But Bill will be the first to tell you it’s not so easy.”

Hollander admitted that Infinity will sustain a revenue hit when Stern departs. His show accounts for about $100 million in annual sales, or 10% of Infinity’s $1 billion annual revenues.

But Stern’s departure has some upside, he said. It will diminish some of the FCC heat on Infinity stations and open up the morning hours to a list of blue-chip advertisers, such as banks and financial-services companies, which made it a policy not to buy Stern’s show.

Meanwhile, three of the top staffers who worked on Stern’s radio show and on the TV version edited for E! Entertainment TV will shift to “Howard Stern On Demand.”

Doug Z. Goodstein, supervising producer of the E! show, will be exec producer of “Stern On Demand.” The director is Scott DePace, a full-time consultant to Stern and director of the E! show for all 11 years of its run. Mike Gange, supervising producer of the E! show, will fill that role in the “On Demand” edition.

“Stern On Demand” will consist of a one-hour-or-so videotape of each day’s four-hour Sirius satellite-radio program, quickly edited so it will be available the next day for any digital-cable subscriber who pays the $10-a-month subscription fee.

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