Shock jock Howard Stern is about to find himself working for one of the only suits he’s ever called a friend.
Mel Karmazin, the former Viacom chief operating officer who was pushed out in a management shakeup by topper Sumner Redstone in May, last week inked a five-year deal as CEO of Sirius Satellite Radio.
Move reunites the career radio man with the self-proclaimed King of All Media, who joins the satcaster in 2006 — unless Sirius prexy Scott Greenstein can spring him from his contract sooner.
Stern sees Karmazin as his great champion before the censors and regulators; Karmazin says he wouldn’t be at Sirius if not for Stern.
Karmazin says he won’t meddle with Stern’s deal, but it looks increasingly like Infinity Broadcasting might offer some kind of buyout, given Stern’s constant on-air tubthumping of Sirius and his complaining about the limitations of a medium that has made him very, very rich.
On the day Sirius snared Karmazin last week, Stern appeared at a media event in Gotham claiming Sirius would be “the death of FM radio and the death of the FCC.”
He’s angered station execs who’ve asked him to tone down the sales pitches for what they fear will become a competing medium.
Viacom execs say they don’t have any say about what Stern does in his free time. And as long as the show brings in its estimated $100 million a year, who cares?
But questions remain: Can an ad-man like Karmazin run a business that sells itself primarily by being ad-free?
And what happens if Stern can say whatever he likes on Sirius? Much of his appeal is in pushing the limits the FCC imposes. Without that tension, will the show retain its edge?
Stern says he’s compiling a list of topics he wants to cover once he’s outside regulatory reach, including a primer on bathroom cleanliness.
But listeners might find it’s the difference between Maxim, which titillates a mass audience, and Penthouse, which sought bankruptcy protection.