It’s early on a Monday morning in Hollywood, and Howard Stern is sitting behind a desk sipping hot water in the airy revamped performance space of SiriusXM’s glistening new West Coast digs. The 26,000-square-foot studio on Sycamore Avenue is appropriately located for the self-proclaimed King of All Media — in the heart of the Media District. Under a mop of jet-black curly hair, ballpoint pen in hand, Stern hunches over a stack of typewritten notes making edits. In just a few minutes, he will broadcast his legendary eponymous talk show live.
It’s Stern’s first time hosting from Los Angeles in two decades, and his first broadcast outside New York in 15 years, and guests Jimmy Kimmel, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Adam Levine, Robert Downey Jr. and Jennifer Aniston soon make their way to the studio to “welcome” him. A radio event if ever there was one, Stern’s presence in SoCal marks the official kickoff of SiriusXM in L.A. — an expansion 10 years in the making and meant to signal to the greater entertainment community that the satellite radio giant, which acquired streaming service Pandora Media in February for $3.5 billion, is here to stay.
“I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m not fun,” the host grouses on air. “This is the last time I’m coming.” But in classic Stern style, he can’t muster any hate toward the setup: “It’s better than our studios in New York.” (Stern, who was in L.A. for only three shows, did not respond to interview requests.)
“Great talent is in L.A., and now we can take advantage of it.”
Scott Greenstein, SiriusXM president and chief content officer
Getting the media icon, who famously eschews press and air travel, out to L.A. was just one lead-up event in a monthlong rollout of music performances exclusive to Sirius, including a private Billie Eilish concert at the Troubadour and an invite-only Dave Matthews acoustic set. But getting Stern, in the larger sense, to leave terrestrial radio in 2004 for Sirius Satellite Radio, a new broadcast company boasting only 600,000 subscribers at the time — XM and Sirius, which launched as competitors in 2001 and 2002, respectively, merged in 2008 — was proof that Sirius was a contender in the premium audio space.
Indeed, as of Oct. 4, SiriusXM Holdings’ market cap was valued at $28.4 billion. Now counting 35 million subscribers, up from 27.3 million in 2014, coupled with Pandora’s reach of 100 million listeners, SiriusXM has evolved into a serious player.
“California has always been very big as a listener base for us,” says Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of SiriusXM. “This is long past the point where people drive a lot here — they have adopted SiriusXM as something that’s close to a necessity for their car.”
|Jennifer Aniston, one of several celebrity guests to welcome Stern to Los Angeles the week of Oct. 7, shared stories about the classic NBC comedy.
That’s a major milestone for a company that’s not yet 20 years old and is going up against giants like Apple and Spotify for subscriber dollars — and network television staples like late-night shows for access to A-list guests.
“Great talent is in L.A., and now we can take advantage of it,” adds Greenstein, who’s made vocal the company’s steadfast commitment to up-and-comers, whether female musicians in the country music space (“Brandi Carlile, as a live power-performer, is just great — forget male or female, just anybody,” says Greenstein) to moody teens with breathy vocals (Sirius’ Alt Nation station was the first in the country to play Eilish’s “You Should See Me in a Crown”). More than 300 channels host shows by a wide range of high-profile entertainment personalities, among them Andy Cohen, Sandra Bernhard, Dan Rather and Jenny McCarthy.
Cohen, whose Radio Andy has helped catapult to greater heights the careers of such figures as advertising exec-turned-TV host Bevy Smith and real estate flipper Jeff Lewis, says that prior to the building of the Hollywood studios, “Sirius just didn’t have that great of an L.A. presence. … I want to be more present here as well.”
Notes Greenstein: “In Los Angeles, there’s such an overly concentrated group of musicians, artists, actors, authors, comedians, you can go down the list. And now they can use this facility instead of having to fly to New York. It’s just going to open up more opportunities, certainly more convenience. And if we can keep the vibe the way we’ve kept in New York, where the talent feels that this is a relaxing, interesting, non-intrusive way to do an interview or to promote something, we’re happy.”
Sirius’ new Left Coast studio is close to seven times the size of the company’s previous location, an outpost on Wilshire Boulevard that was more of an annex, lacking a dedicated performance space and too small to constitute a functioning studio.
The Hollywood building features a street-level state-of-the-art performance space called The Garage (at 1,000 square feet, it’s twice the size of the performance space in the midtown Manhattan location); gleaming eighth-floor offices; and 19 broadcast studios configured for audio and video production. Ross Zapin, general manager of West Coast operations and senior VP of events, talent and promotion, previously based in New York, has moved west to run the L.A. studios.
While it remains to be seen just how often East Coast staples like Cohen and Stern will make use of the Hollywood studios, for full-time L.A.-based hosts such as mixed martial arts fighter and professional skateboarder Jason Ellis (“The Jason Ellis Show”) and actor-producer John Arthur Hill (“The Feels”), the souped-up space clearly opens a world of creative possibilities.
|Country crooner Carrie Underwood appeared on a town hall hosted by Jenny McCarthy on Sept. 11 at SiriusXM studios in Hollywood.
“It’s a complete turnaround,” says Hill, who co-hosts “Andy Cohen Live” from L.A. “I came here for the first day, and my jaw dropped.”
“Bigger guests, more often — that’s the main thing for me,” adds Ellis.
Veteran journalist Jess Cagle, who boarded SiriusXM as chief entertainment anchor and host of “The Jess Cagle Show” following a longtime post as editor-in-chief of People, touts the importance of SiriusXM’s brick-and-mortar presence in Hollywood. “This is the storytelling capital of the world,” says Cagle. “The idea that you now have a place where celebs and writers and directors can easily go to be interviewed doubles our potential for content.”
All of this content building and banking has a lot to do with the elephant in the room: that Stern might retire in the near future. While SiriusXM has yet to comment on the issue publicly, Stern has addressed the possibility of an exit on the air more than once, revealing that his contract is up at the end of 2020.
But Greenstein points to the 2019 Stern being at the top of his game. Following the release of a successful book, “Howard Stern Comes Again,” that aggregates his best interviews, Stern has become the big get for many movie, music and TV stars during a publicity campaign. Among his recent guests: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Orlando Bloom, Bill Maher, Lady Gaga and, in a two-hour interview, 17-year-old Eilish.
“Howard is better than ever, and he’s more motivated than ever,” says Greenstein. “But Howard is unique in that he’s in his own zip code. So just the fact that he’s coming to L.A. … we’re ecstatic.”
Better still, adds the executive, “our spectrum of content and channels that complement Howard is as deep and solid as it’s ever been. And it’s getting deeper. For example, the signing of Drake was a major [accomplishment] for us, and the ability to work with him and Future [the Prince, one of Drake’s managers] is just a dream. What’s interesting to me is because of this studio we’re going to be able to call more attention to what we’re doing in Los Angeles. There’s going to be a constant reminder of what our programming is. It’s better marketing and more organic than any campaign we could possibly do in California, and I love that.”
There’s also the reality that there will come a day when Stern will no longer be the captain of SiriusXM’s proverbial ship. The company’s new L.A. building undoubtedly serves as a clarion call to a new generation of on-air talent.
“I think it goes to show: If you love what you do, people will respond to it,” says McCarthy. “Sirius has built up this empire.”
Adds Cohen: “Sirius’ investment in this property is a motivating thing for all of us. It’s like that [notion] that when you dress up for work you perform better. When you’re in an environment that’s nicer, you want to do better.”