Will he or won't he? That's the million-dollar question on the mind of every Howard Stern fan this month, with the King of All Media's SiriusXM contract set to expire at the end of the year (as of this writing, there are just six shows left on his current contract) and no indication from the radio icon on whether he'll re-sign with the satellite broadcaster or move on to another platform.
But first, an even bigger question: is Howard actually going to retire? When hell freezes over, is my prediction. Though he's getting close to traditional “retirement age” at 61 years old — and god knows he has enough money to live on for several more lifetimes — it's clear to me, at least, that Howard still has the eye of the tiger after 40 years in the business. Indeed, he tends to discuss his career in terms of the “next phase” rather than a question of whether or not he'll throw in the towel altogether, so I'm not worried about him riding off into the sunset/growing a David Letterman-level beard anytime soon.
So, SiriusXM. Can they keep Howard in the family beyond the end of this current contract? While I'm as much in the dark as any other listener, I have a (slight) hunch about which way he's going to go. But first, let's weigh the pros and cons of the King of All Media's potential decision to stay with the company, whose fortunes, it needs hardly be said, have grown immeasurably since they became the lucky beneficiary of his singular, once-in-a-generation talents.
Pro: SiriusXM needs “The Howard Stern Show,” and they're willing to do a lot to keep him there.
Whether or not the alleged $500 million payday for his initial five-year deal with Sirius was inflated in the press (Howard has maintained that it was), history shows that the satellite broadcaster is willing to pony up quite a chunk of dough to procure and maintain the lucrative relationship. Let's not forget that Howard quite literally made the company what it is; not only did he make it possible for Sirius to acquire then-rival XM (which was also vying to sign him), his continued presence on their “dial” keeps the company's subscription numbers what they are (nearly 30 million as of this writing). The show is a cornerstone of SiriusXM's business, and they know it. History has proven that they're willing to throw a lot of money and perks at the King of All Media to keep him around, and they clearly have the resources to keep him happy.
Con: After 10 years, Howard may be getting antsy.
I imagine Howard would describe himself as a working stiff who just so happens to have risen to the highest tier of fame and influence in his chosen profession, but make no mistake: the man's ambition to be bigger and better is unquenchable (therapy be damned). I'm not sure that continuing to stay with a company he's been with for a decade — a very “working stiff” sort of thing to do — necessarily squares with his desire to consistently reach higher.
Pro: If Howard wasn't going to re-sign, my guess is he probably would have said so already.
Like a good (former?) chess player, Howard is always thinking a few steps ahead — not that he necessarily needed the game of chess to acquire that mindset (I suspect he's wired that way). Being the big-picture thinker that he is, Howard likely made the decision about his future at Sirius quite awhile ago but decided to wait until the last possible moment to reveal his decision — and while the reasoning behind that could cut both ways (he recently brought up CBS's 2006 lawsuit against him as a reason for not publicizing his potential next venture too far in advance), my guess is he wouldn't keep his loyal fans waiting all this time just to tell them he's ducking out. Then again…
Con: Howard knows his hardcore fans will follow him anywhere.
If you're paying every month for a SiriusXM subscription, chances are you're devoted enough as a fan to follow Howard wherever he decides to go — whether that be back to terrestrial radio (doubtful), internet radio (hmmm) or even, perhaps, television (???). So while making us wait until the last possible second for a final decision may seem a little cruel, Howard knows that even if he ditches his current home, he's got enough of a solid hold on his long-time devotees to keep their loyalty no matter what.
Pro: Howard has been happy, overall, at SiriusXM
Okay, so there was that time Howard and his agent sued SiriusXM in 2011, alleging they were owed upwards of $300 million in bonuses for hitting subscriber targets (the lawsuit was summarily dismissed by a New York judge). And yes, he did go on a brutal rant against the company last summer over that contentious time change from 6 to 7am (“Whenever you fuck with me, I will fuck with you worse,” he railed). All of that said, in the recent-recent past I can't remember Howard describing his experience at the company in less-than-favorable terms. He's clearly treated well there (Sirius ultimately did allow the move to an hour later, which initially came with the caveat the he re-sign with the company first), and that certainly counts for something.
Con: Career evolution and risk-taking are important to him, and SiriusXM doesn't necessarily offer that.
I roll my eyes every time a (former) fan claims that Howard has “sold out” or “watered down” the show in some way, because what they really can't stand is the fact that he's simply evolved — either personally or professionally — beyond what they feel comfortable with. Having changed his stance on any number of issues since he first started broadcasting (yes, he's softened a bit, and that's not necessarily a bad thing), I wonder if his continued desire to evolve in all ways could make him look beyond the bounds of his current situation and chase something he feels will continue to push forward his brand into new areas. His three-season stint at “America's Got Talent,” which introduced him to a younger, more family-friendly audience, speaks to his desire to keep moving in new, unexplored directions.
Pro: I could be completely wrong about that “burning ambition” thing.
For all of Howard's bluster, he really has nothing left to prove — and maybe he's more aware of that than I've so far given him credit for. His recent interest in less-vocal creative pursuits like painting and photography speak to a tamer, more reflective version of the man once pejoratively described as a “shock jock,” and it could very well be that he's content to remain in the comfortable Sirius sphere for as long as he continues broadcasting (or at least for the next couple of years). Then again, Howard's personal insecurities often feel at odds with his professional ambitions (and likely fuel them), so his oft-stated desire never to leave the house (or, casting the net wider, whatever comfortable situation he currently finds himself in) doesn't necessarily mean he's content with the idea of actually following through on that.
My guess is as good as anyone else's, but I'm inclined to believe that a SiriusXM re-sign is in Howard's (and, by extension, the fans') future. I'm all in no matter what he decides; whether it be keeping with the fun, familiar rhythms of the SiriusXM series or taking a bold step in a completely new and innovative direction. Point the way, King.
Odds — 3:5 in favor of a re-sign