The seeds of the Howard Stern satellite radio revolution are planted in a simple black spiral notebook.
Across its blank pages, the Lenny Bruce of broadcasting scrawls ideas for the riskiest (and richest) move of his radio career, a collection of deranged concepts that fly unfettered from his id, without fears of censorship or staggering federal fines.
None of it is Shakespeare. All of it is pure Stern.
How about a panel of crack-addicted hookers doing their version of "The View"? Or a boozy, dope-smoking Stern regular known as Jeff the Drunk undergoing live psychoanalysis?
"To my audience, that's the Babe Ruth of shows," Stern says excitedly about the last offering. "I'm hitting home runs left and right now! I couldn't do that on terrestrial radio!"
Starting next month, Stern won't do anything on terrestrial radio.
The self-proclaimed "King of All Media" is taking his show to Sirius Satellite Radio, where they're paying the shock jock $500 million over five years to make their business viable after tens of millions of dollars in losses. Stern's windfall includes salaries, overhead and other costs for his programming a pair of Sirius stations.
The move is not about the freedom to spew four-letter words, or five-letter words, or even the odd 12-letter word. "It's about ideas," Stern argues. "This is a free-speech issue. I represent everything they can't do on regular radio."
His escape from the clutches of his longtime nemesis, the Federal Communications Commission, is set for Jan. 9. His farewell to terrestrial radio after 25 years is Dec. 16.
And so far, so good: Since Stern announced his move last year, subscribers for the $12.95-a-month service have increased from 600,000 to more than 2.2 million -- less than 20 percent of the audience for his enormously successful syndicated show.
Stern says he was told that recruiting 1 million listeners was the break-even point for Sirius, although he's not counting.
"A personal success is where I feel the programming on my channel and my show is up to par, and I think I can hit that mark," Stern says. "I think I can give my audience what they want."
No argument there.
His radio show was reality programming before it existed, with Stern expounding on subjects from his ex-wife's miscarriage to his plans to run for governor of New York. The show hit No. 1 in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles. He wrote two best-selling books, and starred in a hit movie.
Yet Stern's success was hardly instantaneous. He was fired from his college radio station, bolted a Washington station after a nasty falling out over money and material, and was subsequently fired by a New York station for airing bits like "Bestiality Dial-a-Date."
The dismissal spurred Stern's ascension: his jump to a rival New York station, his national syndication, his audience of 12 million listeners and annual advertising revenues of about $100 million for Infinity Broadcasting. He freely admits that crushing his old bosses was a huge motivation.
This time, Stern's vitriol is directed at a pair of media conglomerates, Clear Channel and Infinity's parent, Viacom. It was Clear Channel that dumped Stern from six stations in April 2004, while Infinity -- which paid $1.7 million in 1995 to settle FCC complaints against Stern -- recently ran ads that took a pot shot at the shock jock's potty humor.
"I thought Clear Channel and companies like that were going to fight the FCC," Stern says. "I kept hanging around. And they never fought back. ... They are cowards. They bow, and they deserve to be destroyed."
Stern was first approached about satellite radio five years ago. The timing and the technology offered by XM, the main competition to his new employer, weren't there yet, Stern says.
"I thought long and hard about going to satellite," Stern says. "I didn't make the decision lightly. I knew I was dead in regular radio -- dead creatively."
The problem? Stern regularly complained on the radio that the rules for indecency had changed, although the news rules were never defined. Janet Jackson's Super Bowl exhibition was no help. His morning show was routinely interrupted by censors.
"I'm still arguing over content," Stern notes as his terrestrial tenure dwindles. "It's sort of miserable."
The future is another story. Stern, who typically limits his talking to the radio, is promoting Sirius in every possible venue.
On this weekend morning, he's holed up in a 38th floor suite at a midtown Manhattan hotel. The 51-year-old Stern, his 6-foot-5 frame wrapped in a black leather jacket, is not enjoying the breathtaking view of Central Park, but doing six hours of interviews -- and taping the sessions for his new pay-per-view television channel.
His list of television interviewers sounds like a table at the Emmy Awards: David Letterman, Katie Couric, Bill O'Reilly, Ed Bradley. There was a cover story in New York magazine, too.
The attention comes with attendant pressure, and Stern was battling a nasty rash across his torso.
"This is huge for me," Stern acknowledges. "I'm leaving the medium that I was so successful in, and starting something so new. There's pressure, no doubt.