"Good morning, and welcome to the last show on terrestrial radio," Howard Stern began this morning on his final free broadcast. He continued with Stern-icized versions of 'What a Wonderful World,' and John Lennon's 'Imagine'.
Today's broadcast then ended with the shock jock greeting his fans at an outdoor rally and giving a speech in which he repeatedly congratulated himself and said he was "the last of a dying breed." Stern signed off from terrestrial radio at about 10 AM Eastern Standard Time with a fond look back at his years in syndicated radio. Today's farewell show featured past guests and a speech from Stern sidekick Robin Quivers. Stern also gave a long list of thank you's to the people who supported him and his show over the years.
After signing off, Stern led a parade through Manhattan. The parade was scheduled to culminate in an invitation-only Hard Rock Cafe concert featuring Sheryl Crow, which was broadcast in real time on Yahoo courtesy of Yahoo and Sirius Satellite Radio.
Although the syndicated Howard Stern Show leaves the free airwaves, the shock jock will return Jan. 9 on Sirius.
Sirius is going all out with a five-year, $500 million contract for radio's most famous bad boy. Although Sirius is best known for its commercial-free music channels and subscription-based model, there will indeed be advertising on the new Stern show. In a recent CNET article, Sirius spokesperson Jim Collins confirmed that Stern's channel will not be ad-free, but would have less advertising than the broadcast show (which sometimes had more than 20 minutes of ads hourly).
In order for Sirius to come out ahead in this deal, they're going to have to supplement their ad revenue with at least one million new subscribers in addition to their almost three million current listeners. Stern has been promoting the move relentlessly in the past few weeks, appearing on '60 Minutes,' Bill O'Reilly, the 'Today' Show and David Letterman. According to CNET, top financial analysts believe that Sirius' bold move will pay off in the long run.
For a company that has yet to turn a profit since launching in 2002, $500 million might seem exorbitant, but Sirius isn't the only player in the satellite radio game. Sirius faces even tougher competition from rival XM Satellite Radio, already five million listeners strong and growing. XM is home to Major League Baseball, shock jocks Opie and Anthony, and most recently, Bob Dylan. The numbers being bandied about in this game are staggering, making the $2 million in FCC fines levied on Infinity seem a mere pittance to have paid for Stern.
But what of Stern's former stomping grounds, Infinity Broadcasting? In the midst of Viacom's restructuring, Infinity Broadcasting will be re-branded as CBS Radio. The new CBS Radio network will encompass 179 radio stations and push a brand message of "Broadcast...HD...Streaming...On-Demand" according to TheStreet.com.
The stage is set for an epic showdown between two models for the future of radio. Will the listeners favor the free-expression, fewer commercials and exclusive content of satellite programming, or the free-every-day, unparalleled reach of the terrestrial industry? 2006 should have some important answers for the radio industry as we know it.