By LARRY McSHANE
The Associated Press
Friday, November 23, 2007; 2:57 PM
NEW YORK -- Howard Stern finds himself listening to something different these days: "The Howard Stern Show," on satellite radio.
Unlike his last years on terrestrial radio, where Stern felt his voice was neutered and his program sterilized, the still undisputed king of the shock jocks loves what he's hearing now.
"I know the show is funnier," Stern says over lunch. "I tune in and it's funny. It's a good show. I'm proud of it."
Oh, and one more thing ...
"When you're making a joke," the oft-censored radio star says, "the punch line doesn't need to be bleeped."
Almost two years since his much-heralded leap from CBS Radio's WXRK-FM and terrestrial syndication to Sirius Satellite Radio, Stern is blissful.
He's reveling in the huge increase in satellite radio subscriptions, not to mention the woes of old foes like his ex-employer or longtime nemesis Don Imus.
He's only two years into his five-year, $500 million deal with Sirius and he's already considering a possible extension. Stern is on board with the proposed satellite merger with once-rival XM. And he's proud of his role in expanding the number of Sirius subscribers from 600,000 when he signed his deal to nearly 8 million today.
Stern, his hair creeping out from beneath a black knit cap, is delivering his state of satellite address between bites of two turkey burgers (no rolls, just a salad). Stern admits now that his loud boasts about the future of satellite radio before his debut were as wishful as anything else.
"I didn't think it would be like this," Stern says. "Not this fast. This is crazy. ... I just didn't want to be embarrassed."
It was Dec. 16, 2005, when Stern said goodbye to terrestrial radio after an unprecedented run in the nation's No. 1 market. Tired of federal regulators and feuding with his bosses, Stern signed on with Sirius and never looked back.
But Stern still keeps an eye on terrestrial radio _ mostly as a source of schadenfreude.
He delighted in the problems that CBS Radio endured after his departure, from the ill-fated hiring of David Lee Roth as his replacement to the whole mess with Imus, fired over his remark about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
"I don't want to see anyone doing poorly," Stern says sarcastically before breaking into laughter.
And he wonders why Citadel Broadcasting would bring Imus back on its New York flagship station, WABC-AM.
"At this point, I don't think he's very relevant," Stern says. "People will tune out within a week. I defy you to listen. It's like a rodeo _ you know, see how long you can ride a bull? See how long you can keep listening to Imus.
"Time it. You'll throw up. You'll get sick. You'll die."
Stern is more excited about the potential merger between his company and XM.
"It would be great for the industry, great for the company, great for the consumer," he says. "I'm not a salesman for the merger, I don't know all the facts and figures, but there's more service and they're talking about lower prices."
He has no fears of the government intruding into satellite radio over its unexpurgated content.
"I don't see, legally, how government regulation would hold up in a pay industry," says Stern, whose First Amendment battles with the Federal Communications Commission once led to a $1.7 million fine.
"Then they're going to have to do that with the Internet, and newspapers, and magazines _ everything," Stern continues. "If people are paying for it, why would there be government regulation? And I don't see that ever changing."
Stern's two-year anniversary at Sirius comes with a gift for his fans/subscribers: an epic recounting of the King of All Media's life. "The History of Howard Stern" _ beginning with Stern's bar mitzvah and trips to summer camp _ debuts Dec. 17 on Sirius, covering the years 1954-85.
It's the kind of radio that keeps Stern listening to his own stuff, and keeps his fans coming over to Sirius as he gets ready for year three. As Stern starts speaking enthusiastically about those fans, one stops by the restaurant table to say hi: Alan Alda.
Yes, "Hawkeye" Pierce from "M-A-S-H," the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actor, the silver-haired Hollywood star. The pair swap moves from an imaginary chess match, with Stern delivering a stumper.
"I mostly lose," Alda says.
"I'll show you what to do," Stern replies.
No surprise, the radio star sounds like he knows what he's talking about.