Washington radio's bad boy, Howard Stern, the outspoken and frequently tasteless morning disc jockey who staged a one-man blitzkrieg on Washington radio audiences, is leaving for New York City. Since he joined Capitol Broadcasting Company's WWDC AM-FM (DC 101) a year ago, Stern has almost tripled his ratings to become one of the top-rated personalities in Washington radio.

"Howard will be moving to WNBC-AM at the expiration of his contractual obligation to his present employer," said Bob Sherman, executive vice president for the NBC radio network. Stern's contract with WWDC expires July 31 of this year. Sherman would not discuss specific details of Stern's new contract, but said it is "a long-term contract." When asked about reports that Stern will receive a bigger salary than Q107's team of Elliott and Woodside, who recently signed a contract for almost $900,000 each over the next five years, Sherman said that estimate was "grossly exaggerated." He said, however, Stern's salary would be "substantial."

Stern could not be reached for comment last night.

His audio antics, which were heavily promoted by WWDC, forced the station to install a seven-second delay to contain his spontaneous and irreverent outbursts. His cast of caricatures included weather reports from "God," "Born-Again Stern" and "Out of the Closet Stern," each of which appears calculated to amuse or offend at least a portion of his audience.

"I expect that Howard has the same potentiality with WNBC as he would at any other station. He's an extraordinary performer, conscientious, hard-working, and let's face it, the man's funny," Sherman said.

Newscaster and sidekick Robin Quivers and producer Fred "Earth Dog" Norris, Stern's daily accomplices in terrorizing the airwaves, are not part of the NBC deal, according to Sherman. "No insult intended, but I don't know who Fred Norris is," Sherman said. "We have had no discussion at NBC about the potential value of Robin Quivers.

"The likelihood is that Howard will be taking over the WNBC afternoon drive time," Sherman said. The 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. slot is currently held by Frank Reed and Alan Beebe. "We have not gone so far as to noodling with the specifics yet," Sherman said.

But one radio insider in Washington said, "Whoever is doing that slot on WNBC is going to be surprised in the next couple hours. The brass knew about it, but it's something that was kind of hush-hush."

Said Sherman, "Our contract with Howard has been staggeringly minimal. Initial contact was on a social basis with WRC-AM vice president and general manager Jerry Nachman. In a conversation with myself and Al Law NBC vice president for programming and development , Jerry said he had become a fan of a morning personality in Washington and recommended Stern to us." WRC is the NBC-owned station in Washington.

"We had become intrigued because of some of our other successes with combining personality radio with music, the premier example being Don Imus," Sherman said. The controversial Imus, whose reputation is similar to Stern's, has a morning show for WNBC-AM. "Historically, over the last five or six years, the proliferation of FM stations playing music has come at the expense of the popular AM stations. What we're trying to do, what we have to do is force people to listen to AM by giving them an appealing personality. There are only a handful of personalities in radio that can force that kind of listening. We feel that Howard amply fills that description," Sherman said.

Goff Lebhar, president of Capitol Broadcasting Co. and general manager of WWDC, said, "I have not spoken with NBC radio. All I can tell you is that Howard is under contract with me."

Sherman said the decision to sign Stern was made by Dominic Fioravanti, vice president and general manager of WNBC-AM, with input from Al Law. "Stern had no desire to breach his contract with WWDC," Sherman said. "He thought he had the right to conduct post-term discussions, and that was confirmed by his attorneys and by ours. One of the reasons we withheld this information was to allow Howard the opportunity to tell his own employers. I frankly feel badly for Goff that this happened to him."

News of the contract was not a complete surprise to radio insiders. "I heard Stern was going to try to get a Fernando Valenzuela contract, and I heard Capitol Broadcasting wasn't going for it," said a music industry insider.