I think that's why now having the freedom to communicate freely and be heard is so important to you.
Yeah, maybe. It's weird. Until this day, I've only discussed this in therapy. I didn't become a racist because I said, "What's the difference, black or white, since whoever's in the majority seems to take it out on the other?" I certainly read in history of all the white mobs that would beat up black people and hang them and do terrible things. Suddenly I was caught up in just this. As people, we can all be so vicious. When I was in this community, at the drop of a hat someone could start yelling and screaming at you and you weren't sure why, and suddenly you're in a fight or being choked or punched – physically abused. The whole thing is very confusing to me, but more confusing is the dynamic of the graph you had me draw because I don't know how, as a parent, I wouldn't say to my kids, "Listen, this is too much for you to bear."
But when you finally moved to a white neighborhood, the same thing happened and you couldn't blame it on race anymore.
It turns out it wasn't race, it was me! I was the awkward one. I was like, "Oh, black people hate me." Then I'm like, "Wait a second, white people hate me too." I felt more alienated than ever.
So you turned to radio, where no one could see you.
When I was starting out, I came to the revelation that if I was going to go anywhere in radio, I can't be playing records. I said, "I can't rely on the Beatles or the Rolling Stones to get me ratings. Every asshole can play those. But if what I have to say was important, no one can replicate that."
There was also more of an aggression and competitiveness to your early shows.
Radio was everything. I had to win – at all costs, no holds barred. Not to sound like Charlie Sheen, but losing was not an option. I put in a lot of work on it. I listened to every show back on tape. I spent thousands of hours editing tapes, writing commercials, incorporating sound effects. I spent endless days and nights thinking about this and nothing else...
You know, I was watching Charlie Sheen's really interesting attempt at radio the other night, and the first show was sort of a train wreck, which Charlie even admits. And I said, "Oh, if I could have only produced that!" He had so many good things he could have done. Like, as I'm watching it, my mind is clicking, going, "Take the two girls, give them a lie-detector test. All right, call the press in and do your own press conference. Call up three of the madams, offer the girls money to come in, and the first whore who gets to the house wins $15,000." Boom, boom, boom. And you start to say, "Oh, my God, you can structure a show around all of this madness."
What are the plans for the next five years of your show?
I haven't really specified. When it came down to sort of figuring out what I was really after, I was pretty sure I was going to leave the radio. I thought I'd kind of done what I needed to do. I still enjoyed it, but I also found that I wanted time to do some other things. Right now, my schedule is pretty much the same as it always has been. And then as time rolls on, I'll probably do about three shows a week. I've been doing this for such a long time, and getting up at this time in the morning never gets easy. You never get used to it. The alarm went off this morning, and it was as if it was the first day I was doing it.
Do you ever want to bring guests on the show who are more in line with your current personal interests?
Well, sometimes, but I have to keep in my mind what type of show I'm doing and who my audience is. For three years I became obsessive about chess, so I would have had every chess expert on and blown out my entire audience. I became so obsessed with it that I pushed everything else to the side and treated chess like a job. Now I've stopped completely because I really needed to shift focus. Now my focus is a little bit of photography. I recognize that some things are just my things. I'm a quiet guy who can read books on organizing. I'm fascinated by organizing. I'll think about organizing all day. Now who the fuck wants to hear a show about organizing?
It's interesting how your hobbies are things like chess and photography, which, like radio, are about interacting and connecting with people but through the safety of another device that serves as a barrier.
That actually makes sense to me, because I definitely want to connect, but I don't want to connect fully. I want interaction but at a safe distance. I can only get so messy with people.
Because it's difficult for you to deal with other people's emotions?
That's right. You know, a lot of times it feels like too much of a burden. That's a part of my personality that I've actually been working on changing, and perhaps coming in a little bit closer. But for the most part, I think it's really accurate. I tend to choose things that keep me at a distance.
It does seem like you've befriended more of your guests and other people now than in the past.
Yeah, I have. That's a conscious decision on my part. I notice when I'm able to break through my fear and hesitancy and create some friendships, it really feels good. I missed a lot of that by not fully being human. It's hard, because I'm the first one to tend to shut down. I'm the type of guy who will invite you to my home and then all of a sudden I'll be angry you're at my house, like, "When can I be by myself?"
You're one of the most honest guys in media, yet there are certain areas of your life that you don't go into on the air.
I try to be really open and honest about the things I'm comfortable with. But some things, I'm not comfortable with. I was never really that comfortable discussing my divorce with the audience. My ex-wife isn't a bad person. She's a really good person and we have three great children, and that is such a private matter for me. If it was my matter alone, I would discuss it, but there are other people involved.
There are ways that it can be shared without bringing her into it, like discussing your own pain.
Yeah, absolutely. Divorce was so theoretical to me because no one in my family had really been divorced. My parents have been together for a million years. So this was all new to me. I was with my ex-wife since college, so it felt like such a failure. My children took it so hard. It's so complicated, and it's hard for me even to figure out at this point what went wrong and how things that were so good could go so bad. It's tough. I think I'll spend the rest of my life trying to analyze that.
So you still don't know the actual reasons behind the divorce?
No. I mean, I think I do. It fell apart for a lot of different reasons. It's just too fucking complicated. It's so raw and so personal. I'm so fucking honest that I'd rather just say to you, "I can't talk about it because I don't feel comfortable being this honest." I don't want to give you some bullshit.
I'd rather hear that than something that's not true.
It just sucks. I've had friends say it's as simplistic as "You were together too long." And I go, "No, I don't think that's accurate." I think there were a lot of stressors, especially with what I did for a living. And, man, you can really lose your mind. I'm pretty sure I was very confused.
Are there mistakes you made in your first marriage that you want to avoid in your relationship this time?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. In many ways, my marriage now is so easy, but I'm also aware that I could fuck things up very easily. I could start getting more into my work, and ignoring what's important to Beth. I'm awfully narcissistic, and I have to keep that in check. I can't be like King Tut sitting there and expect to be taken care of, because so many times we can turn our wives into mothers. Things changed when we got married. Not so much between us, but the way people treated her. Everyone before was like, "Oh, are you Howard Stern's blond bimbo that hangs out with him?" But suddenly, when we were married, it was like, "Oh, this is Howard's wife." And that was important to me. Part of the reason I got married was that I wanted Beth to understand how important she is and also how equal I feel she is to me.
Since your divorce, you also talk about your kids less on the air.
When they were younger I did, and I brought the kids on the air. As they got older, I'd say to them, "Are you interested in coming on the air?" I'd figure they'd want to go into radio or television or something. But no, they don't have that desire. They don't see it as an attractive thing to get on the air and discuss their lives. None of them are looking for the limelight.
Your daughter who was acting, she isn't pursuing that anymore?
No, she's not pursuing acting anymore. In fact, she's studying religion now. Very serious about it. One of my daughters lives in San Francisco. She's working in the school systems there. My youngest daughter is going off to college. They're all very good students. I'm very proud of them. They're great kids, but, again, it's their lives and they're not comfortable being spoken about. So as good as some of the things that have happened in my life with my children are, in terms of radio material, I found somehow the strength to say no to that, and not be the guy who has to expose himself all the time.
At the same time, you broke through in the Eighties and Nineties by saying yes to exposing things when your instinct was to stop yourself.
I was a slug, and I was down in the mud. I felt very defensive. I had to do whatever I had to do to make a living, and I would tear the fucking head off of anyone who got in my way. And now I'm more comfortable with my place and what I've done. I don't feel as threatened by anybody else. I have a really nice friendship with Jimmy Kimmel. Years ago, I could have had a friendship with anybody in show business, and I didn't, because everyone was a competitor. Someone would say something about me, and rather than consider it, I would just blow up and start screaming, which to me is boring. Now that I look back on it, I wouldn't approach it that way. I would really stop, take a breath and go, "OK, what are they saying? Is there any truth to it? And why am I afraid to respond to it?" Now I'd be more likely to really deal with it in a more honest way. That's more interesting radio than the knee-jerk I'm gonna scream and yell and just fight.
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