Who can afford Howard Stern?

Wed Feb 3, 2010 11:39pm EST
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By Paul Bond

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Howard Stern has begun negotiating a new radio contract. Perhaps not technically, but Stern's on-air mentions of his exclusive Sirius XM Radio deal winding down at year's end, and his hedged proclamations of competing offers, are what one insider called his "method of operation."

Not only is it his way of rallying his fan base so they'll agitate on his behalf, but he also is making sure that celestial and terrestrial radio know they'll need to bid against each other if they intend on retaining -- or attaining -- his services.

As effective as Stern's M.O. might have been in the past, though, it could fall flat this time because Sirius XM Radio has descended into penny-stock status during his satellite tenure, and traditional radio isn't faring much better. This begs the questions: Who's left that can afford to pony up anything near the $100 million a year that Sirius XM has been shelling out to Stern and his crew? And what form could a new deal take?

Sirius XM chief Mel Karmazin, who's had Stern's back since their days at Infinity Broadcasting, on Wednesday made it clear he wants the shock jock to stay put.

"In this world of fragmentation, content prevails," he said during a presentation at the Paley Center for Media in New York. "Howard Stern is great content. Howard would be sought-after by anyone. He's a great talent. Having said that, we would like him to stay with us, and we are optimistic he will continue to do so."

Stern's most recent employers CBS might not compete for his attentions, given that he insulted CEO Leslie Moonves after the company sued him five years ago. CBS would not comment.

Clear Channel Radio CEO John Hogan, on the other hand, already has said his is "the most logical company for (Stern) to optimize his exposure and financial return." Hogan seemed to be saying that Stern would make more money at Clear Channel than elsewhere.

Clear Channel presumably would syndicate Stern through its Premiere Radio Networks. But that entity has struck new deals recently with some of the industry's top personalities, including Rush Limbaugh, Ryan Seacrest, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Elvis Duran and Delilah -- none of whom came cheap. Limbaugh's contract inked in 2008, for example, calls for $400 million over eight years.   Continued...