By The Greater Astoria Historical Society
One of the most outlandish, controversial and successful radio personalities of all time, Howard Allan Stern was born in Jackson Heights on Jan. 12, 1954. His parents, Ben and Ray Stern, who were both children of immigrants from Austria-Hungary, also had a daughter named Ellen, born four years before Howard. In 1955, the Stern family moved to Roosevelt, L.I., where Howard would later attend Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School.
Ben Stern was part owner of a recording studio in Manhattan, where cartoons and commercials were produced, and worked as an engineer for WHOM, a Manhattan-based radio station, as well. Young Howard made frequent visits to the studio with his father, where he saw the likes of Wally Cox, Don Adams and Larry Storch doing voice-overs for his favorite cartoon characters.
Howard Stern’s first attempt at broadcasting came while attending Boston University in 1973, when he worked up the courage to get on the air at the campus radio station, WTBU, doing interviews. Stern gained admission to BU’s School of Public Communications the following year and graduated magna cum laude in May 1976. He now funds a scholarship at Boston University.
That same year, Stern made his professional debut at WNTN in Newton, Mass. Unsure of his talent, he at first turned down an offer from WRNW, a progressive rock station in Westchester County, but was later hired to cover the midday shift for $96 a week. In 1979, he spotted an ad for a “wild fun morning guy” at WCCC, a rock station in Hartford, Conn. Stern submitted an audition tape and got the job. By early 1981, he was hosting mornings for WWDC in Washington, D.C., where he was first paired with Robin Quivers, a newscaster and consumer affairs reporter from Maryland.
Stern’s big break came in 1982, when with the second-highest rated morning show in the nation he signed a five-year, $1 million contract with NBC and began airing in the afternoon in New York City. Stern’s wacky brand of humor was a godsend to tens of thousands of New York commuters often stranded in daily bumper-to-bumper traffic.
But he also had a stormy relationship with NBC, which wanted him to tone down his act to the point where program director Kevin Metheny, who Stern nicknamed “Pig Virus,” was authorized to cut off Stern’s microphone at his discretion. On May 21, 1984, Stern made the first of many appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman,” which launched him into the national spotlight. Despite their success and the ratings they brought NBC, Stern and Quivers were fired in 1985 for what management termed “conceptual differences.”
Soon after, WXRK or “K-Rock” hired Stern, where he remained for the next two decades until his departure for Sirius Satellite Radio in 2005. This was the era that saw Stern adopt a rock star-like persona, an appearance at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards as “Fartman” and the release of two autobiographical books: “Private Parts” (1993, released as a film in 1997) and “Miss America” (1995).
He dabbled in politics with an abortive run for governor of New York on the Libertarian Party line in 1994 — Stern later endorsed then-Republican candidate George Pataki — and somehow found the time for numerous off-the-wall video offerings and several forays into television.
During this time, “The Howard Stern Show” reached a peak audience of 20 million in 60 markets through syndication and was the top-rated morning show in New York from 1994-2001. Stern is the highest-paid radio figure of all time, as well as the most fined by the Federal Communications Commission.
Stern married Alison Berns in 1978 and they have three daughters: Emily Beth (born 1983), Debra Jennifer (born 1986) and Ashley Jade (born 1993). The marriage ended in 2001 with an amicable divorce and settlement. After a period of several years dating actresses and models, Stern married actress and television personality Beth Ostrosky.
Well into the third decade of his professional career, in December 2010 Stern announced the signing of a new five-year contract with Sirius that will expire in 2015.
Notable quote: “Late night television is ready for someone like me … standards have gone to an all-time low.”
For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.