Howard Stern's ratings up
Crackdown appears to have boosted listenership
LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- Federal regulators may have painted a big bull's eye on Howard Stern's back, but the recent government crackdown on indecency over the airwaves has proven a boon to the shock jock's ratings.
The ribald radio host scored major gains in listenership during the winter quarter ended March 31 in the three biggest U.S. markets -- New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- according to figures made public on Monday by the Arbitron radio ratings service.
In Stern's home market of New York, where his show is broadcast on WXRK-FM, he topped all morning drive-time competition with a 7.2 share in total audience, up 22 percent from the fall quarter and 18 percent from last winter, Arbitron said.
A radio ratings share is based on the number of people tuned to a particular program and how much time they spend listening for an average quarter hour. Stern's show had dipped slipped to No. 2 in total audience last fall.
Stern also returned to No. 1 during the first quarter among New York listeners aged 18 to 34 and 25 to 54. Overall, it was his best showing in the nation's top market since the fall of 2000, according to Viacom Inc.-owned Infinity Broadcasting, which syndicates Stern.
In Los Angeles, where he is carried on KLSX-FM, Stern climbed back to No. 1 in the key demographic of listeners aged 25 to 54 for the first time since the summer of 1995. He also rose from sixth place to fourth place in total drive-time audience with a 4.2 share. And in Chicago (WCKG-FM), Stern posted a 23 percent gain in morning drive time, jumping from 15th place to No. 9.
Stern's boost in ratings coincided with his latest conflict with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a related clash with Clear Channel Communications Inc., the nation's biggest radio station operator.
In February, Clear Channel dumped Stern from its six stations that carried him under a new "zero tolerance" policy toward indecency, citing Stern's sexually frank interview with Rick Salomon, the former boyfriend of hotel heiress and reality TV star Paris Hilton, and a racist remark from a caller that was aired during the broadcast.
The following month, the FCC levied a $27,500 against a Detroit radio station for a different Stern broadcast involving explicit discussion of sexual techniques. And in April, the FCC proposed another $495,000 in fines against Clear Channel for yet a third Stern broadcast, prompting Clear Channel to sever ties with the radio host for good.
The controversy has become a regular topic of discussion on his show in recent months, with Stern saying he has fallen victim to a conservative backlash prompted by Janet Jackson's breast-baring Super Bowl performance in February on CBS, also owned by Viacom.
After the latest round of fines were proposed, he issued a statement calling the FCC's actions part of a "McCarthy-type 'witch hunt.' " Stern also has accused the Republican-dominated FCC of singling him out in retaliation for his on-air opposition to President Bush and for urging listeners to vote for Democratic challenger John Kerry.
In San Diego, one of the markets where his show was removed by Clear Channel, radio station KIOZ-FM's drive-time ratings dropped from an 8.9 share in February to 0.7 in March, the first month without Stern. Stern's show remains syndicated on a total of 36 stations nationwide.