Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Backstory on Howard Stern’s anti-Idoltry.

Aside from whatever Howard Stern’s official reason is for encouraging his fans to thwart American Idol’s system of choosing the winner, I have an additional theory: Professional jealousy.

For years, New York-based Howard Stern, the self-proclaimed “King of All Media,” was the most visible radio personality. In addition to his syndicated radio show, Stern was visible on E!,late night talk show appearances, award show appearances, movies, and God knows what else. Aside from ticking off the FCC now and then, he was pretty much untouchable in broadcasting.

Meanwhile, in the late 1990’s, at a Clear Channel station out in Los Angeles, a young DJ from Atlanta named Ryan Seacrest starts gaining visibility. Nothing too major, just stuff a hardworking DJ does to make a living in an expensive city…An appearance on Beverly Hills 90210 here, a talk show pilot or game show there, lots of voiceovers, and taking on lots of extra projects at the radio station. Then, celebrities start tuning in to Seacrest’s radio show because he’s gaining a reputation as a good interviewer, in addition to having a fun radio show. He switches from the evening shift to the more visible Afternoon Drive, picks up a sidekick named Lisa Foxx, and the buzz gets bigger as more celebs tune in while they’re stuck in traffic on the way home from the studio or picking up their kids from school. The ratings follow suit, Seacrest moonlights on the TV show Extra and on E!’s Talk Soup, and the buzz in the broadcasting biz really starts taking off.

Then Seacrest auditions for—and gets—a job cohosting a new TV show called American Idol. The show’s a hit and is picked up for the next season, but with Seacrest as the sole host. His afternoon radio show ratings soar, he starts getting ink in national magazines, and he and radio partner Lisa Foxx start winning awards, including the radio industry’s prestigious Radio Personality of the Year award.

Meanwhile, the FCC is coming down hard on Stern in the form of fines. In addition to the Infinity-owned stations that carry his show, Stern’s show is carried by some Clear Channel-owned radio stations. Stern’s thinking of leaving Infinity, but his contract isn’t up yet. Meanwhile, fines at the Clear Channel stations are exceeding Stern’s Clear Channel worth. Cut to Clear Channel hot shot Seacrest: He’s pretty agreeable, has a more family-friendly audience, and seems really happy to be there. Hmmm…Casey Kasem and Rick Dees shows need new hosts. What if…?

So, Clear Channel has Stern exactly where they want him and turns their focus soley to Seacrest. (As American Idol’s success continued, soon Seacrest was in talks for a TV talkshow, too, with opportunities for cross-promotion.)

To add insult to Stern’s unhappiness, some of the media begin referring to Ryan Seacrest as “the next Dick Clark,” “the real king of pop” and “the new king of all media.” Ouch. Seacrest appears on Stern’s radio show to promote one of his projects, and is a good sport when Stern starts ribbing him about the “new king of all media” title. Except Stern doesn’t sound like he’s joking as he defensively points out that Seacrest isn’t the “king of all media” because he doesn’t have a movie or a book. Seacrest is still a good sport.

Not long afterward, Seacrest replaces Rick Dees as the host of influential pop station KIIS-FM’s morning radio show and drops Stern’s syndicated show from their remaining 6 Clear Channel stations. Stern’s show on E! goes bye-bye, too. Stern makes a deal to take his show to Satellite radio. Much later, Seacrest joins E! as News Editor and anchor.

So…if Stern was a little ticked at Ryan Seacrest and wanted to take down American Idol, it would be a little understandable. Also pathetic, because Seacrest was just working his butt off, doing his own, very different thing, but a little understandable. But mostly it would just be pathetic, because Howard Stern and Ryan Seacrest are both damn good at what they do.

Copyright 2007 Randi Reed and All rights reserved.