Radio broadcaster Howard Stern was a huge draw for Sirius satellite radio when he announced his move away from traditional FM radio in 2004, and his move to the pay radio platform was in large part responsible for increasing subscribers and a merger between it and rival XM Satellite Radio a few years later.
In just a few months, the door will open for Stern to retire. If he walks through it, his departure would mark the end of an incredible run for the satellite radio industry.
Executives at SiriusXM are hoping to hold on to their prized broadcaster for just a little while longer and have been holding regular meetings with Stern and his team over the past few months, according to two company insiders familiar with the negotiations.
Those negotiations were first alluded to in an interview published by the trade blog Deadline Hollywood last month when SiriusXM CEO Jim Meyer said he wanted to “work hard” to keep Stern in the broadcast studio for at least a few more years.
“Howard’s agent and I communicate every week back and forth and I had hoped to be able to sit and do this process in person and get going,” Meyer said. “I think it is probably going to take too long to wait for a good window for that, that so I don’t see any reason why we won’t pick up the pace on those discussions. I want Howard to work at Sirius XM for as long as Howard wants to work”
The question is: Does Howard Stern still want to work at SiriusXM?
Last year, an audio blog went viral after it picked up comments made by Stern during a broadcast that suggested he would hang up his headphones and retire his mic when his contract ends in December 2020.
“I’m getting out. No really, I’m done,” Stern said during the April 2019 broadcast. “Two years and I’m out of here”
But just a few days later, Stern walked back those comments, saying it wasn’t an announcement of his intent to retire and that a decision over whether or not to renew his contract with SiriusXM was still very much up in the air.
Stern’s business relationship with SiriusXM is not the conventional one: The radio broadcast company forges an agreement not just with Stern, but with a whole crew of people, including sidekick Robin Quivers, head writer Fred Norris, executive producer Gary Dell’Abate and a cast of characters, writers, producers, sound technicians, engineers — and even Stern’s personal driver, Ronnie Mund.
Stern hosts anywhere from six to nine radio shows per month, each lasting between four and five hours long. His frequent vacations away from the microphone have drawn the ire of long-time listeners who pay around $21 a month to access two live channels, but in recent years Stern has liberated his back catalog of content on a revamped SiriusXM app, making shows from his forty-year broadcast career available on-demand.
In April, Stern said he personally had not been involved with “real serious” conversations regarding his future at SirusXM, but that he was open to staying a little while longer and had some ideas about what that might look like.
“I do really love the people that work here and I do love the company. I’m open to some kinda of idea,” Stern said. “I have some thoughts about what we might do.”
Based on comments made on prior live shows, those ideas could include moving away from Stern’s live broadcast format toward something that resembles a regularly-updated podcast or further reducing the number of live broadcasts per week from three shows to one or two.
For its part, SiriusXM has started preparing for life without Stern should he decide to exit. The satellite broadcaster has signed agreements with a host of third-party content providers, including Netflix and Comedy Central, and reached deals with celebrity hosts like comedians Andy Cohen and Nikki Glazer to produce regular content for SiriusXM’s satellite and streaming platforms.
But no one has a bigger draw than Howard Stern, and it remains unclear if the satellite company could continue on in its current capacity if he decides to end his show or take it somewhere else.
In the past, Stern has been tight-lipped about contract negotiations and renewals until just before the show breaks for an extended holiday vacation, so any news about his future and that of the show will likely not be released until mid-December at the earliest.