The Howard Stern of the 1980s was, of course, different from the Howard Stern of today. (I suppose the same could be said of the Raymond De Felitta of the 80s as well but that’s a horse of a different color.) Stern’s personality was that of a defensive underdog peeking through the window of a room filled with people who didn’t want him there. The song parodies and routines were rancid, sexist, homophobic etc. and yet there was a meta to them that sent them into another realm; they’re the work of a desperate-for-attention adolescent sitting in his room with a friend and a tape recorder, getting even on the world around him. It always seemed clear to me that, while these feelings were rooted in truth, Stern was conscious of playing that role, of inhabiting the character of that sad and rambunctious geek. From my earliest Stern memories I was always of the opinion that his art was performative, that he knew the role he was playing and why it spoke to his audience, and that much if not all of it was ‘method’ radio humor. He created his character and was the only actor who could interpret it.

Before Stern was syndicated he was only heard in the Tri-State area and it was a severe bummer for many loyal followers if they were faced with moving out of town. No satellite, no internet, no nothing. I moved to L.A. at the end of the decade and had to prevail upon a friend of mine in NYC to make me cassette tapes of the show which I would play in my car while stuck in L.A. traffic. Apparently I wasn’t the only person in need of this service.

Above is a segment of a mid-80s Stern show featuring two song parodies, the first with Robert Palmer who inexplicably made an actual in-studio appearance at a time when most celebrities shunned the show. (That the show is now largely comprised of over-length fawning celebrity interviews is an irony that I doubt Stern grasps–he always seems at his most blind when attempting self-introspection). Palmer sings the first parody ‘Kaity Tong’, a ‘Bang a Gong’ riff about the popular local New York CBS Asian anchorwoman. The second song parody, ‘What About Glove?’, is a severely homophobic early AIDS era number. None of this humor–particularly the latter song–would begin to fly today, much as Stern’s frequent use of the ‘N word’ in the 90s (always in satirical context as he is quick to point out) would now cause instant cancellation. The cassettes my friend sent me no longer exist and if they did the technology to play them probably wouldn’t work. I like that somebody kept their little cassette of this moment in mid-80s local New York radio history and bothered to share it with a Youtube audience. It’s a window on the 80s in general, a lost era that doesn’t seem all that long ago to me…and yet I was thirty-five years younger, freshly out of college, sitting around the house in the morning, wondering what the hell to to do with my life while faithfully listening to Howard…



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