"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
The King and I
Is Howard Stern, the self-proclaimed 'King of All Media,' the victim of an FCC vendetta? Yes, probably he is. However, I couldn't care less. I detest his radio show for very personal reasons. The guys who work for me, however, just love his show and listen to him faithfully every morning on the PA intercom system in the yard and in the rest of the buildings as well. Which in turn means that I have to listen to him, too. Now Stern is still amusing at times, but . . . he was never my cup of tea. Maybe I am just getting old, but at age 35, he just doesn't appeal to me much anymore.
Of course, as a believer in free speech, I agree Stern has the right to broadcast his shtick as he has quite successfully over the years. And the prudes, buzzkills, and others like myself who object to his shtick have the option to not listen, an option I avail myself to every chance I get. The intercom is usually shut off in the office where I work for that very reason, too. As the proprietor of this outfit, I could just shut him off period, but the men love Howard and so I indulge them. But only as a favor to them, not because I don't have the right to ban him.
As to the larger issue of censorship, I have mixed feelings. 'If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise,' says socialist libertarian Noam Chomsky, 'we don't believe in it at all.' Which largely sums up my view of Stern as well as some others. I tolerate him and other people's choice of him as my personal tithe toward toleration of opposing political, cultural, and social views with which I disagree. On the other hand, I would never listen to Stern in my home or car or allow my young children to, either. So with that admission, there goes my halo in some people's eyes.
Stern's situation does, however, show how the free market successfully adapts. When Stern moves to the largely unregulated satellite radio airwaves in January '06, I will again be able to have a Stern-free morning. This is because I don't see the blokes in the yard putting up the cost to pay for a satellite radio interface for the intercom or paying for a subscription for the service to use it. Perhaps they'll fool me, or one of them is such a Stern junkie that he will individually pay for all that. But I doubt it.
Stern's current employers are very much tired of paying huge FCC fines and having their government-issued licenses to broadcast threatened by Stern's antics. So much so in fact that they are willing to forgo Stern's services. Sirius Radio, on the other hand, is not bound by FCC 'decency' rules and so is willing to take a chance on Stern.
Sirius is taking a risk that Stern's fan base is so loyal that they will purchase satellite radios and Sirius subscriptions that will now be needed to hear him on this new format. If Sirius guesses right, they'll make a profit, and if not they won't, and Stern's value as a popular radio host will diminish and he may even go off the airwaves. This is all basic free-market economics, and is a fine example of the invisible hand (that Adam Smith wrote about 254 years ago) still at work. And it nicely illustrates how markets can and do adapt as well.
This is all good news for me too. Come January 2006, a scant ten weeks from now, Grenville Firewood Ltd. will be Stern-free 24/7, and I'll be able to listen to NPR, classic rock, sports talk-radio or whatever the heck else the blokes in the yard choose to replace old Howard with. And it is another victory for the free market, and for me, and probably for Howard too. Everybody wins here!
And so I will leave the readers who have stayed until the bitter (but sweet) end of this screed with a quote from one of my kid's favorite (and G-Rated) movies, the Lion King.
'No king, no king! La la la la la!' Life is good sometimes, eh?