Dateline: August 25, 1997
Give Howard Stern A Chance.
An Editorial From The Montreal Gazette.
Radio talk show host Howard Stern may be obnoxious, objectionable, gross
and offensive. But those who would run him out of Montreal before his New
York-based talk-show makes it's local debut Sept. 2 are not only guilty
of political correctness, they have little understanding of the value of
freedom of expression in our society.
Yes, Mr. Stern breaks all the taboos. He's been known to crack jokes
about miscarriages, offer tips on masturbation, pass wind on the air, talk
about the size of his penis, and his voyeuristic lesbian fantasies. It's
a sophomoric, tasteless brand of humor. It doesn't deserve respect, or even
attention, but it does deserve at least the chance to be heard.
The commercial market, the libel laws and the broadcasting regulations
will determine the success or failure of Mr. Stern's show in Canada. So
far, he's a runaway hit in the U.S., where an estimated 20 million Americans
in 35 cities each day tune into his syndicated radio show. But his outrageous
remarks have resulted in more than $1.7 million in legal judgments against
him. CHOM-FM, the Montreal station that will carry Mr. Stern's show, would
be well advised to take out extra libel insurance.
Canadian audiences in Windsor, Ont., were first exposed to the self-styled
Shock Jock when Mr. Stern returned to the air in Detroit last February.
Although the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement does not rate the impact of
U.S. stations on Canadian markets, industry sources agree that largely because
of the curiosity factor, Mr. Stern has drawn listeners from all 32 stations
on both sides of border in the competitive Windsor-Detroit market. CHOM-FM
is gambling he'll do the same thing here.
In other markets, the Howard Stern show begins slowly, and builds ratings
incrementally adding to its audience bit by bit. But will this snowball
effect be duplicated in Montreal? Mr. Stern will not be the first to attempt
to stretch the bounds of decency in this city. Radio listeners, especially
French radio audiences, have been exposed to shamelessly outrageous hosts
like André Arthur for years. It is precisely because the city is
so tolerant that CHOM-FM has added Mr. Stern to its programming. Executives
at the station's head office in Toronto have said they felt Montreal would
be more receptive to new ideas and could deal with Mr. Stern's antics better
than those in Toronto.
But it's also true that a lot of what passes for sensationalism on the
other side of the border might be considered sophomoric in a sophisticated
city like Montreal. Then too, freedom of speech isn't interpreted as broadly
in Canada as it is in the United States. The Canadian Radio-Television and
Telecommunications Commission has rules against anything on the air that
might incite hatred "on the basis of race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation
or physical disabilities." Mr. Stern could run afoul of those regulations
here with his often misogynist, homophobic and xenophobic rants.
Surveys show most of his listeners are males between the ages of 21
and 50. Diehard fans swear by him for what they consider his frankness and
fearless honesty. They regard him as someone who fights hypocrisy without
censoring himself. His detractors consider him a purveyor of hate, racism
and sexism, another unwelcome intrusion of lewd and crude American junk
Mr. Stern himself contends he's harmless. "Don't be afraid of words,"
he has said, "and don't be afraid of what's different." Montrealers
have embraced that attitude for years and are no strangers to arguments
of all sorts.