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Howard Ascendant

Stern's show is the top-rated English-language morning drive program in Los Angeles.

January 15, 1998|JUDITH MICHAELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At first blush, Howard Stern's movie was a disappointment. Sure, it garnered good reviews and he drew frenetic crowds at appearances promoting "Private Parts," starring himself as himself. But despite a big opening weekend last March, the cinematic autobiography quickly petered out, grossing only $41 million in North America, less than had been predicted.

Yet for Stern, the movie and follow-up video conferred legitimacy. It softened the image of a radio entertainer who was known for provoking the Federal Communications Commission with racy language--and for other verbal abuses, including over-the-top political incorrectness. By showing Stern's dealings with idiot bosses, his career moves and an incongruously faithful family life, "Private Parts" made the guy who routinely was identified with the moniker "shock jock" accessible and, if not quite warm and fuzzy, at least interesting.

And now that effort is bearing fruit: He's virtually doubled the number of stations on his roster, adding 20 since the movie, and ratings are up substantially on his syndicated morning-drive show.

On KLSX-FM (97.1), his outlet here since July 1991, Stern, who turned 44 Monday, surged in the Arbitron ratings for the fall quarter, going from a 4.8% share and third place to 6.4% and second place. His is the leading morning-drive show in the English-language field.

In the ratings survey released last week, Stern, who airs live from 3-6 a.m. and then on tape-delay from 6 to 10 a.m.--or 11 a.m. or whenever he's done--not only pushed the FM talk station's overall audience share from 2% to 2.5% but also provided a boost in the crucial 25- to 54-year-old demographic, which many advertisers target. KLSX attracted 3.2% of that age group, placing it only one-tenth of a point behind talk leader KFI-AM (640).

Not since October 1992 had Stern hit 6.4%. That's when he soared into first place past KLOS-FM's (95.5) Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps. Six months later, Stern was displaced by the morning team on Spanish-station KLAX-FM (97.9), and since then essentially has bounced between first and fourth place. For a while last year, he trailed both KLVE-FM's (107.5) Pepe Barreto and KSCA-FM's (101.9) Renan Almendarez Coello. Now he trails Coello, top guy in morning drive for two quarters in a row, by only three-tenths of a point.

But it's not just Los Angeles where Stern is advancing. It's also happening in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. Canada, too.

"The show's last six months, the last year, are the best he's ever done," says Bob Moore, vice president and general manager of KLSX. "And the movie broke through all the barriers about him. [People] saw so much of who Howard Stern really was. They felt like they knew the person.

"Since the movie," Moore adds, "he's had more and more musical guests, more and more celebrities. Aerosmith, Tony Bennett, Julio Iglesias. It seems like the A-list is fighting to get on his show."

The video only widened his reach. "People rent it and rent it and rent it," Moore notes, "and that gives further exposure to Howard. It's amazing that a guy can have a six-year run in a marketplace and keep getting stronger and stronger."

In Philadelphia, Stern, who is in first place, went to an all-time high of 11.7%, up from 9.1% a year earlier. "He's just awesome," says Tim Sabean, program director at WYSP-FM. "The show just keeps evolving, and he just keeps reinventing himself. And with the movie, he's able to expand his fan base."

In New York, Stern increased his overall first-place share from 8.7% to 9.6%--and drew a massive 19.1% among 18- to 34-year-olds, reports John Mainelli's Radio News & Commentary.

In Chicago, Stern tied for 10th place overall with a 3.4% share, up from 2.7% the previous quarter. More significantly, however, he jumped from ninth place to second with a 5.2% share among listeners 25 to 54.

The Chicago Sun-Times speculates that Stern benefited from the four-month absence of popular Chicago morning host Jonathon Brandmeier, who had been in a contract dispute with WLUP-FM and WMVP-AM. Starting Monday, Brandmeier will now follow Stern from 11-2 p.m. on WCKG-FM in Chicago and on KLSX here.

Meanwhile, having begun in Canada in September, Stern is first in Montreal and second in the metropolitan ratings book for Toronto. Including satellite communities in southern Ontario, his is "the biggest morning show in Canada," says Pat Cardinal, program director of his Toronto outlet. "They love him. He is the funniest, most impactful broadcaster working, and you never know what you're going to get next."

*

Ronn, Rush & Michael: KABC-AM (790) host Ronn Owens, who replaced 30-year veteran Michael Jackson last July in the 9-11:45 a.m. slot, inched up in the overall Arbitron ratings for the fall quarter but still has a way to go to surpass his predecessor.

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