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Stern Bemoans Karmazin Departure

The shock jock, who has long enjoyed the executive's backing, frets about his future.

June 02, 2004|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Near the top of Howard Stern's website is a counter ticking off the seconds before his contract with Infinity Radio runs out.

But the shock jock's on-air despair Tuesday after Viacom Inc. President Mel Karmazin announced he was leaving Infinity's parent company raises the question of whether Stern will remain for the full 19 months and eight days.

Already embroiled in the continuing broadcast decency debate, Stern sounded even more agitated than usual Tuesday because the executive who has been his strongest defender is out.

"I don't understand how Mel could resign," Stern told listeners. "I'm in shock. He's my backup here. I don't know that [Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone] would back me up. This is definitely the nail in my coffin."

Even considering the histrionics that typify many of Stern's on-air remarks, his statements Tuesday hinted at a deep sense of foreboding about his future as the leading star of Viacom's radio subsidiary.

"I'm ready to end radio as you know it," Stern said. "I see the future, and the future is not this."

Stern suggested satellite radio as his next possible career move, an idea he has floated before.

Leslie Moonves, who is taking control of Infinity in his new capacity as Viacom's co-president and co-chief operating officer, told reporters Tuesday that he would do his best to keep Stern and other top radio talent.

Janet Jackson's bared breast during the Super Bowl's halftime show may have set off the current round in the decency debate, but Stern has long been the fight's public enemy No. 1 as he lashes out at what he sees as efforts to stifle his frequently raunchy program.

Stern and his agent, Don Buchwald, could not be reached for comment.

In February, Clear Channel Radio removed Stern from six stations for allowing a racial epithet to air.

Stern reaches up to 9 million listeners a week on about three dozen other stations, including KLSX-FM (97.1) in Southern California.

Karmazin, who has backed Stern in 18 years of working together, apologized to Congress for the offensive racist remark made by a caller but said the show "does not fall within the ambit of the indecency definition."

Stern said on air that he wanted to quit along with Karmazin, but his contract "does not allow me to do so."

Reuters was used in compiling this report.

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