It must have been cool that his father owned a recording studio in New York. It is also quite cool that he knew early in life what he wanted to do in the future. As a young boy he was able to go with his father to countless recording sessions. His favorites may have been the ones featuring comedians such as Don Adams, Larry Storch and Wally Cox recording the voices for the great cartoons of the day. It should come as no surprise then that he knew at the age of five that he wanted to be in the recording and radio business.
He had no shortage of insecurities and often felt like an outsider. His desire for attention and his penchant for the outlandish was apparent at an early age. He created and performed puppet shows in his basement at the urging of his mother. What she didn’t know was that when it was just his friends present the show became the Perverted Marionette Show. His family lived in a predominantly African-American neighborhood where he wasn’t completely accepted. When he was entering high school, they moved to a primarily white neighborhood he had no idea how to fit in, later saying he knew how Tarzan must have felt when he was brought back to England.
He enrolled at Boston University which was significant on two fronts. It was here that his path to radio began. He became active with the campus radio station, where, he and some friends started a comedy show called the King Schmaltz Bagel hour. He had a show cancelled because of a racially charged skit he included in the broadcast. It was also at BU that he met his wife.
His professional on-air career began at a small station in Newton, Massachusetts – but he began to doubt his talent. He started to work for an advertising agency and then moved to selling radio time. The air waves were calling however, and he was back on air in Westchester, NY. From there he went to Hartford, Connecticut. His next move was Detroit – until that station switched to a Country & Western format – at which time he moved to Washington DC.
Throughout those various moves he began to incorporate his brash and irreverent style into his show. He was becoming known for wild antics and a flippant, sometimes profane style of talk radio. Some of his actions garnered national attention – such as calling for a two day boycott of Shell Oil during the 1979 energy crisis. Others fueled outrage – like when he pretended to call Air Florida and to ask if the location where its flight 90 had crashed the day before would become a regular stop. These actions led to his being fired.
No problem – he moved to New York City where he became the number one rated morning DJ, syndicated his show to reach major US markets such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and more. He released his autobiography which saw over one million copies distributed in two weeks. He created and sold out live events, produced pay-per-view events. His radio show was filmed and turned into a television series on cable and network. A second book sold over 1.3 million copies. His autobiography became a movie. His on-air antics resulted in over $2.5 million in fines levied by the FCC. Ultimately, he moved to satellite radio signing a $500 million deal and earning a ratings driven bonus of $200 million.
Yet all of this success is not what defines a fearless brand. It is because he is a fearless brand that Howard Stern generated such mind boggling results.
Fearless Brands remain authentic – even in the face of adversity and opposition.
Stern knew early in life what he wanted. He faced some obstacles and created even more for himself. He took some side steps and lost his conviction for a short while. As shown with Donald Trump in an earlier post, fearless brands do not have to be liked. Stern teaches that they do not have to stay within accepted norms – nor do they have to accept mediocrity. Quite the contrary, fearless brands are anything but mediocre, partly because they are authentic and true to their purpose.
What makes a brand fearless, is having the courage to honestly explore and evaluate their skills, attributes and competencies. They hone the skills they need and learn ways to offset shortcomings. Perhaps more importantly, they openly embrace their dreams and do what it takes to realize them.
It may be surprising to learn that someone with such an outrageous personality on-air, is actually a low-key quiet person. His first wife, Allison, the mother of his three daughters, points out that Stern is a terrific father. He is an avid chess fan playing in person and online. As Stern worked through his early radio career he knew his dream. He took the actions and made the moves needed to continue moving towards his goals. In those years he began to build a team of talented professionals that complemented his style. They work with him for years to come. Such commitment and loyalty is a strong endorsement.
His deal with Sirius Radio expires at the end of 2015. After just losing a suit against them for $300 million in alleged unpaid stock bonuses, it will be interesting to see the next phase in his career – and in his life.
Today he is in his third year as a judge on America’s Got Talent. As it is network television he is more subdued and provides constructive critiques – but certainly doesn’t hold back his opinions of the less talented. Over on satellite radio he has dialed back some of his antics but he is still the same brash, outrageous man of conviction that got him there in the first place.
One thing is for certain, he will continue to be a fearless brand. Whether you like Stern or not, regardless of how offended or amused you might be – use his story as a guide. Embrace your dreams. Have the courage to take a thorough and honest assessment of your capabilities. Define and refine your value. Build your own fearless brand.