What Howard Stern Can Teach You About Building Community


A couple of months ago I bought a new Ford Explorer (I love the SYNC system but that’s another post). Anyway it came with a free six month subscription to Sirius/XM radio. I have been a big Howard Stern fan for a couple of decades now but quit listening when he left terrestrial radio in 2006. So I tuned in to see what I had been missing all these years.

Guess what, I hadn’t missed a thing. The same cast of characters were all there. Baba Booey, Robin, Fred, Ronnie the Limo Driver and all the rest of the gang. But that’s just the crew. He has all the same fans too. Jeff The Drunk, Miss Howard Stern, Big Black, King of All Blacks, MaryAnn from Brooklyn, Eric the Midget, Bigfoot and scores of others. Yes new characters have joined the Stern community and some have left, but for the most part it was like stepping back in a time machine. It was like coming home to your crazy family’s house for Christmas.

I never called in, but as a listener to the show I always felt like I was a part of this community. I loved these crazy guys. Sometimes Howard offended me. Usually when he was being mean to someone he used to be friends with for one reason or another. Or some poor sucker who became the butt of his jokes. But like family you get over the things that make you mad and you still love them almost no matter what they do. You can even hear some members of the family trying to mediate disputes between other members from time to time. How many communities have members that are that dedicated to one another?

There are some very important lessons here. You can offend your community from time to time, but you can’t be fake. You have to be you and what they expect you to be. Howard does that like no other. Yes it’s a lot of schtick but that’s what we expect from him and he never fails to deliver.

If people really feel like they belong to a community, then it’s not just your community they are a member of. They are not just loyal to you, but to each other.

But there is more to building a community than that. Other people absolutely hate him. Have tried to ban him, are disgusted by him. Howard Stern knows how to elicit very strong emotional responses from people. I have heard movie stars, rock stars and regular schmoes cry, shout, throw things at each other they are so angry and laugh until their sides hurt.

Guess what, his community loves him all the more and will defend him in some cases to the death against those that hate him. If you were talking about anyone else you would say that last sentence was hyperbole. Not in the case of Howard Stern. No one has actually died yet, but if he asked don’t you think there are those that would?

People have gone to jail for him. Just to pull off a gag. That is a community that very few people can equal.

So this morning I see this story: Howard Stern personally calls Twitter fans on New Year’s Eve. Read the tweets from some of the fans Howard called:

“Howard Stern just called me! This new year rules already!”

OMG! It was like the best thing ever! I started crying after we hung up!”

This wasn’t that difficult to do. But how many celebrities do you know who would drunk dial their fans on New Years Eve?

Howard’s community loves him because they feel loved by him. He shows that love by delivering amazing content. Absolutely make you fall out of your chair laughing funny stuff. He makes people feel like they are part of a family. A family that needs to stick together because the rest of the world is out to get us. It is us against them.

By the way do you notice how many quirky members he has in his family? Do you think that is an accident? Yes he mocks them, makes fun of them, ridicules them he makes racist jokes constantly; but he also accepts them with all their flaws, all their differences. Some of these people are flat out crazy. But Howard accepts them into his community. All you have to do is accept Howard for what he is and you can be a part of this family.

You see anyone can be a part of this community / family. Most communities have some requirement to join, some common interest, some disqualifying factors. Howard’s community does too. Just one; acceptance. Howard Stern is a genius when it comes to creating content and more importantly in building community.

Do you agree or am I just being a fan boy?

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Comments

  1. blogworld says:

    @MacLeanHeather thanks for seeing past that Heather. He is definitely polarizing and that is part of his genius.

    • MacLeanHeather says:

      @blogworld Indeed! 2 truly learn something, we can’t continue 2 look in the same places & act as we always have; otherwise, we stay the same

  2. @blogworld doing that now BUT u may want to update it because 3 years ago -> watch the video ;)

    • blogworld says:

      @garyvee ahhh only saw the first half of that tweet 8). will read your post next my friend

    • blogworld says:

      @garyvee while I know he made tons of cash going to Sirius, I think that was a mistake too. shoulda went to the web. but thats another topic

  3. blogworld says:

    @lauralear glad you liked the post Laura. Thanks for the RT

  4. piercingmetal says:

    Howard’s def a genius when it comes to building an audience without question but I am sure he also lost a lot of listeners who didn’t make the move to Satellite radio. In my music journalism pursuits I am always hearing about how big and popular the medium is for my genre of music which is Metal, and yet I know 1 of 10 people who even have this. Some have found the economic state of the day causing them to cancel their accounts.

    Anyways, its great that he and the missus drunk dialed some fans as that gives them a story for life. Will it bring him any more of a new audience, perhaps, but perhaps not. I miss listening to him on the terrestrial radio but have found plenty of other stuff to occupy my time. Being a super fan is awesome and I am guilty of that with some of the bands I enjoy like KISS, and actually far too many others to name. Everyone with a brand should be 1% as good at selling it as Howard is, then a massive amount of people would know about them.

    • blogworld says:

      @piercingmetal You are so right Ken. I think leaving for satellite was a huge mistake on Howard’s part as far as building and keeping his audience, but he did get tons of cash to help him along with that bad mistake.

      Strangely he just re-upped his contract with Sirius after a long contract dispute. I thought it was the perfect time and excuse for him to bail on an already outdated technology for the web. I am guessing they gave him another ton of dough.

      Sadly when my free sirius subscription runs out, I won’t be paying to renew and will be Howardless again until he figures out New Media is where he needs to be.

    • blogworld says:

      @piercingmetal yeah metal heads like me aren’t going to pay for satellite radio. Too bad too because they have a couple pretty cool metal stations.

      This is totally off topic but I am guessing you and @Gil_Edwards will get this and agree. After listening to Sirius for a couple of months and hearing some cool songs I hadn’t heard in a while I noticed the same pattern all radio is guilty of. They play the same damn songs over and over again. Even on the classic channels. I mean seriously bands like Kiss, Judas Priest, Metallica, freaking The Who, Rush and Led Zeppelin have a lot more songs in their history than the same two or three they play over and over again. Not just throw aways on albums but mega hit songs you never hear on the radio.

      Talk about a lame outdated business model whose time has come and gone (.

      • Gil_Edwards says:

        @blogworld@piercingmetal I think this is a pretty common complaint for the subscribers that I know. I agree, for a paid subscription based platform, I don’t think its as deep as it should be. I think it started that way, but i think even with paid channels they must come under pressure for listenership and I’m sure they end up modifying the way they schedule the music to maintain some balance of “mass appeal” to keep people listening. You don’t want to be the guy that is responsible to programming the music channel that no one listens to. I think there are more channels that also have ads now too, so if they are selling even limited ads on those channels, it just further justifies what I said above. It is a bummer though, but I don’t really listen to Sirius for music… for me, it really is about Howard.

  5. Gil_Edwards says:

    Rick, I think you are so right in so many ways… but I would like to add to this. I spent many years working in Radio at a top Howard Stern affiliate… so, I’m a “fanboy” too, and I know the show very well. I then made a transition into the digital world of online video and interactive content, so I have a unique perspective on the state of interactive strategy for traditional media like Radio. This is a great post with a slightly different perspective on how to build “community”, but generally speaking, it is also a huge challenge for radio shows like this to take this community they have built over the air and attempt to expand and evolve the value of this community into the online realm. As a huge fan of Stern, I wish every day that there would be a better content experience for his show online. He may be a fan of Twitter, but I am constantly left hungry for more. I’m not sure Satellite Radio or Howard Stern has found the right way to take advantage of the web and all that it has to offer. The best Howard Stern Facebook page is unofficial. The best Howard Stern video or audio on YouTube is pirated. The best Howard Stern online communities are not run by the Howard Stern Show. So… you are right, the community he has built is undeniably strong and passionate, with great lessons that any brand should take notice of, but as a paid Sirius subscriber (almost solely for wanting to be a part of that very community), I only wish I could consume more of that experience (over and above the live stream of the show that i also pay extra for), across all platforms no matter where I am in my ever growing digital lifestyle.

    • blogworld says:

      @Gil_Edwards Thank you for stopping bay Gil. It is interesting to hear the insider perspective you have. I don’t so much mind that the dominant Stern Facebook page is run by fans or even think that is a bad thing. Again that shows the strength of his community, but Howard and his steam should be embracing those fan sites and contributing to them regularly regardless of if they do anything on their own or not.

      He wouldn’t be the first to approach an unofficial fan site and offer them some sort of semi-official yet still autonomous relationship. That to me would be the best of all.

      I am curious to hear exactly what you are doing now. Feel free to share here or ping me offline rick@blogworldexpo.com if you prefer.

      • Gil_Edwards says:

        @blogworldThanks Rick. Yeah, I agree with you, for the content consumer, Its great when the shows can participate with fan run efforts, but at the same time, there are other factors involved. We know that there can be different goals for brands to embrace the social / new media space… marketing, branding, community building (gee, Howard has a good head start here, right?)… but especially for commercial content creators… revenue generation. Those in the broadcast space, and for good reason, are all continuously trying to figure out how to grow and monetize online content experiences without bastardizing ratings or subscribers. The problem comes when you choose NOT to do something because you don’t have the answer on how to immediately make money from your efforts. I think there is a balance here. I think you would need to set the right strategic goals with revenue generation in mind, but you also have to build an online community that the user can depend on and you have to do it before its too late. Additionally, you don’t want someone else owning that community or controlling the message for you. For Howard, I think putting tons of content out there on the web, when your entire business is based around driving paid subscribers to pretty walled-in environment, that adds additional challenges that others may not have to face. The Howard Stern Show is the exact kind of un-duplicated content that you can’t find on Pandora, Spotify, or your local radio station… which is why Sirius pays big money for content from Oprah, Major League Baseball, Stern, etc. At the same time, I think there are ways that you can use content to DRIVE additional subscribers, and maybe other, unique content offerings that enhance the experience of the show. I could go on and on. For the same reasons that Sirius needed to “detach” the subscription experience from the hardware, and into mobile devices via their new mobile and tablet apps… this is why they need to embrace, grow and own these communities across platforms before it becomes too difficult to recover.

        Oh… and sure, I will hit you up via email too! Thanks Rick!

  6. piercingmetal says:

    I do agree that Howard needs to deliver some of his content to the New Media realm, and honestly we are no longer the New Media side. I guess his management does not like the idea of the stuff being free for all, but they can or should let it be heard online perhaps weeks after original airing for a small stipend. As I said I moved on from the show, had other things to do in my life and since it was going to cost me extra I viewed it as an unnecessary expenditure. heck I joined Netflix for streaming and barely use that so would I use my Satellite radio? I am not thinking as much. Since I do reviews of music on my http://piercingmetal.com site, I cannot count on conventional radio or even Satellite to deliver what I need to offer opinions on. I’m using either Last FM or Spotify when a press representative does not come through with an album I need discussed on the site.

    • blogworld says:

      @piercingmetal Pandora, Last FM and Spotify blow terrestrial radio away and even Sirius. I just drove up to San Fran during Christmas vacation and we listened to Pandora most of the way. (yay Ford SYNC). It was killer tunes including some I may have never heard on my own and not the same old stuff over and over that you get with the traditional radio model.

      • Gil_Edwards says:

        @blogworld@piercingmetal While in many ways reasonable comparisons are made between local terrestrial radio, satellite radio and variations of web radio largely because there is a common thread in that they can all provide “music entertainment content”… they are also different in many ways. Its not apples to apples, its oranges to apples. And this is a TOUGH PR war for terrestrial radio, constantly being compared to these platforms. I do believe that there are a threat. Great platforms like Spotify and Pandora will continue to draw listenership AWAY from local radio, but there are key differences in the way they A) make money, and B) service their audience. In theory, you would program subscription Satellite radio differently from a commercial / local radio station that depends on Commercial Ad Revenue driven by rated audience measurement. At the same time, different than non-customizable streaming radio or custom streaming platforms like Pandora and Spotify with business models that include both paid and free / ad supported options. These variations produce different products. I agree, that platforms like Pandora and Spotify are VERY compelling and pose big competitive threats, but largely (for now) for music.

        Its not as easy to say “Pandora, Last FM and Spotify blow terrestrial radio away” when you look at non-music formats like talk radio, news radio or sports. If you live in NY and are a huge sports fan, Pandora isn’t going to help if you want the latest Giants score. Well done locally relevant radio continues to serve an important role… BUT… now more than ever, consumers have more options and more ways to consume information across multiple platforms. This continues to pull audience from the sources we depended on for decades, like TV, Radio and Newspaper.

        This is why TALENT and unduplicated content like Howard Stern are so important. There is only one place that I can get Howard, David Letterman, Piers Morgan, etc…

        BUT to counter the ever shifting movement of these audiences, traditional media platforms need to continue to drive new opportunities online and find ways to innovate and re-invent the models that get more and more “challenged” by the day.

        • blogworld says:

          @Gil_Edwards@piercingmetal Great stuff in both of your last comments Gil. And your distinction between the talk and sports formats on terrestrial radio vs. music online and satellite isn’t lost on me. BlogWorld was founded from my experience as a political blogger. I listened to talk radio several hours every day across numerous channels. Now I listen online and via podcast on demand.I love me some Jim Rome for the sports too.

          Satellite has nothing close to the quality of this content and Spotify and Pandora aren’t even trying. You have me wondering about those last two now. There are multiple political, sports and other talkers in the new media realm who podcast and broadcast via blogtalk radio. I wonder how this could develop with Spotify and Pandora.

          Obviously politics, sports and other talk formats relay on live audiences to interact with the hosts and each other. It’s very different than music.

          Thanks again for pointing out some of the larger differences between these mediums. It’s exactly the kind of conversation we want to have here.

        • Gil_Edwards says:

          @blogworld@piercingmetal Thank you! I loved the dialog here. Good stuff… and yes, from what I hear Pandora is evaluating ways to integrate talk and information programming into their platform. So… the story is not over! Cheers to the future!

  7. MintJulepTours says:

    RT @jasonfalls: What Howard Stern Can Teach You About Building Community-Good one from @blogworld http://t.co/Z7otqkId ~GREAT post.And true.

  8. blogworld says:

    @mundfannetwork glad you guys liked the post 8)

  9. piercingmetal says:

    See, the later comments that focused on the Satellite versus Terrestrial offered some great opinion. I’m not too up on the Sirius stations even though I’ve met and interacted with two Metal hosts on the network in my own wanderings. Without insulting their methods, even they are not fully exploring the wondrous breadth of available music that we find at hand on Last FM, Pandora and Spotify. For instance, I don’t expect to hear some of the more interesting Finnish providers of Metal more than some US based Metalcore that has become non-descript based on the vast number of bands doing the format. There is more discovery using the New Media angle. When I hear a friend talking about a band I send myself a note or a site page to examine and possibly review on PiercingMetal – Maybe that is just me.

    I’m not overly concerned about Spotify taking money from artists because their own record labels have made this a common practice so I am not sure why some embrace it and some protest it. You seem to have to pay to download from it, and I assume those monies go to the license holder. Hopefully that is the actual composer. OK, back to reviews and photo editing. Loved this back and forth. Rock on.