Don’t pretend you haven’t listened to Howard Stern. You sniffed when he held lesbian contests, cringed at Hank the Angry Dwarf, bristled when he brutally assessed ladies’ chances of getting into Penthouse. You even nodded with a particularly strident friend when she damned him as a vulgarian, a shock jock, a long-haired, big-nosed bully with a Brobdingnagian bully pulpit.
But you listened. You loved it when Stuttering John asked Ted Williams, “Did you ever f-f-f-fart in the catcher’s face?” You delighted in his interviews with the Occupy Wall Streeters, especially when one mused, “And why are these buildings so motherf#@$ing tall?” And how about the time when, during one of those farting contests, a lady shat herself? You cried when Alison divorced him and you cheered his—yes, maturity—when this father of three girls let Lena Dunham win their fight.
Howard Stern is a massive talent. And a massive success. He’s the greatest performer of the radio age and of the satellite age. When he proclaims himself “King of All Media” because of his success in television, movies, books and, of course, radio, he doesn’t need to be kidding—it’s essentially true. And essentially New York.
Mr. Stern’s influence, as both an assessor of culture and a changer of culture, cannot be overstated. He took an overused, thrown-around phrase, “game changer,” and applied it literally. As in, he literally changed the way in which the businesses he touched were conducted: for example, forcing millions of reluctant viewers onto pay TV, and then onto pay radio, and even from L.A. to New York, when America’s Got Talent moved from Los Angeles to Newark so he could continue to broadcast from the Big Apple.
Creating a list of “most influential” involves hundreds of hours of argument, and for 95 percent of the people on it, an equally compelling case can be made for exclusion. The single strongest bit of evidence for Howard Stern’s inclusion is that he stands nearly alone on this list as someone about whom none of its compilers ever raised a doubt.