NEW YORK – The free ride for Howard Stern fans ended Friday.
Stern, a New York radio fixture for 20 years and host of a syndicated show for 12 million daily listeners, bid farewell to his fans with a final show on terrestrial radio. On Jan. 9, Stern makes his move to satellite radio -- where his once-free speech will cost listeners $12.95 a month.
"Good morning, and welcome to the last show on terrestrial radio," Stern said to start his grand finale. The sound of taps played in the background.
The show opened with a Stern-centric remake of the classic "What A Wonderful World," and John Lennon's "Imagine."
As the show went on, several thousand people stood in a steady drizzle along 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues; many waved signs praising Stern and attacking the Federal Communications Commission. Among those onstage there were Stern regulars "Jeff the Drunk" and "Beetlejuice," who led a sing-along.
"I'm a dedicated listener. I wanted to see this happen," said Chris Casavant, who drove up at 4:30 a.m. from Farmington, N.J.
Asked why she was there, Donna Casavant made a face and pointed at her husband.
After the show wrapped up at 10 a.m. EST, Stern took a "victory lap" through midtown Manhattan, standing on the top level of a double-decker bus as fans screamed and waved.
"What a day, it's crazy," Stern said as the bus rambled through Times Square while an image of the self-described "King of All Media" appeared on a giant television screen above. "You don't get to do something like this too often."
Addressing his fans from a stage before the bus ride, Stern bellowed "Long live the `Howard Stern Show' audience," before departing like a rock star.
Fans screamed for an encore, but they were left to wait until his "reincarnation" next month. The crowd on 56th Street was a circus, with a Stern look-alike standing near the stage. Stern's parents appeared to huge cheers, while the station manager at WXRK-FM -- the shock jock's terrestrial home -- was booed loudly.
Stern leaves behind a plethora of imitators spawned in the wake of his radio success, when his show enjoyed an unprecedented ratings run to hit No. 1 in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles.
His move from Infinity Broadcasting to Sirius Satellite Radio, while somewhat risky, comes with a huge financial reward: Stern signed a five-year, $500 million contract to jump. He's creating two new channels for Sirius, with the salaries, overhead and other programming costs coming out of his windfall.
Across his career, Stern evolved into the center of attention in First Amendment issues and censorship. Infinity paid $1.7 million in 1995 to settle FCC complaints against Stern. In April 2004, Clear Channel that dumped Stern from six stations in April 2004 over his show's content.
Sirius is depending on Stern to reverse the company's money-losing ways. Since the 51-year-old shock jock announced his move last year, the number of Sirius subscribers jumped from 600,000 to more than 2.2 million -- and that figure was expected to hit 3 million by the end of this year.