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CBS Takes Off the Gloves a Little Late



At the time, industry observers across the country hailed it as an inspired, ballsy move: Radio god Howard Stern wasn't just taking his game and moving to satellite radio -- he was doing it early enough that he could speand more than year promoting it on the megaphone of 60-plus Infinity Radio stations.

On Tuesday, the other shoe dropped -- CBS filed a $200-million lawsuit against the King of All Media, alleging he used their stations to hype the Sirius move enough to hit key, secret subscription targets which earned Stern hundreds of million of dollars in additional stock.

Stern says his actions were hardly secret: He talked about Sirius so much on his CBS/Infinity show, the company suspended him for a day and banned mention of the company name on air. As always, the punishments only fed his fame with fans; company execs had to know that taking him off the air completely would only stoke the issue further -- still, CBS opted not to bench him or honor his request to end his contract early. So who's really to blame here?

News of the lawsuit comes after the release of ratings estimates predicting Stern's departure has seriously hurt CBS Radio stations. Former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth saw his audience share dip by more than 60 percent in January, while Los Angeles-based replacement Adam Carolla saw even steeper declines, according to an analysis by Radio and Records trade magazine. Carolla's show was the lowest-rated full-signal commercial FM station in the market according to the magazine -- disappointing numbers for an experienced radio host expected to gell with Stern's young male audience.

It's tough to know how a court will see this, but the lawsuit seems more a desperation tactic than anything else -- a face-saving move designed to keep Stern from declaring complete victory in a transition which saw him openly use CBS/Infinity to earn him a mountain of money working for someone else. Bet somebody at CBS Radio gets kicked to the curb long before this lawsuit gets resolved.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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