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Shock jock Stern enjoys unregulated radio debut

Howard Stern kicks off Sirius show with "2001: A Space Odyssey" music accompanied by symphony of flatulence.

U.S. "shock jock" Howard Stern made his debut on unregulated satellite radio on Monday after years of fines for indecency, using salty language that would normally be bleeped out on mainstream radio.

But fans who expected a non-stop barrage of four-letter words and extensive scatological descriptions during Stern's first show on Sirius Satellite Radio might have found the show relatively tame and Stern even scolded somebody for cursing.

Howard Stern

According to Stern, Sirius had about 600,000 subscribers when his deal was announced and that number has now jumped to more than 3.3 million, with 1.1 million new subscribers enrolling in the fourth quarter of 2005 alone.

The man who racked up $2.5 million in indecency fines for his previous employers kicked off the show with the theme music from "2001: A Space Odyssey" accompanied by a symphony of flatulence, a stalwart in Stern's bag of potty humor.

But while Stern and his on-air cohorts sprinkled their language with expletives and played a number of foul-languaged taped sections, the debut show was hardly the over-the-top smut fest many fans and critics had anticipated.

"I have a personal rule that I'm not going to curse," Stern said, despite uttering a handful of words that would no doubt have brought government fines on his former medium of broadcast radio and using a term normally not heard outside of a men's locker room to describe Martha Stewart's daughter, Alexis.

The few times an off-color word did leave Stern's mouth, he was quick to say that he was trying not to curse liberally and scolded others for turning to profanity for profanity's sake.

"Why do you have to use the F-word?" a prickly Stern said to one cast member.

Stern rocked the broadcasting world in October 2004 when he signed a five-year contract with Sirius Satellite Radio reportedly valued at $500 million. Last week, Sirius said it was giving Stern 34 million shares, currently valued at around $220 million, because new subscriptions had exceeded targets.

Stern has two entire channels with Sirius, whose content is not regulated by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and charges subscribers $12.95 a month for more than 100 channels.

Some lawmakers in Congress want to allow the FCC to regulate satellite radio and cable stations such as HBO, although such a development is not expected anytime soon.

Sirius trails rival XM Satellite Radio Holdings in the growing new market for satellite radio, but it is hoping Stern will help boost subscribers to 6 million by the end of 2006.

Stern spent much of the show putting to rest rumors that he had married his girlfriend, model Beth Ostrosky, during a New Year's vacation in Mexico.

He also introduced former "Star Trek" actor George Takei, who played Lieutenant Sulu on the sci-fi television show, as an announcer on the show. Stern interviewed Takei, who came out as gay last year, about his early sexual experiences.

In an on-air press conference during the show, Stern said the move to Sirius was the culmination of a dream.

"This represents a dream for all broadcasters...When management now holds you by the balls and says there's no place for you, now there's a place to come.

"There's limitless possibilities now," Stern continued. "We are going to go to new places and that doesn't mean the F-word. If that's what satellite means, then that's ridiculous. Then it's just pornography."

Story Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.