I was given a Sirius satellite radio receiver and subscription for Christmas a little over a year ago. I was initially impressed with the variety of stations and I enjoyed listening to more eclectic music and lots of choices for talk radio. I spent most of my time listening to the BBC, NPR and hippy liberal talk radio as well as a few of their music stations. It was okay, but honestly if I'm going to listen to music I might as well just pick the play list. As for the talk radio, you can only take so much news even with a sassy European accent and the lefty blowhards actually abandoned Sirius in favor of XM Radio. Sirius had its own TalkLeft station, but the headliner for that was Alan Colmes of Fox News infamy, so that should give you some idea of how much interest I had in TalkLeft. Howard Stern was still on terrestrial radio and eventually I just stopped listening. The receiver collected dust.

I am not a huge Howard Stern fan, but I enjoyed his public grappling with the FCC and I have fond memories of listening to him when I was younger. When he finally made the switch to Sirius earlier this month I dragged the receiver out and started listening to Sirius again. I've given the "new' Sirius about two weeks and I think I am ready to pass my judgment.

Before I get into the meat of this review, I should probably mention the bitter rivalry between XM listeners and Sirius listeners. Every single time someone makes even a passing reference to satellite radio on our forums a flame war erupts between XM and Sirius subscribers. I have never listened to XM, but I am willing to bet that XM is no better or worse than Sirius. I don't want people going into this review assuming I am an XM fan with some juvenile axe to grind with Sirius. I have heard Opie and Anthony maybe five times in my entire life and I don't care about them at all. I don't care which satellite radio network has better sports coverage because I don't listen to sports on the radio. If you love Opie and Anthony or Howard Stern then you probably already have a subscription to XM Radio or Sirius.

The Stern DynastyStern is probably getting paid too much.Howard Stern's deal with Sirius is 500 million dollars over the course of his five year contract. The former New Zealand territory of the Cook Islands - now autonomous - has a population of around 22,000 and a Gross Domestic Product of approximately 105 million US dollars. The Cook Islands narrowly beat out Howard Stern's Sirius contract over the span of five years, but the Cook Islands don't sell t-shirts, books or CDs. Well, they probably do, but honestly who wants to hear a 90 minute CD of "The Hottest Moments of Cook Islands 2006: Butt Bongo Fiesta?" Alright, I want to hear that CD.

Stern listeners won't be disappointed by his show's new incarnation on satellite radio. The minimal commercial breaks and increase in profanity would probably be enough to please most, but Stern seems genuinely excited. Despite some technical glitches and a bit of a third-week slump the show seems stronger than during its closing months on terrestrial radio. The show got a huge entertainment boost from a debut-week visit by Star Trek actor and recently out homosexual George Takei, whose deadpan delivery mixed well with the usual comedy. Once Takei was gone and the debut fanfare was fading the show began to suffer from a lack of planning. It was as if they blew their guest load on the first week and began scraping by on the usual genetic detritus that collects on Howard's phone lines. High Pitched Eric - a half-retarded giant with a hauntingly high-pitched voice - might be funny one day, but having him call in day after day just shows a lack of effort.

Even with this slight disappointment for week three on Sirius, Stern's show is still better than ever before and definitely the high point of the entire Sirius lineup. Unfortunately, the rest of this Sirius lineup is not much to brag about.

In addition to the huge financial agreement, Stern received programming rights to two different stations on Sirius. These are known as Howard 100 and Howard 101. Stern's own show runs from 6:00 AM to 11:00 AM Eastern time and is replayed starting at 9:00 PM Eastern. Between the replays is a horrifying void that Stern has made only a cursory attempt to fill.

"The Wrap-Up Show" hosted by long-time Stern producer Gary Dell'Abate and John Hein airs, supposedly, immediately after the Stern show ends. In practice The Wrap-Up Show comes on anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes (or more) after Stern's show and usually consists of Dell'Abate and Hein gushing over what a great show it was. Since the show is by then running late and therefore shortened the fact that they pad it out with clips from the Stern show that just ended is totally unacceptable. If they have any guest it is usually one of the Stern staff members. As mediocre as The Wrap-Up Show can be, it is nothing compared to the Howard News Team.

The rest of the day on Howard 100 is filled with randomly selected Howard News Team clips. Stern has hired a crew of radio news people to cover his show like it's the Iraq war. This ridiculous premise has not only proven just as inane as it sounds, it is also gratingly repetitive as they are only able to generate a handful of three minute long bits every day. This results in a constant shuffle of news bites on the station for the empty hours it's on the air. If you listen for two hours you will likely hear the same piece three to five times. When it comes to entertainment value, dead air would give these clips a serious run for their money.

Here is a sample of what these clips are like:

Reporter:Hey, Bababooey, what are you doing? You look busy!

Bababooey:My name is Gary and I am just looking at these financial reports.

Reporter:Oh, wow, financial reports! Are you going to put something in that envelope?

Bababooey:Yes.

Reporter:What do you think of the new studios? Are they awesome?

Bababoeey:Yes, they are awesome.

Reporter:Awesome!

Occasionally something will happen on the Stern broadcast that day "worth" following up on, like when model Rachel Hunter walked out on the show. The news team then does an inept job of trying to turn this momentarily amusing incident into a drawn-out saga that the listeners are forced to endure. It's basically like a gauntlet that Stern's rabid fans have to run to get tiny shreds of entertainment from their idol's withered comedy teat.

Howard 101 is the sole realm of Howard News reruns and Howard's bumpkin clone Bubba the Love Sponge. Despite my innate, almost genetic, hatred of that name, I gave Bubba's show a few listens just to make sure I wasn't pre-judging the man a bit too harshly. Having completed those listens I can say with absolute certainty that Bubba the Love Sponge is to radio what scat swapping is to pornography. Picture a meaty turd sliding from one anus to another and you've got a good image on the reprehens-o-scope of what this man's show is like.

A gentleman and scholar.He counts the number of farts and belches on a day's show, he will spend ten minutes or more talking about the smell of a fart and talks about politics like a congenitally blind man describing a color wheel. All of that could be put down to taste, but on top of being generally repugnant he is also a lazy dullard who can turn the juiciest topics into a nap and then follow that up with one of his thousands of clips from old shows. Since the shackles of censorship are removed on satellite radio, Bubba has decided to page through the archives constantly, subjecting his listeners to what amounts to a long-running "best of" show. If you thought that clip of some woman complaining about anal sex was funny five years ago, wait until you hear her say fuck!

The rest of Bubba's shtick, aside from the tiresome NASCAR racing discussions, are your usual mix of ogling women, sexual stunts and raunchy talk amplified by the lack of restrictions. Does having one of Bubba's sidekicks with an Appalachian deep-mountain drawl describe a porno movie to you over the telephone sound like your idea of top-shelf entertainment? Then Bubba the Love Sponge is right for you. Everyone with more branches on their family tree than a spear will find his show intolerable.

There are a few other shows scheduled to begin on the Stern-run Sirius channels. There is a Howard Stern intern show called, amazingly, The Intern Show. I can't wait to pay to listen to amateur radio! There is a late night masturbation-fodder show called "Tissue Time" that will supposedly be breathy sexpot Heidi Cortez performing phone sex over the radio. There's also The Red Peters Countdown and Meet the Shrink, both of which seem like they will be a notch above a test of the emergency broadcast system.

Stern's show might be the best thing on Sirius, but his two channels are definite contenders for the worst on Sirius. Speaking of the other Sirius channels, let's have a quick look at some of those and the programming they offer.

103 Sirius Stars

This channel consists of a series of talk, interview and comedy shows and proclaims itself as the flagship station of Sirius. The reality is that it's a garbage bin for pretty much everything that is too bad to be easily shoehorned into the lineup of one of the other stations. Inexplicably, some of the interview shows actually get decent guests, but you're not going to want to sit through its interminable schedule to hear an interview with David Cross.

Comedy Hitler.104 Raw Dog

Home of Jim Breuer Unleashed. Who the fuck wanted Jim Breuer Unleashed? I want Jim Breuer safely contained behind those big nuclear blast doors. As for his show, I'd rather listen to a 911 recording of my mother being murdered. There's also some show I have never heard with Big Pussy from the Sopranos acting like he's in the mob when he's actually afraid of yelling women on that repoman show of his.

105 Laugh Break

Do you need your Carlos Mencia fix when you're driving around in your car? You could listen to this station for about ten minutes and you'll probably hear one of his bits in the random blitz of standup clips. I would prefer you just crash your car at high speed into a telephone pole.

106 Sirius OutQ

Gay talk and gay music. The station features no flaming gay men as hosts from what I can tell, making it completely devoid of entertainment value. If I try to listen to a gay radio station I had better hear that fucking glitter flying out of Rip Taylor's hands. Gay music also sounds pretty much exactly like all of the Sirius alt music stations. The lesbian programming is also nowhere near as hot as it should be.

108 Maxim Radio

Maxim Radio is pretty much the heterosexual version of what I was hoping to hear on the gay radio station. It's a bunch of young guys sitting around trying way too hard to let the world know just how heterosexual they are. The hosts for all of the shows are on par with weekend DJs in a minor urban market and the Maxim connection is basically nonexistent. For some reason the hosts seem to like to make fun of Howard Stern, probably in the hope that Stern will acknowledge their existence and boost their number of listeners out of the double digits.



114 Lime

If Maxim Radio represents a station for the worst of men (that would actually be Bubba the Love Sponge) then 114 Lime caters to the worst aspects of women and women-like men. It's pretty much identical to the Martha Stewart station, but even worse. It has soft-talking female hosts and non-threatening male guests with medical degrees who talk about varicose veins and depression all day. Lime could have gone the hip and enabling route, but no, this is pound-pinching and spouse-pleasing. It's a bunch of lifeless sadsacks talking to other sadsacks about how eating raw foods will make them vital and happy. Hell, Oprah is too edgy for this station.

116 Kids Stuff

If your kid wants to hear a Blue's Clues song at 3:30 in the morning then this is the station for them.

118 RadioClassics

There is some interesting AM-quality music on this station, but more often than not you'll tune in and hear them playing an episode of some radio serial from the 1930s. Those just serve as a reminder that television was invented for a fucking reason.

I think Sirius and satellite radio in general offer a number of new and exciting opportunities for an otherwise dying medium. If the big satellite providers continue to expand, allowing more alternative and subversive content onto the market, then satellite has a real and vibrant future. If they play it safe and program like terrestrial radio then they will be doomed to failure.

On Sirius, the experiment of giving Stern two stations to program however he chooses is a modest and obviously flawed step in the right direction. It may take two or three years before Stern finds talent and programming worth keeping around, but even the failure will probably be more entertaining than what regular radio has to offer. Stern will figure out what works, what is fun and exciting, and he'll program - hopefully - to what he enjoys rather than purely based on the numbers that rule so much of the entertainment industry. I can't place faith in him, but I can hope.

– Zack "Geist Editor" Parsons (@sexyfacts4u)

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