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  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

A Sweet Howard Stern, a Sour Adam Carolla, and a Crazed Parade: Oh, Man!

Ben Fong-Torres

A Sweet Howard Stern, a Sour Adam Carolla, and a Crazed Parade: Oh, Man!

A day or so after the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade which I co-anchored, for the tenth year, on KTVU (Fox 2) I got an e-mail from a long-time friend, Gail Katagiri:

The best part of watching you anchor this year's Chinese New Year's Parade was after the broadcast had ended, and you and Julie disappeared from the screen. But I think your mike was still on, because I heard someone's voice (it sounded like you) exclaim Oh, man!

Yep. That was me, and Im amazed not only that they left it in when they replayed the parade the next day, but that I was so mild. I could well have muttered something like, F---, that was tough.

Because it was. On parade day, Saturday, February 11th, we had gorgeous, springtime weather (it rained on our last two parades). And we had a smooth opening segment, featuring the Yau Kung Moon troupe of martial artists, lion dancers, and a golden dragon. But it went downhill from there. I wont bore you with the details of contingents, whether floats, bands, marchers or dignitaries, that failed to be where they were supposed to be, or do what they had been expected to do along the parade route.

Oh, and we had audio problems, and for a two hour live broadcast (which went half an hour overtime because of the delays), that adds up to a big F---, that was TOUGH.

Still, from all reports, Julie Haener, my unflappable co-host, and I sounded like we were on a boat, sailing breezily in the Bay, not a choppy wave in sight. We seemed to be as happy and chirpy as could be.

That, as Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live used to declare, is ACTING!

And the thing of it is, no matter the behind-the-scenes turbulence, its still fun to be part of the parade, to be in the thick of a happy crowd that numbers between a quarter and a half a million, depending on the weather gods and goddesses, to soak in all that color and tradition, and to make usif only once a yearof my broadcasting degree from San Francisco State.

SPEAKING OF WHICH: To promote Adam Carolla, the comedian whos replaced Howard Stern on several stations in the Western half of the United States, CBS Radio has a bus-side ad reading something like, What a semester of junior college sounds like.

Sad to say, it sounds something like this:

Ching-chong, ching-chong, ching-chong-ching.

Thats how Carolla depicted all the speeches at the recent Asian Excellence Awards. He was being funnyalbeit on a junior collegeor junior highlevel. But the Asian media watchers and civil rights groups have expressed appropriate outrage. Nothing will happen (racist material is, after all, typical shock radio fodder), and modern life, as flawed as Dick Cheneys aim, goes on

And speaking of Stern, I had a chance to interview him, as he was promoting his big move to Sirius satellite. I understand that he or, more likely, his peoplefielded dozens, if not hundreds, of requests to talk to the king of many media (hes yet to conquer Broadway, but just you wait), and, although I didnt submit a request, got an interview anyway.

Maybe, I thought, it was simply because the San Francisco Chronicle, where I write a radio column every other Sunday, is deemed powerful enough to warrant his time. Or, possibly, he still, somehow, remembered a column I wrote back in 87, when he was still getting started, praising his revolutionary approach to radio entertainment. Hed sent a thank you note, saying such reviews were awfully rare.

And so, on a day when he was greeting 20-something interviewers in a suite at the Parker-Meridien in New York, he got on the phone with me. And he was a sweetheart.

Howard! I said, in greeting.

He said Hi, and added, Youre a legend.

WHAT?

Ive been talking about Sirius nonstop, he said, but happy to speak with you. All the Rolling Stone articles and everything; Im a big fan.

So how could you not love the big lug? I was ready for some Brokeback Radio right there.

Anyway, in my allotted 20 minutes, I asked him about his old employer, Infinity (now called CBS Radio) having offered him $35 million a year to stay (Stern got a five-year, $500 million deal to skip to satellite), and about one of CBSs executives saying that, by leaving terrestrial radio, he was committing career suicide.

Here, from my column, is his answer, and more:

Au contraire, says Stern. Its brought me to life again. On Sirius, he says, the shows going to be so much better. Its been so dead for the last 15 years. My first FCC rally was in 1987. They just so corrupted the show, eroded it, and forced me to censor myself so much that I dont even do what I got famous for any more. Going on satellite is like a rebirth for me. Im planning stuff for these two channelsIm doing stuff Id forgotten I had in me.

Whats in Stern can be downright scary. For one thing, hes built a 17-person news department to cover all things Howard. Its not unlike what Rolling Stone did for a rock and roll audience; were doing it for the Howard audience. Ive got millions of people who can now be served all day, all Howard, all the time.

Stern is also introducing a show called The Crack Whore View. Youve seen The View, he says. The boring View. We take all their topics and substitute crack whores who come in and talk about it.

Freed, at last, from the rules and regulations of the Federal Communications Commission, which fined him and his various stations millions of dollars for alleged indecent language on the air, Stern said he would have no problems swearing on his new show. For once, I can be the performer I am, he said. I dont have to water down what I do. By the way its not about saying the F word. If it is, then the show isnt any good. Its about being funny.

What Stern finds funny often strikes people as tasteless. As incredible as this may sound to his critics, he says he does have a line he wont cross. But, he said, let me establish the line. Dont let the government establish that line. Theres always a line, but the number one line? Youve got to be always entertaining. And if its boring, get rid of it. And whats boring is whining about the FCC every day. Id rather just entertain.

Stern, who has often spoken about his father, Ben, constantly calling him an idiot and a moron when he was a child, has reached a rapproachementof sorts. Hes given his parents a show of their ownMeet the Sterns. But, asked whether or not his dad is now proud of him, he responds: Thats my problem, and why Im at a psychiatrists four days a week. I still think my father doesnt listen to me. I still think Im that kid trying to get his attention. But Im getting a little bit healthier on that concern.

My parents are very proud of my accomplishments, he concluded. And I finally own my own accomplishments, too. Im very proud of this. This is the culmination of my dreams. When I was five fantasizing about going on the radio, I never couldve imagined Id have my own channels. This is a tremendous opportunity for me. Its everything I could want.

Stern recently told Newsweek, Im never happy. I havent been happy a day in my life. Could this be the same guy?

It could. The man never ceases to shock.