Add Howard Stern to the list of Christmas gifts with a following that made them difficult, if not impossible, to find at the height of their popularity.
The aging, crass shock jock who ruled mornings on FM radio in Boston and elsewhere took his act to Sirius Satellite Radio, the number-two player in the subscription radio business, on Jan. 9 2005.
Judging by the subscriptions he now has and how much he mentions WBCN, he took a lot of Boston fans with him.
Several store managers said Sirius receivers, which cost between $50 and $300, come with a $12.95 monthly fee, and have to be plugged into a car or home stereo, are among their hottest sellers this holiday season. Stern fans and their gift-buying relatives are cleaning out shelves as quickly as they are stocked with new units.
”This is driving our revenue right now,” said Anthony Perry, a manager at Best Buy in the Fenway neighborhood. ”If we could stock a million of these, I’m sure we’d sell a million,” added general manager Gary Oliveira.
Satellite radio launched in the United States in 2001, when Sirius’ only competitor, XM Satellite Radio Inc., went on the air. Instead of listening to free radio stations subject to Federal Communications Commission decency rules, filled with commercials and marked by formulaic, repetitive playlists, satellite subscribers pay for commercial-free no-holds barred programs. Unlike traditional radio stations, which have a limited listening area, satellite stations are available anywhere in the country.
Sirius and XM offer more than 100 channels of music, news, and talk and rely heavily on celebrity hosts to drive subscriptions. XM’s latest TV ads feature rapper Snoop Dogg dropping in on Ellen DeGeneres in the company’s studios. Both host XM shows.
Sirius’ roster includes an entire channel named for rapper Eminem, and the company benefited immediately from landing Stern.
”We attribute a lot of that to the Stern effect,” said Jim Collins, a Sirius spokesman.
Stern could end up benefiting both companies, neither of which has ever had a host with such a big audience, said Stuart Kagel, an analyst with Janco Partners, a Greenwood Village, Colo., investment firm.
”The awareness of satellite radio is way above where it was before,” Stern signed with Sirius, he said. Kagel’s most recent report on Sirius projects an estimated 39 million satellite radio subscribers in the United States by 2010.
Its popularity is already growing. Of a shipment of 48 of Sirius’ least expensive receivers the Fenway Best Buy received last week, only three of the $49.99 radios remained yesterday afternoon.
As Perry was describing how quickly the radios are selling, another manager snatched one off the shelf for a customer who placed an order on the Internet and rushed in to pick it up.
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