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STERN MAKES HIS BUFFALO DEBUT WITH A BASH

Howard Stern made his debut at WBUF-FM 92.9 on Monday with a little bit of Buffalo bashing.

The highly-paid shock jock, who signed a five-year deal last week with WBUF, insinuated this is a hick town area suffering from anti-Semitism.

"It's not America up there," Stern chortled at one point during the morning show.

"It's not even New York," shot back Robin Quivers, part of Stern's morning team.

Later, Stern added in a sarcastic tone of voice, "We are now officially the morning show of New York State, thanks to being on in Buffalo. I have been dying to be on in Buffalo."

He then told a story of his only trip to Buffalo back in Stern's college days at Boston University, nearly two decades ago.

"We were going up to Buffalo from Boston and I went with three of my most drug-addicted friends," Stern said on the air. "We got stopped by the police, we were doing about 90 miles an hour."

Stern said he and another friend were forced to stand by the side of the road while two others were taken to a judge's home by a cop.

"They were pulled off into what appeared to be Andy of Mayberry's home," Stern said, as country music played in the background." He claimed that the judge "fleeced" his friends because they were Jewish and from New York City.

That's not the kind of Buffalo boost Infinity Broadcasting, owner of WBUF, was hoping for when it signed Stern and last Friday switched the station's format from Dancin' Oldies to Classic Rock.

But knocking a new market is typical Stern.

"He likes to come in to a new city and say outrageous things," said Joe Gow, director of communications studies at Alfred University who has extensively written about pop culture and music. "His show is all about controversy."

Stern, whose previous local gig ended in ratings failure during the mid-'90s at WKBW-AM 1520, is also heard on Toronto's CILQ-FM 107.1.

Infinity, which has turned WBUF into a kind of black hole of failed music formats, was desperate to increase the station's ratings.

WBUF is now in a radio war with 97 Rock, a longtime ratings powerhouse. Not to mention CILQ, which still broadcasts Stern.

"There are three reasons we made this change: Howard Stern and Howard Stern and Howard Stern," said Jeff Silver, vice president/general manager for Infinity in Buffalo. He might have listed three more reasons: male demographics, male demographics and male demographics.

Silver is aiming for males 20 to 40 years old, who like Stern's brand of raunchy humor and off-color language. Stern had been racking up respectable numbers for males in Buffalo with those listening to the Toronto station.

WBUF debuted a playlist over the weekend heavy on such classic rock radio staples as Led Zeppelin, the Who, Eric Clapton and Queen. Younger acts such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Verve Pipe were also played.

The station, however, is not about classic rock, but Howard Stern. He will be on weekdays from 6 to 11 a.m.

No one at 97 Rock would comment about its new competitor, but Silver was talking tough about going after Larry Norton in the morning at WGRF-FM, and the Shredd and Ragan morning team at alternative rocker WEDG-FM 103.3.

Both those morning programs have dominated male listeners for rock music in this market.

"But they've never had any competition before," Silver said. "Clearly, we're going after 97 Rock and the Edge in the morning."

When asked if Stern can top the local announcers in ratings, Silver replied: "Without a doubt."

During the past six years, WBUF has gone through such formats as Smooth Jazz, Alternative (Alice) and Dancin' Oldies. Each started off strong but eventually sank in the ratings.

WBUF finished in 11th place overall with a 3.3 average quarterly hour share in the lastest Arbitron fall ratings book. 97 Rock was third with an 8.7 share. In the 25 to 54 demographic, for morning shows, WBUF, 4.3, barely beat Toronto's CILQ, 4.0, while 97 Rock was 11.4 and the Edge 4.8.

Another factor for Infinity, which owns five stations in this market, is that it doesn't want to compete against itself. Dancin Oldies may have taken listeners away from Infinity's WBLK-FM 93.7's Urban Contemporary format. Alice was a soft alternative sound and may have hurt WJYE-FM 96.1, a light vocal station also owned by Infinity.

"No matter what they tried at WBUF, they always wound up with a 3 share of the audience," said Tom Schuh, former program director at WHTT-FM. Overall, Schuh believes Stern "will do pretty well but I don't think he will beat the local, high-profile morning shows here."

Gow agreed.

"I think Stern will probably be like the XFL; he'll get a lot of attention and ratings in the beginning but after awhile the audience will drop off and he'll just get his main fans."

Silver would not say how much Stern is being paid by WBUF. One radio source estimated it is at least $250,000 a year, and the contract is guaranteed for five years.

Money may not be an issue, but controversy, language and subject matter could be a problem for WBUF with Stern.

On his program Monday, one man called into Stern's show and repeatedly used a racial slur. Other topics included sexual organs, and the arrest of a previous Stern guest for running a prostitution service.

Still, Silver isn't worried about the content of Stern's program.

"Howard is no more controversial than anything else you would find on the Buffalo radio dial," he said.

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