New York -- Steady now. Tell Howard Stern he seems to be a person utterly without inhibition and radio's most controversial figure, the original "shock jock," gives a surprising answer.
"No, I have inhibition. But I say, 'I'm going to remove it,' " concedes the mouthy morning man, who has more than 3 million listeners daily via Infinity Broadcasting outlets in more than a dozen cities, including Baltimore, where he is heard on WJFK-AM (1300).
"There are many times when I say, 'No, I shouldn't say that, it wouldn't be good for my image.' Then I go, 'Wait a second, what image? I don't have an image. It's probably going to be the funniest material.' "
Further, he insisted during a recent interview at New York's "K-Rock" (WXRK-FM), his flagship station, he does not understand the uproar over his material.
His naughty bits have generated more than $1 million in obscenity fines by the FCC against Infinity stations, as well as a steady stream of hate mail, with which he has papered the wall behind his desk.
"I am genuinely shocked by that. I mean, it's great in a sense that people are so straight that they're blown out by what I say. That's how I make a living," says Mr. Stern, 39, seeming to tacitly acknowledge he shapes his image quite shrewdly.
"But I think they're blown out more by the process, by a guy getting on the microphone and just letting it all loose."
Mr. Stern's new book, "Private Parts" (Simon & Schuster, $23) lets loose on -- among other things -- how he developed his unique persona, how well he scored in college (Boston University, where he began working in radio), what he thinks of a variety of celebrities and how he believes the FCC has targeted him for a vendetta.
And then there are those gratuitous lesbian love stories -- "my attempt at writing something erotic" -- and astonishingly intimate details of his own relationships. (He has been married 19 years to his wife, Alison, whom he met in college, and writes he has been completely faithful -- despite his radio show banter.)
Stretching his lanky, 6-foot-5 frame across an office couch, he waves at his looming, long-haired image on a huge wall poster of the book's cover. He stands in an open black robe, his hands over his crotch, but with the book's title panel covering his midsection.
"Did you see the Post today? That wasn't the first picture we wanted on the cover."
Indeed. The New York Post published two prospective cover photos Simon & Schuster balked at using: the first with nude women draped on the DJ's thighs, covering him with their hands, and the second with Mr. Stern apparently covering his own frontal area.
He says Simon & Schuster approached him with the book offer, but that he heard later many officials of the publishing house were initially against the idea.
"I wanted to write something that I thought was substantial and funny and that people would get a charge out of. I didn't want to do the Seinfeld book," he explains, calling "SeinLanguage," comedian Jerry Seinfeld's best seller, "25 pages of material stretched to 100."
He himself seems genuinely amazed the book is out.
"You see that on a printed page, it takes on a new meaning, and it's going to be around forever," he says, peering over his tinted John Lennon glasses. "Imagine getting the opportunity to write a book and you write this."
He was prepared, however. Nine years ago he began saving tapes of all his radio shows and hired a data specialist to cross-reference it all by subject and name. With the Stern archives at hand, he dictated into a tape recorder or wrote at his home computer.
"Actually, talking into a tape recorder was very hard for me, for some reason. Here's a guy who talks on the radio, and I could not talk into that little thing."
He said he wanted the book to read like the radio show sounds. In fact, much of "Private Parts" is the radio show, with pages and pages that gleefully recount radio bits.
"The Howard Stern Show" is a five-hour (6 to 11 a.m.) conversational free-for-all with frank sexual talk, scatological references and a variety of other verbal and conceptual assaults upon conventionality.
The show's regular cast includes Mr. Stern as moderator, newscaster Robin Quivers (who got her start in Baltimore radio and grew up in the Pikesville area), Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate, Fred Norris, Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling and "Stuttering John" Melendez. We meet all of them and more in the pages of "Private Parts."
"I love the exchange of ideas . . . and if they're outrageous ideas, I don't immediately become a follower and start goose-stepping to what I read or see," Mr. Stern says.
Other talk hosts, he says, will have outrageous guests on for ratings, such as Ku Klux Klansmen, and then put them down in mock horror.
"The reason I think we're all sick of television and movies and TV personalities and film personalities, they're as guarded as the president of the United States. They don't say anything that's on their minds, and you really don't learn anything about them.
"They all have image control," he says.
His radio vision, he says, was sensing that people respond to honesty, however intimate.
"I don't think anything I do is wrong. I don't think it's indecent . . . and if I start thinking, 'I'm feeling this way, but I better not say it," jTC then the show's over, the show's ruined. . . . You have a guy who's willing to say whatever comes into his head, and that's good and that's healthy."
Surprisingly, only one chapter discusses his FCC problems.
"I didn't set myself up to be a First Amendment martyr," he explains. "I set myself up to be entertaining. I set myself up to say to people stuck in traffic, 'Hey, I'm going to liven your day up.' "
But he says he is concerned that Infinity Broadcasting cannot take the heat forever. (It has appealed the FCC fines.)
Can he see himself softening his act?
"I would change," he insists at first, if the FCC would clearly define standards to follow.
But a moment later, he shakes his head.
"We have such guilt in this society, we are so repressed. . . . What am I going to do, take 12 steps back? I can't do it."