CBS Radio sues Stern for $218 million


New York -- Howard Stern said yesterday that "a personal vendetta" was behind a $218 million lawsuit from his former employers in terrestrial radio.

CBS Radio is suing Stern, his agent and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., accusing them of "misappropriating millions of dollars" of CBS airtime by promoting Stern's move to satellite radio before he made the shift. (CBS Radio had formerly been known as Infinity Broadcasting, part of the Viacom Inc. conglomerate before CBS split up with Viacom at the beginning of this year.)

The suit filed yesterday in New York Supreme Court seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Stern, as well as damages from Sirius, CBS said in a statement.

The suit said Stern "repeatedly and willfully" breached his written contract with CBS Radio during his final 22 months at the network.

CBS spokesman Dana McClintock declined to comment beyond the news release and court filing.

Stern earlier yesterday attempted to pre-empt news of the lawsuit. Speaking at a hastily arranged midtown news conference, the Sirius Satellite Radio show host said that CBS/Infinity chairman Les Moonves and radio chief executive Joel Hollander have been "bullying and threatening" him for months, and he compared their behavior to the leaders in the film Wag the Dog, who go to war to cover up a presidential indiscretion.

"Les Moonves and Joel Hollander are running their radio division into the ground," Stern said, noting that his former employer last week had posted a $9.1 billion loss in write-downs partially related to its radio unit. "So what do you do if you're Les Moonves? Let's have a lawsuit against Howard Stern."

Stern said he called the news conference after a recent face-to-face meeting with Moonves failed to assuage feelings.

Flanked by his longtime agent Don Buchwald, and lawyers from the firms Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP and Pryor Cashman Sherman & Flynn, Stern flipped through documents he said were claims put forward by CBS, addressing points one by one.

Stern said CBS argued in one document that he violated terms of his contract by failing to disclose details of his deal with Sirius while still employed by Infinity and that he misused his then-employer's airtime to promote the satellite radio network.

"How could it have been secret?" Stern asked. "For 14 months before I was going to leave Viacom I spoke about leaving on the radio. I talked about my salary, everything. But Les Moonves claims it was a secret."

Stern also said CBS was claiming he misled it into thinking he was staying with the company and that his departure ultimately "hurt [it] financially."

"The last 14 months I was on the air they had record revenues and sold out 21 minutes of commercial airtime per hour on my show. If I was hurting them, then why did they keep me on the air for 14 months?"

Stern said his former employers had seven delete buttons on his tape-delayed program yet never used them to prevent him from speaking about Sirius, which he said he referred to as the "Eh Eh Radio" while on CBS Radio.

"Les Moonves told me, 'I subscribe to Sirius Radio. I am going to be out there listening to you every day. Good Luck, Howard,'" Stern said.

The shock jock called the documents "an intimidation practice" but said he couldn't bring himself to ignore them altogether.

"When I was in this meeting with Les and Joel, I got emotional. And I think they saw that as a sign of weakness. It's hard to read Les. There's so much Botox I don't know how to read him. I put 20 years in with this company and now they're saying I hurt them financially? There's no way."

Sirius spokesman Patrick Reilly said the company didn't have a comment yet because its lawyers had not reviewed the suit.

Sirius shares fell 12 cents or 2.3 percent to close at $5.11 in regular trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market yesterday, and they fell another 6 cents to $5.05 in after-hours trading.

Robert Kahn writes for Newsday. The Associated Press and Bloomberg News Service contributed to this article.

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