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Where will Howard Stern go next?

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Kai Ryssdal: Four years ago, Howard Stern signed a $500-million contract to host a radio show. That was after Stern got sick and tired of dealing with FCC rules about what you can and cannot say on the air. His deal with what was then known as Sirius Satellite Radio expires at the end of this year. And there’s talk today that Stern may be returning to the regular old broadcast airwaves.

While he was gone, though, things changed. Sirius merged with its rival XM. And people stopped buying satellite radios and all those pricey subscriptions, too. From Washington, Brett Neely reports.

BRETT NEELY: On his show last week, Stern said he was getting offers to move back to the FM dial. The next day, radio giant Clear Channel said it would love to have Stern on its airwaves. But this week on his uncensored satellite radio show, Stern said he gets offers all the time.

HOWARD STERN: And I always say the same thing. No interest. I don’t give a sh-t.

Stern’s flirtation with Clear Channel comes as his contract with Sirius XM enters its last year. Negotiations to renew are going to be tough, says media analyst Bishop Cheen at Wells Fargo. Though Stern brought nearly three million listeners with him when he moved to satellite radio four years ago, he says, lately, Sirius has been bleeding red ink.

BISHOP CHEEN: Sirius is faced with some serious budget cutting.

That means Stern isn’t likely to get the same kind of salary either at Sirius or Clear Channel. Neither would comment. But Cheen says even if Clear Channel offers more money than Sirius, its offer probably won’t be anywhere close to his $500 million deal. The commercial radio business has also suffered during the recession.

CHEEN: At the end of the day, if Howard ends up with a contract that’s, I don’t know, half of his current contract, he’s still doing quite well.

Stern seems happy enough on Sirius. On his show, he said he wouldn’t go back to regular radio, regardless of how much he’s paid.

STERN: But I don’t care, I don’t want to be censored when I do a show, I wanna be paid.

But being uncensored could cost him.

I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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