What Happened To The Shock Jock Format?


    With Howard Stern making the rounds to promote his book (and telling everyone he regrets how he behaved during his popular radio years), and Bubba losing his last Florida radio affiliate, it got us wondering — what happened to radio’s shock jock format? To answer that question we turned to our panel of programming experts: Fred Jacobs, Walter Sabo, John Sebastian, Lee Abrams, and Jon Quick. Here’s how they answered that question.

    Fred Jacobs

    Fred Jacobs says companies are more risk-averse now. “No one wants to offend advertisers or audiences. The king of the shock radio movement – Howard Stern – is now apologizing to the many people he’s managed to offend. What does THAT tell you? And finally, Donald Trump is the “shock jock in chief.” No DJ has the ability to provide the daily surprises, attacks, and other mischief the president does. You can’t out-shock Trump.

    Walter Sabo

    Walter Sabo tells Radio Ink it all began with the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl. That resulted in a Congressional hearing that started to put the fear into radio executives in the U.S. The genre (it’s not a format)   continues to thrive and grow in Australia and other countries. As more jocks pushed the boundaries in the U.S., it became normal rather than shocking. A host can say “douchebag” on the air now and nothing happens; when Howard Stern said it in the 80s it got him suspended for a week. Watch daytime TV, you’ll see segments on The View reviewing vibrators. In fact, daytime TV — Ellen, The Chat, The View, TMZ — is so far ahead of radio content in terms of candor and sex, it makes radio seem quaint. And that’s a problem for radio. While FOX TV demanded that radio hosts get punished for mocking sportscaster Erin Andrews, TMZ said EXACTLY the same thing about Erin Andrews on FOX owned-TV stations and nothing happened. Radio is way behind broadcast TV in terms of ‘shocking’ content.”

    John Sebastian

    John Sebastian says there are several factors that are contributing to the demise of the “shock jock.” “Howard Stern, by far the biggest shock jock of all time leaving commercial radio, was the beginning of the end for the pervasive shock format. Other Shockers demanded salaries way higher than today’s operators are willing to spend. Fear, fear, fear. Operators today, generally, are afraid to take any risks, any controversy. At a time when ‘safe is unsafe,’ radio is playing it so safe they’ve starved radio from its creativity and ingenuity.”

    Lee Abrams

    Lee Abrams tells Radio Ink that while many of the originals are thriving (i.e. Howard Stern and Mancow), the market became inundated with wanna bees of low quality and many of the shockers retired or moved on. “There’s no ‘next generation of Howards’ in the bullpen to replace the first generation, and most of the new comic minds aren’t looking at radio, but you can find them on YouTube.”

    Jon Quick

    Jon Quick says the shock jock format isn’t so shocking anymore. “In an era when there is daily news about the president of the United States paying off a porn star, and telling Billy Bean on a bus that he is such a celebrity that he can feel free to grab a woman’s most private parts, shock radio has become reality. So how can we be any further shocked? Speaking of Private Parts, some of the stuff Stern did years ago would hardly be shocking today. Others, like Anthony Cumia, as I learned during my interview with him, have moved to the Internet, satellite services, and podcasts — places where they can do their thing and not feel vulnerable to the FCC acting as a judge of speech and morals.”


    1. We were talking about Shock Jocks. Wendy, Keep your racism thoughts to yourself. Woman and color have been a big part of radio for many years. If you have the talent you’ve got a chance if you do not have the talent it is not anyone’s fault but your own. Please do not blame society on ones shortcomings.

    2. I’m always astounded that terrestrial radio of any sort is still around. It’s consistently boring, automatonic, and pre-programmed to death. I’m not necessarily advocating more “shock jocks,” but it sure would be nice to have real personalities at the boards again, complete with their own creative music catalogue instead of playing what the “expert consultants” advise. (Even on Sirius/XM’s 70’s and 80’s channels, they play the same music over and over again. They were the greatest generations of music in human history, with a decade worth of songs each, and yet they play a regurgitated circle of about 200 tunes. Lather, rinse, repeat. Where are the album cuts that defined 70’s radio?) Political Correctness has made most forms of mainstream media a tedious landscape of commercials interspersed with brief, uninspired, tepid content. Thankfully, the best content today is found on YouTube, and even this venue is becoming overwhelmed with ads. The future will bring another new media form that will supplant this, along with Pandora (where something like the “Eagles channel” will actually play only about 2 Eagles songs an hour), Spotify, satellite radio, cable TV, and of course radio.

    3. Howard’s Howard and he’s great. But listen to what anyone says, talks, discusses say male 18-26. That “shock-jock” vocabulary is absent. Completely. Learned this while doing some under-employment at an Orlando golf resort, hanging out, working in the bag room with those 18 and up. They like that Sweet Home Skynyrd, this Zeppelin something band. They’re not bragging, nagging or b-s-ing about body parts and anything sexual or shocking. Learned a ton from them.

      Tim Slats

    4. For the most part Brent if that is your real name. It is the Me generation running radio today not the broadcasters from years ago. Grow up you say ? There is nothing wrong with having class on the RADIO. The only people that would be offended are the classless that have no backbone let alone any class to speak of. When is the last time you told your Mother or Father a dirty joke Brent ? You say you haven’t ? why not? I’m sure it would be OK… in your mind. Look at radio today it is in very bad shape. Who put it there? Not the broadcasters from of the past. We all had good numbers for the most part and did not have to resort to being rude or crude to get them. I bet Howard must really feel good about all the people he cut down on the air. Hopefully he takes a long look in the mirror TODAY. What goes around comes around. Yes I like Lolly pops and I also have great respect for broadcaster who have respect for the listening audience.

    5. So we have gone back to the 1950s, when you couldn’t say anything bad or controversial because it might offend someone. Grow up people get a backbone. it is pretty sad that we have gone back to the era of rainbows and lollipops. This is the 21 century grow up and stop being offended so easily

      • The comment about the next generation of comic talent moving to YouTube is telling. The audience of people who want to be “shocked” have gone to places other than radio; it’s not the case at all that people want bland and inoffensive entertainment. Nor is it the case that radio operators are risk averse. No one in a capitalist system is averse to risks that bear returns. It’s just that there are no longer returns on “shock jocks” being offensive for it’s own sake because an audience can find that everywhere else.

    6. Once upon a time (1992-4) in the East I contacted the Fairfax City, Virginia (Northern VA/DC Metro) radio station, then featuring Howard Stern, this to seek a talk host opportunity, and was asked by the PD what I could bring to the station. I told him that I could win back listeners that Stern alienated. The PD went off with some mini-tirade about how ‘Stern was the greatest talent in radio…and was hugely popular among males in their teens and early twenties.’ [Which was very telling about the PD, his broadcast company, Stern, and those in that demographic.]

      “Entertainers,” whether talented or otherwise, who are vile, lewd, profane…will always resort to filth and worse, it’s easy, lazy, and it’s what they enjoy and revel in. People in communications and entertainment industries, whether broadcasters, writers, TV and movie producers and directors, actors…who have significant talent don’t need to resort to such abomination, yet many do and are proud of it.

      For Stern to disingenuously “apologize” for his behavior that has netted him more than a $Billion over the years, in order to peddle his latest best-seller is another notch in his belt.

      Corporate broadcasting companies have been and continue to be chiefly focused on “the [monetary or financial] bottom line”; while most may now pragmatically avoid content that they fear will prove unprofitable (due to pressure from organized political activists’ boycotts…), radio is not the poorer for dearth of self-styled “shock jocks”; but it is impoverished by running scared from employing hosts who bear witness to the truth, and thereby truthfully offend all manner of less than honorable people and their destructive movements, but then hosts like me are rarer than hen’s teeth!

      After All Is Said & Done – https://afterallissaidanddone.media

    7. Time to ‘fess up, folks.
      Radio has not only been losing or lobotomizing its “edgy” talent, it has backed away and gone Mega Candy-Ass in the process.
      What’s left is the flogging of banal and annoying spots at a dollar a holler for advertisers who don’t know – targeted at audiences that don’t seem to care.
      But then, there is always that broken crutch of a 93% reach on which to lean and cling.
      Note to proprietors: Crutches keep competitors out of the game and wimps don’ win.
      In the meantime, how’s that “PC” thing been working out?

    8. Um … why is this panel of experts only white men? are these really the only people in the know or that have opinions? does this homogeneous sampling speak to the larger picture in radio? forget shock jocks; where the women at? where’s the color? let’s move on from the past and start shaping a more interesting future already.

      • The article IS about shock jocks, not about colored or female jocks. Trying to pull the SJW card for this article is irrelevant and only make you look like a tool.

        • Unfortunately, even here, some will pull the race card whether it has anything to do with the article content or not. These are people that make race everything, and a main reason why racism will never go away in this country. I agree with you 100%, Mike…

    9. I know of a talk radio host who is bold, brash and tells the truth that it offends the weak hearted. The Steve Sanchez Show only on weekends late Sunday night only place they’d probably have him but he’s awesome and huge social media. My generation 18-30 loves him!

    10. The Shock Jock type of format was the end of radio has we knew it.
      It was when some radio station owners lost their pride and allowed it on their stations for a quick buck.
      It was when station Owners not all mind you but a lot of them lost their imagination when it came to programming a radio station and took the easy way out.
      It was when it was more important to be rude to a listener than understanding and appreciative of that listener
      It was a time when it took no talent at all to hide behind a microphone and make sarcastic remarks like those that a child might do.
      It was a time when immaturity ruled the airwaves and society could not believe what they just heard but listened.
      It was a time when the FCC turned their head and looked the other way without protecting the public= listener
      Maybe we are all growing up and finding out that a locker-room attitude has no place on the public airwaves.
      Maybe sponsors are no longer interested in backing programs that promote shock radio and now spend their advertising dollars with other forms of media that does not insult there potential customers.
      I could go on and on about Shock Jocks and the no talent it takes to be crude and rude on the air.
      Radio might be a viable form of entertainment once again if you start treating the listeners with respect.
      The ones who enjoyed Shock Radio are gone. Look at your numbers.
      Time for radio to remember that the listeners own the airwaves not Shock Jocks or radio stations.

      • Well said. Bravo! Radio’s problems today are of the stations’ and networks’ own making. Hopefully these dinosaur perverts still running the industry will retire soon and leave it in the hands of a new generation with more class, common sense and maturity… if they haven’t already sown the seeds of its demise.

    11. I agree that shock jocks became “old hat” and that the material was starting to sound like they were grasping at straws trying to be fresh with their material, and instead failing miserably to the point of offending everybody. You still can’t say the “F” or the “S” word on commercial radio and that left a lot of shock jocks gasping for more of the “shocking” material. I do want to congratulate Fred Jacobs’ contribution to this article with successfully injecting “Trump” into an article that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the content here. So nice to see that there’s yet another person out there that can write a single sentence, no matter what the topic, and get Trump’s name in there somehow even though it has NOTHING to do with anything. I never said I was a Trump supporter, but enough is enough, Fred.

      • No kidding. Absolutely pathetic pandering. No wonder so many people are taking the “Red Pill” and rejecting old-school media as “Fake News.” Radio execs have brought their problems on themselves and are too full of themselves to realize how and why.


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