NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Howard Stern, the king of shock radio, complained on his morning program Thursday about his deteriorating relationship with his current employer and said he may leave the broadcaster soon.
Stern announced last month that he will quit public radio once his contract with Infinity Broadcasting, the Viacom unit that distributes his talk radio show, expires next year.
Instead, Stern said he would join Sirius Satellite Radio, a leading subscription-based radio service. Stern and Sirius (down $0.09 to $3.77, Research) signed a five-year deal valued at $500 million, including salaries and all costs associated with producing The Howard Stern Show.
Stern was expected to continue his morning public radio show, which is broadcast in 45 markets, 27 of which are Infinity-owned.
But now that may not happen.
At the time of his announcement, Stern emphasized that his decision to leave Infinity was not borne out of an ill-will for the company that gave him his big shot at stardom some two decades ago. Rather, Stern said he was fed up with the current climate in Washington D.C. that has regulators cracking down hard on broadcasters that air programming considered obscene or offensive.
Sirius, with more than 700,000 subscribers, and XM Satellite Radio Holdings (down $0.22 to $33.62, Research), with 2.5 million subscribers, dominate satellite radio which, like cable television, is largely unregulated.
Since his blockbuster announcement, however, Stern has openly touted the benefits of satellite over public radio. And that, according to Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers magazine, is at the heart of Stern's comment that he's been flooded with letters from company lawyers and may leave Infinity much sooner than expected.
"Some of the things he's been saying on the air about terrestrial (public) radio and his promoting of satellite radio has created some strained relationships and ruffled feathers," said Harrison.
Stern confirmed Thursday that the possibility that Sirius would buy out his Infinity contract now "might end up happening." But he reiterated that he's not upset with Infinity.
"I'm not angry," he said. "I needed a different future. I needed change."
Speaking to his Infinity bosses, Stern said: "You seem overly hurt by all of this."
An Infinity spokeswoman declined comment.
Viacom co-president Les Moonves, however, indicated recently that the company was not sorry to see Stern go to satellite.
"It was clearly a natural thing for him to do," said Moonves during an analyst conference call two weeks ago to discuss Viacom (up $0.07 to $35.65, Research) earnings. In addition Stern, well-known radio personalities Bob Edwards, formerly of National Public Radio, and "Opie & Anthony" hosts Gregg Hughes and Anthony Cumia have moved to satellite radio.
Moonves, in his speech to analysts, suggested too that Stern has not been a big moneymaker for Viacom. "We'll replace (Stern's show) with programming we think can be more profitable in the future," said Moonves.
This isn't the only business relationship that has turned sour for Stern in recent months.
Earlier this year Clear Channel Communications, the country's biggest radio operator, yanked Stern from the six stations that aired his show in the wake of a public outcry over the national broadcast of Janet Jackson's bare breast during a live Super Bowl performance.
In June Clear Channel (down $0.25 to $33.64, Research) agreed to pay a record $1.75 million fine stemming from a 2003 Stern show in which cast members discussed anal sex at length.
Clear Channel and Stern are now fighting in court over their split. Stern claims Clear Channel violated their contract when it fired him. Clear Channel counters that their deal called on Infinity and Stern's company, One Twelve, to abide by government regulations. Clear Channel is seeking the ad revenues that it says it lost when Stern's show was pulled.
Harrison, of Talkers magazine, cautioned that Stern's comments Thursday about exiting Infinity now could be a publicity stunt.
"Remember, talk radio is show business and it's not considered a breaking of the rules to play the show-business angle," said Harrison. And Stern has proven especially adept over the years at drawing attention.
Indeed, even as Stern confirmed he may be on his way out, he made a point of telling listeners that he'll soon appear on the David Letterman Show, where planned to talk about his decision and the future of radio.
"In essence I'll be doing an infomercial," Stern said.