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Radio, Radio.

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

AUGUST 11, 1997:  Radio is the most intimate mass medium, and the most mysterious. It goes everywhere--the car, the office, the home--like a personal jukebox, gossip fence, confessor, and shrink all in one. The Internet can match radio's anonymity and immediacy, but not its personality or vitality.

Few voices on the radio today are as personal--if not necessarily vital--as Howard Stern's. The original "shock jock," Stern brought an entirely new level of intimacy (or something) to the medium, talking incessantly about everything from his own "miniscule schlonger" to his guests' sexual habits. The problem is, the idea of Howard Stern--the consummate bad boy exposing all of society's hypocrisies--has always been more fun than the repetitive, juvenile reality.

Fortunately, the breezy, funny biopic Private Parts (1997, PG-13), which stars Stern as himself, is mostly a celebration of the idea. We get to watch as the clutzy, homely kid with the nondescript voice scrabbles his way to stardom solely on the basis of his belief in saying whatever happens to cross his sex-besotted mind. The movie isn't afraid to make Stern look like a jerk, but he--along with his trusty sidekick Robin Quivers--inevitably comes off better than the prudish corporate honchos who love Stern's ratings but hate his show. It also details the ups and downs of Stern's marriage to his wife Alison, whom he clearly adores. Stern fans complained the movie defanged their idol, making him too cuddly and well-intentioned. But for non-fans, a somewhat cleaned-up and more likeable Howard Stern is by no means a bad thing.

Radio is also central to Alan Rudolph's minor classic Choose Me (1984, R), a moody comedy of sorts about a romantic triangle between a woman (Lesley Ann Warren), a man (Keith Carradine), and the radio sex therapist they listen to (Genevieve Bujold). Like many of Rudolph's movies, Choose Me inhabits an after-hours world of smoky bars and neon lights, where a voice borne on radio airwaves is enough to get you through the night.

If you're looking for a precursor to Howard Stern, you might try Sheridan Whitside, the title character of The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941), a high-spirited farce adapted from the popular Hart-Kaufman play. Played with dripping sarcasm by Monty Woolley, Whitside's an irascible radio commentator who holes up with a small-town family when he's injured during a cross-country tour. The family's pride at housing a celebrity turns to horror as they're subjected to the invalid's ranting abuse. Bette Davis is caustically hilarious as Woolley's hard-bitten assistant.

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