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Greenberg: Does Howard Stern Matter to Sirius XM Investors?

Howard—hey now!

Howard Stern
Eugene Gologursky | WireImage | Getty Images
Howard Stern

I mostly think you’re great. You don’t get enough credit as one of broadcasting’s great interviewers. Your two hours with Billy Joel will be hard to top, but that surprise call you got recently from Seinfeld was a reminder of how much you genuinely enjoy what you do.

Buttered you up enough?

Look, like everybody else, we’d love to talk with you. We’re a business network. You’re a businessman.

What’s it like to run Howard Stern Inc.? And (question du jour) how do you decide what you’re worth?

Investors in Sirius XM are trying to figure out that last question.

You came in with a five-year contract of $500 million, out of which you had to pay your staff and cover expenses. From what we’ve read, you got some good upside in the stock in addition to your salary, but the stock went south.

But lately Sirius’ stock has been on the mend, more than doubling over the past year. An analyst recently downgraded it—not because you might leave, but because of valuation.

Over the past four quarters, Sirius has been positing a profit and, and perhaps more importantly, improved free cash flow, though its capital structure remains pretty complicated.

Investors today appear more focused on an expected rebound in the auto industry, rather than you. Many are betting that with more cars sold, more Sirius will be installed. The company says the current conversion rate of car owners who subscribe after the free trial period is about 45 percent. (And we won’t even bring up the impact of all-music Pandora, the free Internet service that is starting to be installed on some cars.)

Still, what you do still looms large.

In recent days there was an interesting inflection point in, when Sirius CFO David Frear told investors at a UBS conference that as contracts come up for renewal, “We’ll have the opportunity to get more favorable economic terms.”

I went back and re-read the transcript. He wasn’t talking about you specifically, but the press had a field day and you came out with your rant about not taking a pay cut to your $100 million salary.

This morning, as I was driving in, I heard you say something you’ve said repeatedly in recent weeks in a very somber tone: How much you love Sirius and how much you respect CEO Mel Karmazin, who is one of Sirius’ largest shareholders.

Which gets us back to the question: For investors, does it matter one way or the other if you stay or go?

The stock is saying no.

This is all about business, not emotions. But there is also an intangible that you bring and that Mel & Co. will have to put a value on.

My guess, in the end, you’ll be staying with a total compensation package that is equal to or above what you have now. The difference will be a lot of it will be tied up in stock rather than dollars. And you won’t have to get up as early.

That’s the way it’s often done. The biggest mistake I’ve seen businesses do is let ego and the last buck get in the way of what they really want to do. (And you really want to stay at Sirius —you’ve made that clear.) The term “pay cut” is all relative. It’s total compensation that counts.

Anyway, that’s my 2 cents.

We’d love to have you on. Your choice of interviewers.

My guess is that you’ve never heard of me so I’ll just beat you to the punch and sign it, “Some idiot named Herb at CNBC.”

You can email me at HerbOnTheStreet@cnbc.com


Watch "Closing Bell" today at 4pm ET when Herb will read his letter to Howard Stern live on CNBC.

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