How Gary Dell'Abate delivered on Howard Stern's mandate to book more A-list guests, and what we can expect from the birthday bash
Interns, take note: Howard Stern's executive producer Gary Dell'Abate—who'll celebrate 30 years of working with Stern on Sept. 4—started out bringing the boss lunch. Through the years, he grew into the gatekeeper who books the show's guests (while remaining one of Stern's favorite sources for on-air ribbing). While the show has featured more than its share of porn stars, strippers and mainstream misfits, Dell'Abate (famously nicknamed "Baba Booey" for his 1990 mispronunciation of "Baba Looey," cartoon character Quick Draw McGraw's sidekick) reveals that Stern's mandate for 2013 was a stronger focus on music and film A-list guests. He delivered, and looks to keep doing so in 2014—so far musicians Steven Tyler, Jon Bon Jovi and John Fogerty are confirmed for Stern's birthday bash on Jan. 31, along with comic Louis CK and CBS "Late Show" host David Letterman. The event will be hosted by ABC late-night talent Jimmy Kimmel.
How have you changed the way you go about booking guests?
We needed to remind people who we are, how great Howard is at interviewing and the people we reach. We let that slide for a bit. One of the things in my pitch letter is that SiriusXM has 25 million subscribers. Conservatively, we have a third of that, more than "Today" and "Good Morning America" combined. Oh, by the way, we'll give you an hour to tell your story uninterrupted, instead of four minutes on one of those shows. And, we'll rerun it 10 times before the week is out. So this show has more to give than any other show out there.
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Have managers responded?
Once Howard starts doing these amazing interviews, they speak for themselves. It's a domino effect. Michael J. Fox, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga—when you can list names like that, people get impressed. Last year I went to the Grammy Awards and that was the beginning of everything. I started handing my card out. I'm making a real effort to go to more events. I went to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. I hosted the Billboard Touring Awards, where I was booking for Howard's birthday show. I hope to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. I want to just meet people.
Is the birthday bash shaping up as a highlight of your career?
It is, hands down, the biggest and most important show I've ever been a part of. The last song of the night will, for sure, be iconic, but I promise you that every song before will also be iconic or has been a big hit recently. This is people playing the biggest songs for Howard.
How did the birthday show idea first come about?
It started with a couple guys on our writing team having an idea of doing a roast. Then, we thought we'd make it like a "Kennedy Center Honors Howard" birthday show. So, we liked that idea.
I went out to see Jimmy Kimmel, and he said yes. Once we got Kimmel on-board, it gave validation to the whole concept. The first comic who said yes to it was Louis CK and, then, David Letterman. Then, I was calling publicists saying it's a real deal, so that made it all easier. But, it all started with Jimmy.
Going back to your start in the business, what is it that drew you to radio?
Casey Kasem meant so much to me as a kid growing up. I thought, well, if I ever can get a job on the radio where I get to talk about music, I can just die and go to heaven. I think that's why booking musical acts for me gives me the most satisfaction on a personal level. I love getting to meet artists that I listened to growing up. I like doing that the most.
From your Casey Kasem mention, it sounds like you're a real charts fan?
Crazy charts fan. That's why I say in my book, "They Call Me Baba Booey," Howard would talk about someone and say they aren't big. And I'd say, "No, they have seven top 10 hits!" And he'd say, "Who are you, Casey Kasem?" He thought he was putting me down, but I wanted to be Casey Kasem! I was the geeky kid who had all the liner notes.
Even as a little kid, my dad worked in the ice cream business, so we only ever got to take vacations in the winter. We would drive up to the Poconos between Christmas and New Year's, and my brother would get his composition notebook out, WABC would play the top 100 songs of the year and we would write them down. We were really into it.
So, I've always been very chart-oriented. I look at the charts all the time. I keep in my office, as a reference point, [Joel Whitburn's] "Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits," so when we have an opportunity to have an artist on, it's a pretty good start. I'll go to this book and photocopy the page.
I love watching chart positions. I'm still addicted.