NEW YORK (Reuters) - John Melendez, who became known as Stuttering John as a longtime sidekick to radio and television host Howard Stern, has sued Sirius XM Holdings Inc for using his name, likeness and voice without permission on channels dedicated to Stern.
Melendez, who left Stern’s radio show after more than 15 years in 2004 and became the announcer for NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” on Wednesday accused Sirius of exploiting his celebrity to attract more listeners and advertising.
He said Sirius responded to his recent cease-and-desist letter by marginalizing his contributions to Stern’s show and threatening to take his current show, “The Stuttering John Podcast,” off its Pandora streaming service.
“Sirius has earned hundreds of millions of dollars off the backs of performers like me for too long,” Melendez said in a statement. “This isn’t about Howard and me or his show per se. All I am seeking is to be fairly compensated.”
The complaint filed in Manhattan federal court seeks unspecified damages, including disgorgement of profits, from Sirius’ airing of old recordings of Melendez, which he said violated California law and his right of publicity.
Melendez said he averaged a $35,000 annual salary while working for Stern. His departure came just before Stern moved his show to Sirius from nationally syndicated radio.
Sirius is based in New York, and had no immediate comment.
Melendez, who has had a speech impediment since childhood and got his Stuttering John moniker from Stern, became known for asking impertinent and outlandish questions in what he called “gotcha” interviews with celebrities and politicians.
He said his encounters with people like Billy Crystal, Ringo Starr and the Dalai Lama were beloved by his fans and fans of Stern, “a fact that is well-known” to Sirius.
Melendez estimated that more than 13,000 hours of “The Howard Stern Show” feature his voice, name and identity.
The case is Melendez v. Sirius XM Radio Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 20-06620.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Tom Brown
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