What Would Mel Do?

There is little doubt in my mind that if Mel Karmazin was still running CBS, he would not have caved to the various interests that wanted Don Imus' head after he insulted the Rutgers women's basketball team on his WFAN, New York morning show.

Of course there is no way to know for sure, but I can't imagine Mel letting his revenue rich morning show get away. Putting aside his strong feelings for Don Imus, Karmazin would fight even if he had to withstand the worst possible repercussions for him -- losing advertisers. Mel would in effect tell the advertisers to go to hell and he'd wait until they came back.

Then, he'd raise the rates on them.

Mel fought the FCC for Howard Stern and incurred huge legal bills to defend Stern's right to free speech -- a different issue in my opinion than the Imus situation. Without Karmazin there would be no Stern or Imus and without Stern or Imus radio has no second act. Listen around. One shock jock is more moronic than the other -- even after the Imus firing!

How can I say this delicately.

Talk radio is awful. It's got one act -- shock jocks -- and the few other talkers who dispense money tips or advice certainly take a back seat publicity-wise. It happened again Sunday in The New York Times. Another shock radio story. The media loves this almost as much as it loves Paris Hilton and like Paris Hilton the crop of radio talkers these days have no talent.

The dust up over Imus produced no changes. There, I said it.

Nothing is different in rap music lyrics. BET is still showing lots of booty. FM hip-hop stations are no more friendly to women and their self-images than they were before Imus.

The reason?

Imus wasn't the problem. He was offensive, but CBS paid him to be. A lawsuit between the parties will likely settle this debate -- probably with the usual outcome -- an out of court settlement in time.

Imus was the victim of activists who were more interested in getting him fired then trying to clean up their own house. Nothing has changed other than Imus is out, CBS lost its morning show, Imus and CBS are suing each other and rap music is still damn insulting to women.

I've been grading final exams for my music industry students at USC and many have chosen to write about Imus, rap music and objectification of women. Excellent papers. Smart students. Now, you can tell me I've been in academia too long, that these are only kids and what do they know or any other excuse that you have but you do so at your own peril.

Rap music's free ride is over -- for a lot of reasons other than its treatment of women -- but objectification isn't helping. This next generation wants to move on. The record labels don't want that so they are encouraging and promoting even more insulting behavior to save the genre.

Radio has been over for a long time with the next generation. They have already moved on and radio stations answer by ignoring them and putting out more vitriol the press calls shock radio. Radio thinks it needs to do this because it doesn't have a second idea of how to do talk radio without shock jocks.

Mel knows it's over so he goes to satellite where he desperately tries to attract subscribers by hiring shock jock Howard Stern.

Can you see the trend here?

So let's keep it real.

Imus was an idiot but firing him has changed nothing.

Activist groups got what they wanted and did nothing else -- after all, before Imus they had a shameful record on objectification of women.

Radio is hard up since it can't count on the next generation so it becomes even more outrageous to attract attention.

So what would I have done if I had been Les Moonves faced with the Imus flap?

I'd call Sumner and ask him if he thought I would do the right thing. No, I'm lying.

I'd suspend Imus for six months -- no pay.

Send him for all the usual sensitivity classes.

Pray that nobody knew about the wording in the employment contract I had with Imus stipulating the edgy content for which I was paying him.

Call Mel Karmazin and ask if I could borrow his balls.

Then, I would have offered to establish and then contribute to a fund for Dignity of Women in the Arts. I'd invite Reverend Al Sharpton and other activists to be 5o-50 partners and I'd tell them -- "I'll clean up my house (Imus) and I'll pay to help you clean up yours (rap lyrics)".

In other words, Moonves was had. The activists made CBS the problem when in reality CBS had the problem -- and they could have solved it themselves. In a way, the activists made their inability to raise the standard of rap lyrics and music videos second to the Imus gaff taking the attention away from their own failed efforts.

Moonves caved but if it were Mel he would have fixed the problem, turned the focus on helping activists get started fixing theirs and waited for the lemmings we call advertisers to return with their Imus budget after his lengthy suspension.

I've been saying all along -- it's a responsibility issue not a First Amendment issue.

Radio needs to take responsibility for what is suitable on the air, in their communities and as public trustees of the airwaves.

Concerned activist groups need to take responsibility for leading and encouraging dignity for women in music and video and not try to make it a First Amendment issue or become vigilantes of the airwaves when it can't even get traction on the issue of rap lyrics and objectification of women.

Oh, and sticking with the thought that I am still Les Moonves here, I'd find Act 2 for radio which I call Internet Radio. Get into Internet radio -- fast. It is the future and it will save the next generation from the johnny one-note we call radio.

I love this job. I get to second guess everybody and take no responsibility -- oops.

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I'll be writing about what's next for Clear Channel after the shareholders vote and the return of Randy Michaels to radio among other topics in the days ahead. If you'd like to receive my daily posts by email, subscribe here:

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