If Radio & Records Employed a Team of Rivals

We've been hearing a lot lately about how president-elect Barack Obama is channeling his inner Abe Lincoln in putting together his cabinet appointments.

Doris Kerns Goodwin wrote a book called Team of Rivals chronicling the way Lincoln did it.

Lincoln chose the man who ran against him, William Henry Seward, as his secretary of state. Then he crossed to the Democratic party to pick Edwin Stanton as his secretary of war -- the same Edwin Stanton who humiliated him years earlier when they worked together as trial lawyers. There was also Salmon Chase, a Lincoln critic and rival who landed the treasury secretary job as well as other rivals integrated into Lincoln's cabinet.

The idea was to get the best person -- without regard to whether they are supporters -- and give away some of your power.

Not the usual power grab that gets the predicted results -- a power sharing, if you will among great minds.

It's hard to know what Obama will end up doing. Skeptics must keep in mind that Nixon promised to install a strong, diverse cabinet. History shows he didn't keep that promise. Look no further than to Nixon's Interior Secretary Walter Hickel who opposed his president over the Alaska oil pipeline.

He got fired.

Same with the Democrats.

Jimmy Carter once said "There will never be an instance while I am in office where the members of the White House staff dominate or act in a superior position to the members of the Cabinet".

Oops. That didn't last long.

Obama's reported interest aside in appointing his rival, Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, we only have Lincoln to go on right now -- but the recent interest in this concept has applications beyond politics.

Say, to the music and media business.

Look, it's not that there aren't critics -- plenty of them -- embedded deep into the big four record labels and almost every major broadcast group. I know plenty of them.

But, they have no power and they're walking a fine line every time they oppose the increasingly unilateral approach media executives take to running their businesses.

Still, I can't get it out my mind - a team of rivals.

What if?

What if the big four labels made an effort to not only hire those who oppose their current and traditional policies but gave them the power to have an effect on their operating strategies.

Of course, this means not just hiring lawyers who favor suing consumers who steal music. That train left the station a long time ago with RIAA's attorneys the only passengers still on it. The strategy has failed.

Take Napster.

Insiders will tell you that at least one of the labels tried to buy Napster during its first iteration as a pirate music downloading site. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence to back this up. There is the ridiculous claim that Napster wouldn't sell to the labels.

If the labels had staffed themselves with a team of rivals -- not easily controlled -- and vested with the power to act, do you know what is a distinct possibility? That the labels would have purchased Napster to take it out and then embraced it to gain early entry into music downloading -- perhaps, legally.

But no -- the powers that be -- were dead set against it and instead by their actions over the next ten years acted like downloading did not exist. That it was something you sent to legal to handle. They still think like that today.

Imagine the fools who think young consumers will pay $19.95 for all the music they can hear on just about any platform you can concoct. The labels fail to understand the next generation. Gen Y already has a way to get all the music they need -- for free. It's called stealing. And without condoning music theft, it is a reality that isn't going to go away.

Teams of rivals would also include young people.

No, not interns or underpaid college grads.

The next generation is very different. They are very bright, however.

On the radio side, imagine for a moment what would have happened if consolidators actually looked to put together a team of rivals back in 1996 when Congress enabled the building of mini-monopolies?

Let me stop for one second -- I know what some of you are thinking. That this will never happen.

Of course, it will never happen.

That doesn't mean that it shouldn't -- just that it won't.

The big kahuna of consolidation was Clear Channel -- a nasty group of people who were called "the evil empire" (I wish I thought of it, but I didn't). To get that name -- there must have been some truth to it. They were full of themselves and absolute power corrupted -- as the saying goes -- absolutely.

The industry leader hired its friends and suck ups -- managers who kissed their butts and later lost their jobs along with their dignity. It wasn't in the Mays playbook to hire diverse points of view and -- and I said and -- give them power to act on their own without interference from the family.

Remember when Clear Channel bought AMFM and they then found themselves with two quality radio heads -- Randy Michaels and Jimmy de Castro? Clear Channel should have retained both of them in some type of power sharing arrangement if necessary. They didn't. Who cares if they don't get along. Put them in a room and let them fight it out. Clear Channel was worse off for letting its talent get away -- a practice it has honed to a specialty today.

When Clear Channel and I traded $100 million lawsuits, some strange things happened that have never been revealed. One Sunday I was being deposed in Manhattan by a bevy of Clear Channel lawyers, executives and Randy Michaels. The law offices were empty -- after all, it was Sunday. These video depositions tended to last the entire day. At one point we took a break and I went to look for a men's room. I walked down these long corridors around corners, through cubicles and finally to the men's room. Moments later Randy Michaels found the same bathroom. No lawyers. Just the two of us mano y mano -- unzipped. And what did we do? We lined up at two urinals side by side and exchanged our fairly civilized differing points of view. No pissing match between the two of us.

I mention this because subsequently before Clear Channel settled the suit, they removed Michaels from his role. In spite of the fact that he had it in for me for my investigative publishing at Inside Radio back then, I knew it was a bad decision on their part. Bad decision.
John Hogan, stepped up and took over.

Which one would you rather have running your company?

Clear Channel blew it.

A team of rivals contains people who differ.

It also should have different types of people.

Radio is a male-oriented business to its discredit. All these years later, only a few women have real power to run radio groups. This is wrong. Where are the Hispanic voices outside of Hispanic stations? There is no real diversity in racial makeup or for that matter in points of view. That's my opinion.

Clear Channel is by far not the only example. Just about every radio group is a fiefdom created in the image of its own warlord and rivals are not valued let alone tolerated.

Take Citadel.

Farid is a bean counter not a radio visionary. He's not even a good businessman if you use the stock market as your standard. Farid holds power very close to his vest. There is no team of rivals. In fact, there's hardly even a team -- after all the firings.

Perhaps the most important reason that very few governments, businesses or for that matter universities seek to put together a team of rivals is because it takes confidence in one's self to not only seek opposition but empower rivals to act.

Now I don't know about you, but the federal government today isn't what I thought it would be eight years ago. And, radio today isn't what I thought it would be eight years ago, either.

The Robert Mugabe's of the radio industry (he's the dictatorial head of Zimbabwe) have pillaged the landscape of this fine industry to enhance their own fortunes. The hell with what's good for the industry.

There are many reasons why the unthinkable has happened -- the radio industry is becoming a mere shadow of its former self.

The obvious ones.

And the not so obvious ones that I am offering for your consideration today as food for thought.

It takes abundant self confidence to employ a rival -- and give them decision making capabilities without the fear of retribution.

It takes confidence in one's self to hire young people whom they do not understand or relate to or for that matter older people who have been prematurely dismissed and put out to pasture.

Yet, I can guarantee you that if the radio and record businesses had the courage that Obama says he wants to have -- and that President Lincoln, in fact, had -- then you would be looking at two growth industries today instead of dying businesses. Steadied by their best thinkers and ushered into the digital future by their youngest and brightest future stars.

It could have been music media's fabulous Camelot.

Instead it wound up being the farce of Spamalot -- a Monty Python-type parody of what could have been.

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