What George Michael Could Teach Lew Dickey

George Michael died Christmas eve.

The dynamo who was a top-rated teen dj at WFIL, Philadelphia and WABC, New York also made a big name for himself as sports anchor at WRC-TV in Washington. George is credited with developing the News Center sports format that would become ESPN.

Those of you who know him do not need an introduction.

For anyone who did not, I am paying him the highest compliment by saying that no matter how good he was as an entertainer and sportscaster, he was even better at being a human being.

I worked at WFIL the day George Michael arrived in The City of Brotherly Love. Mike Joseph, the consultant who hired George and the very talented staff of a station that would go on to iconic status in the heyday of top 40, knew what he was doing. Michael, Jay Cook, Chuck Browning, Dave Parks, Jim Nettleton, John Wade and Frank Kingston Smith -- were among the original hires.

Michael was the hardest working, hardest driving perfectionist I have ever seen. He willed his way to beat his competitors at WIBG. And although WFIL had the superior signal, WIBG had the identity of being the rock and roll station. Michael went out to local schools and made more appearances than I have ever seen a jock make. He set the standard. He recorded school reports, sports updates, interviewed high school stars and cheerleaders. He was relentless.

Believe me, I know. Because in addition to working at the same station with George Michael, I also programmed a station that competed against him. He was unbeatable.

He left Philadelphia undefeated to borrow a sports term.

Went to then top 40 giant WABC, New York -- the only place he could advance his career -- and won again. Left undefeated as he migrated into sports.

I also lived -- as we say back east -- "up the street" from George in Voorhees, NJ. Within one block we also had Arthur Field, the colorful and fantastic Capitol Record promotion pro.

I could go on and on, but you can read about George here if you'd like to know more.

Why I mention him this morning is because George Michael could teach consolidators like Lew Dickey, Fagreed Suleman and John Slogan Hogan a thing or two.

For example, when NBC canceled his popular "Sports Machine", Michael did something Suleman, Hogan and Dickey would never do.

Here's what John McDonnell said in The Washington Post:

"Michael rejected a new contract in 2006 after he learned that some of his staff members would be laid off as part of larger moves by parent company NBC Universal. 'NBC made me an extremely, extremely beyond-my-wildest-dreams offer to stay and sign a new deal,' Michael told the Washington Post at the time, adding: 'If I have to lay somebody off . . . I have to take the first bullet. It's that simple."

There it is.

This is where the radio industry has gone so wrong.

It isn't just about failed consolidation, too much executive compensation, too much debt, not enough corporate governance or just plain greed.

Radio has turned into a mean industry where fools run it and these fools think that by advancing their interests at the expense of others it makes them indispensable.

I can assure you no tribute to Dickey, Hogan or Suleman will ever be as heartfelt as any one you read about George Michael.

George took the hit when NBC cut costs that prohibited him from retaining the staff to produce "Sports Machine" to his excellent standards. He worked his people hard, but they will tell you that he fought for their best interests. It wasn't all about George Michael -- as big a persona as he was on radio and TV. It was about having a big heart and caring for others.

Need proof of how important heart really is?

Clear Channel forced the firing of two integral and long term members of Gerry House's talented morning team. At least House fought to the bitter end for his partners (see more). But just before Christmas -- that's right, Christmas -- Slogan Hogan did what was right for him to suck up to his bosses by sacrificing more talented and valuable people.

It happens all the time now in radio.

Lew Dickey who presides over perhaps the meanest and most employee unfriendly radio company rationalizes every cutback as he continues to line his pockets with money. The one thing that my readers say over and over again in their private emails to me is, "how does this man sleep at night".

But, George Michael actually took a stand against corporate consolidation and gave up something he built and was proud of because he felt he would have been forced to compromise it.

I sure as hell admire that.

But there is one other significant thing George Michael taught us -- although some of you may not have known about it. May I share?

George was an outsider -- who came in to a tough town, Philadelphia -- with the audacity to defeat the well established WIBG. Michaels and his team of new agers stormed the city and dealt a blow that was so great even Paul Drew and the Drake format, the rage at the time, couldn't put the station back together again.

In other words, generations mean change. The loser wait too long to understand that the audience had changed and therefore became vulnerable to challenge.

Fail to acknowledge it, fail to learn from it, fail to prepare for it and you have a date with the junk heap. We all do.

And that's what the radio industry is doing today.

They fail to get the message that the generations have changed and ironically that change is being led by a baby boomer named Steve Jobs who does get it.

The dying newspaper business, television industry and radio stations are in denial. Radio is busy instead pumping up that Nielsen b.s. about how great everything is for radio while a generation has already moved on.

George Michael was evidence that there is no denying the inevitable.

We lost a great man a few days ago.

Look at his resume and there is also no denying what he accomplished or how he will be remembered.

But consider what I have shared with you today -- compare it to the selfish and mean-spirited operators that have hijacked the media business and you appreciate George Michael even more.

He worked hard, was a perfectionist and when it came to making very difficult decisions, he did the right thing by the people who made him great.

The same cannot be said for the radio consolidators who by contrast have profited at the expense of the very people who made their franchises worth Wall Street's considerable financial investment in the first place.

Michael will be remembered with love and respect.

But even as they continue to plod along, the so-called "leaders" of radio's three biggest consolidators are looked at with disdain and ridicule.

They forgot how they got there unlike George Michael who in the end proved that he never did.

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