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Karmazin, Mel


KARMAZIN, MEL (1943– ), U.S. media executive. Melvin Alan Karmazin was born and grew up in Long Island City, Queens, New York. His mother worked in a factory while his father drove a taxi. During high school Karmazin was a typist at an advertising agency in Manhattan. He attended Pace University at night while working as an advertising salesman by day. His first job at the Columbia Broadcasting System was selling ads for the radio division. In the late 1960s, when his commission exceeded $70,000, his boss objected to his earnings, so Karmazin left to work for the giant broadcasting company Metromedia. At Metromedia from 1970 to 1981, Karmazin was general manager of wnew-am and fm, two well-known stations in New York City. One disc jockey who worked there at the time wrote that Karmazin "had no interest in music, news, sports, books, theater. It mattered not what a station proffered, only how it profited." That attitude served Karmazin well in broadcasting. In 1981 he was hired to run Infinity Broadcasting, an owner of radio stations. Over the next 15 years, by dint of tight operating control and a string of shrewd acquisitions, he built Infinity into one of the largest radio networks in the nation. His most brilliant managerial stroke came in the late 1980s when he hired Howard Stern, a foul-mouthed talk-show host who had been fired by another station. Stern began earning millions for himself and for the station. Karmazin took Infinity public in 1992 for $17.50 a share, then sold it in 1996, when it owned 44 radio stations, to cbs for $170 a share, securing his reputation on Wall Street. In 1996, using a business strategy that became his trademark, Karmazin approached cbs, which had merged with Westinghouse in 1995, and proposed that Infinity buy the company. Instead, cbs acquired Infinity for $4.9 billion, and Karmazin came aboard to run the combined radio operations of Infinity, Westinghouse, and cbs along with its outdoor advertising business. Intent on making his stamp on the company, Karmazin was instrumental in persuading Westinghouse to dump its industrial manufacturing assets and to refashion the company under the cbs name. The chairman and chief executive of cbs named Karmazin head of cbs's station division and in October 1998 Karmazin forced his superior's resignation. He became chief executive in 1999. One of his first acts at cbs was to buy broadcast rights for National Football League games from 1998 to 2006 for $4 billion. He also invested $30 million to $50 million in an early morning show, but that project was unsuccessful. In 2000 Karmazin became the chief operating officer of Viacom-cbs, one of the world's largest producers of news and entertainment and became the presumptive heir to Sumner M. *Redstone, Viacom's chief executive, who was then 76 years old. Karmazin's relationship with Redstone was testy. He refused to conform to Redstone's more traditional conception of an entertainment mogul. Karmazin kept a close eye on expenses, a discipline anathema to many in entertainment. And Karmazin did not like the high-risk, potentially high-reward game of making blockbuster movies. For him the entertainment business was about controlling costs, selling ads, and watching pennies, not laying daring bets or dating starlets. In 2004, when he decided that he would not be succeeding the crusty octogenarian Redstone, Karmazin resigned as Viacom's president and chief operating officer, giving up his stewardship of cbs, mtv, Paramount, Simon & Schuster, and Infinity Broadcasting. He left with a severance agreement worth $30 million. Later that year, Karmazin took the reins of Sirius Satellite Radio as chief executive. The announcement came a month after Sirius had signed Howard Stern to bring his show to the satellite airwaves from commercial radio.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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