In the Same Orbit, but on Different Planets

Sirius chief Mel Karmazin, right, a longtime champion of deejay Howard Stern, would run the company if Sirius and XM Satellite Radio merge.
Sirius chief Mel Karmazin, right, a longtime champion of deejay Howard Stern, would run the company if Sirius and XM Satellite Radio merge. (By John Marshall Mantel -- Bloomberg News)
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In the radio industry, Sirius Satellite Radio chief executive Mel Karmazin is like Bono or Prince or Charo: One name is sufficient. Say "Mel," and everyone knows who you're talking about.

The same cannot be said of XM Satellite Radio Holdings Chairman Gary M. Parsons. That's why some say, if the proposed merger between the two satellite companies is approved by regulators, the two executives may work well together.

Under the proposed merger, Karmazin would be the chief executive of the combined company, with Parsons chairing the board. There is no role in the new company for current XM chief executive Hugh Panero, whose duties have diminished since the XM board appointed director Nate Davis as president and chief operating officer in July.

Karmazin and Parsons are opposite in temperament and style, said Tom Taylor, editor of Inside Radio, an industry trade paper. Karmazin can be electric; Parsons is more laid-back.

Case in point: The rambunctious Karmazin has been tossing merger speculation to the New York media and Wall Street analysts for the past several months. The more reserved Parsons has been just as interested in a merger, he said yesterday, but kept it to himself.

"He was looking at it," Parsons said of a merger, "and we were looking at it -- just less publicly."

Complementary traits between the pair could be key because the last time Karmazin was part of a power duo, things didn't go so well. He left his job as chief operating officer of Viacom for Sirius in 2004 after clashing with Sumner Redstone, the equally strong-willed leader of Viacom.

Before coming to Sirius, Karmazin spent more than three decades in the terrestrial radio business, most of it running Infinity Broadcasting's radio stations and then CBS Radio, when it bought Infinity and eventually became Viacom.

Mel stories are plentiful, and they consistently paint Karmazin as a sleeves-up radio man devoted to making money for shareholders.

Taylor recalls a story of Karmazin helping set up chairs in a meeting room before the start of an investors' conference. Karmazin has near-total recall, Taylor said, which has come back to haunt station managers who worked under Karmazin and failed to produce a promised ratings number.

If there's one thing to know about Karmazin, it's that he's always about the sale. There's a reason "Mel" rhymes with "sell."

"He's one of radio's best-ever sales guys," Taylor said. "He knows how to sell radio advertising."


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