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A Payout That's Off the Dial

As for Liggins, given the company's dismal financial performance, it's hard to imagine what other companies would be furiously bidding for his services. Nor is it likely that, as the son of the founder and the company's largest shareholder, he would be tempted to go anywhere else.

Most investors, however, are likely to find it galling that, having seen the value of their stock fall by 95 percent and the value of the company fall from $2 billion to $85 million, they now have to shell out $4.8 million to compensate Liggins for the decline in his shares.

Perhaps all this should be expected at a company where, thanks to an unusual governance structure, Hughes and Liggins control 88.3 percent of the votes at the annual meeting. It certainly fits with the picture of a company that, in the past, has loaned its top executives large sums to buy company stock -- $21 million in Liggins's case -- and purchased radio assets from, or entered into programming agreements with, companies owned in part by members of its board. Even Radio One's office space in Baltimore is rented, at a cost of about $220,000 a year, from a partnership controlled by Hughes and Liggins.

It's all disclosed and it's all perfectly legal, but taken as a whole, what you get is a public company that is run like a private one -- which is probably what Radio One ought to become. Rather than stringing along shareholders with promises of stock buybacks and Internet riches while milking them dry with extravagant compensation packages, Hughes and Liggins ought to find a lender or private-equity firm, pay shareholders a small premium and buy the company back.

If it turns out that Radio One has a second act and Liggins is the visionary he claims to be, then they will justly deserve whatever riches may follow.

Steven Pearlstein can be reached

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