Former president and chief operating officer, Viacom
Born: August 24, 1943, in New York, New York.
Education: Pace University, BS, 1967.
Family: Married (wife's name unknown; divorced 1996); children: two.
Career: CBS Corporation, 1960–1970, radio sales; Metromedia, 1970–1981, vice president and general manager; Infinity Broadcasting Corporation, 1981–1996, president; 1988–1996, CEO; Westinghouse/CBS Station Group, 1997–1999, chairman and CEO; CBS Corporation, 1999–2000, president and CEO; Viacom, 2000–2004, president and COO.
Awards: National Radio Award, National Association of Broadcasters, 1998; Gold Medal Award, International Radio and Television Society, 2000; Broadcasting Hall of Fame, National Association of Broadcasters, 2003.
■ Following its acquisition of CBS in 2000, Viacom named Mel Karmazin president and chief operating officer; at the time the company was a $20 billion diversified media corporation, one of the largest in the world. Karmazin had previously served as president and chief executive officer of the CBS Station Group. Known as a stickler for detail and thrift—traits that led some employees to nickname him "Mad Mel"—Karmazin was unusual among the inner elite of contemporary communications management in that he originally rose through the ranks as an organizational radio executive and thus had no background whatsoever in television and film or in the creative side of the media business.
Karmazin began his career in the communications industry just out of high school as an entry-level employee at the radio station WCBS in New York City; he eventually worked his
way into advertising sales. He attended Pace University in Manhattan as a part-time student while working full-time at the station, earning a bachelor's degree in marketing in 1967. Karmazin's skill as an ad salesman earned him a reported $70,000 per year in commissions, which incurred him the jealousy of older supervisors and consequently limited his possibilities of advancement. In 1970 Karmazin was hired by John Kluge, the chair of Metromedia, the stations of which included the WCBS rival WNEW. For more than a decade Karmazin served as vice president and general manager of the Metromedia stations. Kluge, who saw the value of his radio and television stations increase enormously during Karmazin's tenure, told Richard Siklos of BusinessWeek that Karmazin was "the kind of person who can do anything, because he has the energy and the drive" (April 5, 1999).
In 1981 Infinity Broadcasting Company recruited Karmazin as its new president. At a time when radio was being written off by some media companies, Karmazin believed that new ownership rules that were about to come into effect, allowing companies to own more stations, would make radio a bargain in the mass-media industry. He aggressively pursued controversial radio personalities for Infinity, hiring Howard Stern and Don Imus, among others, and expanded Infinity's string of stations from six to 44 during his 15 years at the company. A share of Infinity stock, which had been worth $17.50 in 1992, increased in value to $170 by December 1996, when Infinity was acquired by CBS for nearly $5 billion.
Returning to CBS, the company where he had started his career as an advertising salesman, Karmazin headed the network's owned-and-operated radio and television stations. In 1999 he was promoted to president and CEO of CBS Corporation. Among his first priorities was to reacquire television rights to National Football League (NFL) coverage, which CBS had lost to Rupert Murdoch's Fox network in a bidding war several years earlier. Karmazin understood that the contract held greater significance than its face value: professional football was among the most effective broadcasting tools with which to reach males under the age of 35, an important demo-graphic target for advertisers as well as for the promotion of prime-time programs. This was particularly significant at CBS, which had long suffered under a reputation as the network for "older" audiences.
Though known at the office as a budget slasher and penny pincher who was not above questioning petty-cash receipts, Karmazin negotiated an eight-year deal with the NFL allowing the network to pay $500 million per year for NFL broadcast rights. In addition, under Karmazin's management CBS radio consistently outpaced the rest of the radio industry in profits. Dan Rather, the anchor of the daily CBS Evening News , described Karmazin's management style to Siklos in BusinessWeek as "blunt as a punch in the nose," but added, "Mel's direct, but with an ability to listen" (April 5, 1999).
In 2000 another corporate merger took Karmazin to even greater heights. Viacom, whose portfolio of media companies included such varied properties as Paramount Pictures, MTV, Blockbuster Video, and Simon & Schuster, acquired CBS for $39.8 billion. According to an article that appeared in Newsweek , the merger catapulted Karmazin "to the uppermost reaches of the media business, a clear signal that in the entertainment industry these days, business skills trump creative instincts" (September 20, 1999). At Viacom Karmazin was number two on the corporate ladder, reporting only to CEO Sumner Redstone, who owned more than 68 percent of voting stock. Karmazin was generally considered heir apparent to Redstone.
Karmazin was known to value his privacy—so much so that he had written into the contracts of on-air personalities who worked for him that they were not to mention his name. He was vice chairman of the board of trustees of the Museum of Television and Radio in New York. Though widely feared as a two-fisted manager, Karmazin demonstrated strong support for marketplace and workplace diversity. He was a founder and supporter of the Prism Fund, a billion-dollar, industry-supported capital fund that worked to increase ownership of television and radio stations by women and members of minority groups. At CBS he instituted visible efforts to increase minority hiring in all departments. On June 1, 2004, Karmazin resigned from Viacom.
See also entries on CBS Corporation and Viacom Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .
Bryant, Adam, "The Making of a Media Giant," Newsweek , September 20, 1999, p. 34.
Higgins, John M., "It's Official: Mel's Staying at Viacom," Broadcasting & Cable , March 24, 2003, p. 4.
Kuczynski, Alex, "A Chief Intent on Raising Eyebrows," New York Times , November 14, 1999.
Siklos, Richard, "Can Mel Karmazin Reinvent Network TV?" BusinessWeek , April 5, 1999.
"Top Broadcasters Plan Billion-Dollar Fund to Push Blacks' and Women's Ownership in Radio and TV," Jet , November 22, 1999, p. 12.