Changing the History of Radio Together

Mel Karmazin, the man who helped bring Howard to Infinity 20 years ago, stops in to say goodbye

December 13, 2005

Former Viacom President and current SIRIUS CEO, Mel Karmazin, the man who was responsible for bringing Howard to Infinity 20 years ago, stopped in to say goodbye to the show.

As Mel was sitting down, Howard pointed out that he has been a hero to him. Howard also noted that, since Mel never liked being in the spotlight, this was only the second time he had ever been in the studio as a guest.

Howard recalled that when he got fired from NBC, he was labeled as “filthy” and was told that no advertisers would ever put money into any of his future shows, if he was even able to get any more shows. Howard admitted that hearing these negatives comments began taking a toll on him, and he believed that his radio career was over. However, Howard went on to say that shortly after his firing, his agent, Don Buchwald, notified him that Mel was interested in signing him to a deal at Infinity, which Howard accepted on the spot.

Howard added that what he remembered most about his first meeting with Mel was the way Mel made it clear that he believed in him and his show. Howard then mentioned that, at a time when he was feeling down about his career, Mel completely changed his outlook for the better.

Mel responded that hiring Howard was the easiest decision he ever made, and that he was on the phone with Don to make a deal as soon as he heard that NBC was letting him go.

Howard then revealed that NBC was so fearful of what he and Mel could do together that the company offered him $50,000 to take a job in Los Angeles as opposed to New York, which he rejected.

Following Howard’s comment that he was thrilled when NBC started going through financial troubles after his departure, Mel pointed out that the company had to have been embarrassed with the whole situation. Especially considering they had fired their top ratings getter in Howard, who then joined Infinity and became the number one radio personality in the New York market.

Mel Does Battle With the FCC

Mel acknowledged that the lowest point of his career was when the FCC demanded he pay a $6,000 fine for a bit Howard did that was labeled as “indecent,” even though it didn’t fall into any of the criteria needed for such a distinction.

Mel recalled that Howard had a performer on his show one morning who played the piano with his genitals, a segment which the FCC didn’t approve of. Because of this, Mel said that the FCC wouldn’t allow him to buy or sell any radio stations until he paid the fine.

However, although the problem could’ve been remedied rather easily with the payment of the small fine, Mel noted that he felt so strongly that what the FCC was doing was wrong that he ended up spending millions of dollars defending Howard.

Another point that Mel brought up was that Dr. Ruth, who had a popular radio show at the time, was allowed to say anything she wanted on the air without facing regulations, while Howard was fined over incidents that didn’t warrant any kind of governmental intervention. Howard then informed Mel that he’s still experiencing the same problem today, adding that “Oprah” has become edgier than his show because of the differing rules when it comes to the content they’re allowed to air.

From New York to L.A.

Mel mentioned that one aspect of Howard’s career that has always impressed him was the way he became number one in Los Angeles, even though the show aired on a three-hour delay. Mel went on to say that, according to traditional radio rules, morning shows were supposed to have local content like traffic and weather reports, but that Howard changed all that with his show.

Howard then told Mel that he has meant more to his career than anyone else, and that he feels like they conquered the industry as a team.