Armchair quarterbacking: We’ve all done it. (Heck, some people say it’s what I do best.) How many times have you thought or said, “If I were running Clear Channel, I would…”?

But you’re not running Clear Channel. Even if you were, you wouldn’t have the freedom to do the blah, blah thing you say you’d do. The problem with publicly traded companies is that they’re owned by people who have no idea how to run them: stockholders. Can you imagine answering to a nervous board of directors that is being yanked by a group of investors with no real qualifications beyond inheriting a pile of money from their parents?

Today’s Clear Channel was formed in much the same way as the old Soviet Union: Previously independent republics were co-opted into a growing monolith “for the greater good.” Not surprisingly, CC and the USSR shared the same initial problem: the integration of dissimilar styles, methods and belief systems into a single, seamless system. The situation created hotly contested turf battles and culture wars, and there were many casualties.

When Randy Michaels sat in the CEO’s hot seat, he took the bull by the horns, and that bull pinned him to the wall. Remember when Clear Channel was drowning in a sea of controversy and negativity? Everyone in the industry, everyone in the press, even the man on the street was down on them. In the midst of that storm, John Hogan was handed the skipper’s cap and instructed to sail the ship into calmer waters. I’m betting that cap felt a lot like the blindfold they give you just before they march you in front of a firing squad.

I met Hogan and liked him, though I secretly felt he wasn’t taking action quickly enough. His methodical approach, however, may have been the right thing to do. Wrapping your arms around 1,000+ radio stations and 25,000 employees can’t be easy if you plan to do it well. Slowly, miraculously, Hogan turned the tide of negative publicity and introduced some meaningful innovations.

How would you like to have been Hogan the day he told his board of directors that he intended to walk away from several million dollars in record-promotion contracts? As an encore, would you tell them, as he did, that you’ve decided to go against decades of traditional wisdom and incur the wrath of advertisers by announcing Less is More?

Time will tell if Hogan will be remembered as a revolutionary genius or as a man ahead of his time. In the humble opinion of this commentator, Less is More was the right thing to do. If indeed it fails and Hogan loses his great wager, the Mays brothers will find another skipper to pilot their massive ship. But if Less is More succeeds, Hogan will have changed radio history forever. When was the last time we saw that kind of leadership?

Whether the ideas prove right or wrong, radio needs more innovators. It’s extremely unlikely, though, that there will ever be another innovator who will risk so much on a more beautiful dream. And that, my friend, is why we chose John Hogan as the recipient of this year’s Radio Executive of the Year Award.

Congratulations, John

By Eric Rhoads. Published in Radio Ink Magazine 1/03/2005