Policy

Charlie Ergen Isn’t Only a Man With a Plan for Wireless Service: He’s Also a Dissatisfied Customer

4/23/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

In his latest business iteration — as a wireless
broadband mogul — Dish Network chairman Charlie
Ergen has a simple plan: Provide a cheap, reliable
wireless service that doesn’t try to confuse its customers
with hidden charges and complicated billing structures.

“I really just want a phone that I can talk as many
minutes as I want, and text while I’m talking, and I can
surf the Web and will cost me $50,” Ergen said at Th e
University of Colorado Law School’s “Entrepreneurs Unplugged”
lecture series last Tuesday. “I signed up for a
plan with one of the carriers. It was $59 [a month]. But
my last bill was for $164.28, and it’s 18 pages long. I used
to be an accountant and I can’t tell you why it’s $164 and
neither [could] they when I called them.

“I don’t think the wireless business has to be that way.
I think you can actually have a phone that works.”

That simple philosophy has steered Ergen throughout
his career — first as a professional blackjack player
and later as the chairman and CEO of the second-largest
satellite-TV service provider in the country.

Ergen admitted to being a micro-manager. There are
two types of executives, he said: One who trusts his managers
from day one until they prove him wrong and those
who don’t trust their managers until they show their
worth. “I’m the latter,” he said.

Still, until about seven or eight years ago, he signed every
check that was issued by his company. (He has scaled
back to signing every check in excess of $100,000.) It’s a
great way to stay on top of every aspect of the business,
he said, recommending it to future entrepreneurs.

“If you know where the money is going, you know most
everything about that business,” Ergen said.

Ergen’s willingness to take risks has served him well
over the years, and stems from lessons learned at gambling
tables as well as in boardrooms.

“Blackjack is very scientific,” he said. “There is always
a right answer and wrong answer. Poker, on the other
hand, is a game where you don’t have to have the best
hand to win. Poker is more about reading other people
and reading human emotion. Backgammon — while
luck is a big part of backgammon, over a period of time
the real key to backgammon is being able to think many,
many moves ahead.”

John Malone News:
He Backs Journalism
In Cause of Liberty

Another Denver-based media mogul shared his wit and
wisdom last week in an event open to, among others,
The Wire. Liberty Media threw a dinner in Washington,
D.C., to celebrate the winner of its third annual Media
for Liberty Award for journalism. The award looks at the
link between economics and politics.

The featured intersection of those two was a serious and
compelling online documentary, A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan,
about the ongoing political strife in that country and
its effect on the
people there.

Liberty chairman
John Malone
pointed out during
the ceremony that
Liberty has more
than a passing
interest in journalism,
though
primarily financial.
It continues to be
the principal owners
of MacNeil/
Lehrer Productions
(producers of the PBS NewsHour), he
said, as well as an early supporter of, and investor in, CNN,
and owner of the predecessor company to CNBC. “We were
definitely there when Fox News [Channel] got started,” he
added, as “the 20% owner of the first committed distributor
of Fox News. So we have some history in news and the
media, but generally as an investor. We don’t really believe
we know much about it.”

There were plenty of light moments amidst discussions
of war-torn Afghanistan.

Malone said he had tried, but failed, to recruit Rush Limbaugh
to be the anchor of Fox News when it first launched,
adding: “But we did get Roger Ailes out of it.”

Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson, emcee for the
event, gently jibed at Republican presumptive nominee Mitt
Romney
. He said one of Romney’s greatest advantages was
that he “looks like the result of some genetic experiment
designed to produce the perfect presidential candidate,
with that Easter Island-like head,” adding, “The guy with
the biggest head wins.”

“I am hardly a research scientist,” he went on, suggesting
his audience worked with people “who know
that the anchor with the largest head” wins. “There
are a lot of people with intimate knowledge of television
here, and I think they could all say [that].” Malone
suggested Tom Brokaw was a prime example of that
dictum.

Carlson skewered in equal-opportunity fashion, taking
aim at former candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry — “I sat
through a speech by the governor of Texas for 40 minutes,
and he did not use a single preposition correctly”
— and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “His voice
sounds like a malfunctioning razor.”

Carlson’s razor-like repartee did not malfunction,
drawing repeated laughs from a crowd that
included various Congressional folks and esteemed
academics.

Media Heads Collide
As ‘Jeopardy’ Takes
Trip to U.S. Capital

We’ll take
“Famous Nongermane
Amendments”
for
$1,200, please,
Alex.

The Jeopardy!
production team
was slated to be
in D.C. this past
weekend (April
21) to tape a
week’s worth of
shows with some inside-the-Beltway “Power Players.”

Among them were a number of cable-news powers
matching wits and knowledge.

Examples: MSNBC’s Chris Matthews playing Jeopardy!
hardball against former White House press
secretary Robert Gibbs and CNN’s Lizzie O’Leary; Fox
News Channel’s Chris Wallace facing off against Dr.
Mehmet Oz and BBC D.C. correspondent Katty Kay;
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper taking on NBC Capitol
Hill correspondent Kelly O’Donnell and New York Times
columnist Thomas Friedman; and MSNBC’s Chuck
Todd, of The Daily Rundown, trying to mow down newspaperman
and commentator Clarence Page and humorist
Lewis Black.

STANDING UP FOR ARTS

Last Tuesday (April 17) was the 25th annual Arts Advocacy
Day in Washington, D.C., when a range of cultural
and civic groups from across the country make
the case for public support of the arts and culture.
Alec Baldwin delivered the annual Nancy Hanks Lecture
on Arts and Public Policy and posed with New
York Times
columnist Maureen Dowd (who introduced
him), Ken Solomon (chairman of Ovation, which sponsored
AA Day) and Robert Lynch, CEO of Americans
for the Arts.

September