Hundt Knows When to Fold' Em

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The media got a giggle not long ago toting up Reed Hundt's fabulous paper wealth in the form of stock options granted by companies he joined as a director after leaving the Federal Communications Commission chairmanship in November 1997. But in the past six months, Hundt has decided to convert those options into cold cash, raking in $7.4 million from a series of trades that showed at least one thing: He is a savvy market-timer who managed to sidestep Wall Street's dot-com implosion in April. Hundt dumped a ton of shares in January and February, netting $4.1 million from the sale of Phone.com stock, $2.1 million from the sale of Allegiance Telecom Inc. stock and $1.2 million from the sale of NorthPoint Communications Inc. shares, according to First Call/Thomson financial data. Since Hundt's selling spree, Phone.com is down 48 percent, Allegiance is down 44 percent and NorthPoint is down 62 percent.

- - - We guess they'll soon be known as "GOPeanut Butter KandyKakes." As documented on these pages, Comcast Corp. is pulling out all of the stops to make the most of its role as a sponsor of the Republican National Convention when it hits Philadelphia in August. Now comes word that the MSO agreed to foot the bill for a gala host-volunteer recognition party July 21. Comcast will even pay $40,000 for the creation of 50,000 commemorative cakes designed for the convention by Tasty Baking Co. Volunteers get goodie bags with pens and pads, Comcast buttons and the sweets-a two-cake pack with the Republican National Convention logo rendered on it. Don't like peanut butter? Tasty said it will provide butterscotch Krimpets, chocolate cupcakes or snack bars for discriminating taste buds. We don't imagine many of these will survive to show up on "Antiques Roadshow 3000."

- - - PrimeStar, which counted 2.3 million subscribers when DirecTV bought the cable industry's botched DBS venture last year, is down to 425,000 subs. With plans to shut down PrimeStar by the end of the year, DirecTV has been able to convert 1.1 million PrimeStar subs to its high-power service, spokesman Robert Mercer says. The rest have either gone to a competitor or dropped pay TV altogether. So what happened to those 1.9 million 24-by-36-inch PrimeStar dishes, related obsolete hardware and those cubic-yard square cement slabs that anchored the dishes in the backyards of many customer's homes? "The equipment is safe to be disposed of by you at your convenience through normal household garbage collection," PrimeStar customers were told in a letter included with their last bill, Mercer said. And DirecTV dealers that have been able to convert the subs to high-power were told by the company to reclaim the equipment (minus the concrete slab), he added.

- - - The Television Critics Association press tour isn't for the weak of heart, or stomach. Last week, USA Network's session on its cockroach thriller telepic, They Nest, kicked off with bug wrangler Brad McDonald. He coughed and then pulled a huge live Madagascar hissing cockroach out of his mouth. McDonald complained, "I seem to have caught that nasty bug that's going around." But that wasn't the capper of the presentation. At the end, USA offered writers some hors d'oeuvres. Chef David George Gordon, author of The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook, had his wok with him, and he added cricket nymphs, orzo and dried ants that he bought at a Chinese apothecary. Referring to the crickets, Gordon said, "They taste like shrimp, folks, so I hope you're hungry. There are actually about 250 calories in a cup of crickets and only six grams of fat. So if any of you are on Weight Watchers diets, this is definitely Weight Watchers-approved." Some of the writers dived right in and sampled the dish.

- - - Haim Saban, chair-man of Fox Family Worldwide, said he wasn't very impressed when one of Fox Family Channel's executives sent him a tape of Freaks and Geeks, saying that the cable network should acquire it. Saban watched the tape, but he just didn't relate to the series about the painful social trauma that high school inflicts on nerds, brains and wimps. "Why in the world would you want to buy that show?" Saban said he told Joel Andryc, Fox Family's executive vice president of programming and development. Andryc boldly argued his case to Saban, who was born in Israel and lived in Egypt. "You didn't grow up in this country, that's why you don't understand it," Saban said Andryc told him. We guess Saban was never picked last for a team in gym class and never had to deal with finding a prom date.

- - - EchoStar Communications Corp. chairman Charlie Ergen plans to take his "Charlie Chat" gig on the road this fall. Ergen told subscribers last week that the direct-broadcast satellite provider would host its Sept. 5 chat from ESPN head-quarters in Bristol, Conn., to help promote the "ESPN GamePlan" college-football package on Dish Network. "The ESPN guys heard about our show and got a little worried, so they asked us to come up so they could learn how not to do a show," Ergen commented.

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