If you asked guys on the street to pick the coolest choices from a list of jobs, you'd probably get similar reactions: Criminal defense lawyer? Like Perry Mason? Sure.
Mexican-clothing importer? Great travel.
Football coach? Hell, yeah!
Regulatory attorney? Yawn.
Those aren't the answers you'd get from Ken Ferree, though, and the chief of the FCC's new Media Bureau has done them all.
The tedium of trial discovery convinced him that criminal law was not for him. A former All-Ivy and Playboy All-East lineman, he enjoyed coaching offensive line for alma mater Dartmouth, but "it was hard work for low pay." A partnership importing Mexican apparel collapsed when his college buddy—the "real brains of the operation"—got into Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For 10 years, Ferree has focused his energy into a successful law career that balances work and family life better than previous careers.
It's clear, though, he still has a hard time sitting still. Rather than waste his mornings in Washington's daily traffic snarls, Ferree zips to work on a Honda 1100cc Cruiser. He insists that his alternative transportation is entirely practical: Long hours hunched over handlebars, he says, is "not as romantic as one might think."
Today, despite being a top regulator of the world's biggest entertainment industry, Ferree spends more time making his own amusement than immersed in electronic media. "I don't watch much TV and don't allow my kids to either."
Instead, he spends many of his off-hours playing the piano, which he "absolutely hated" as a kid. After buying a piano for daughter Rachel, though, he picked it up again. "From day one, I couldn't keep my hands off of it. It's the closest thing I'll ever come to creating anything beautiful."
Ferree brought the same focus to Washington law firm Goldberg, Godles, Wiener & Wright, recalls former boss Henry Goldberg. He was a "brilliant" associate before becoming partner in 1999, Goldberg says. "When we needed careful analysis done very fast, we turned to Ken."
A quick pace will serve him well at the commission. The Media Bureau, formed by the recent merger of the Mass Media and Cable Services bureaus, faces an enormous workload. Within 18 months, Ferree and his staff aim to rewrite nearly all media ownership rules, push the DTV transition, decide the regulatory framework for cable modem service, determine the fate of program access rules helping cable's competitors, and judge whether rules are needed to spur interactive television.
He brings a sense of humor to a job known for bureaucratic tedium, dubbing his new team the "Massive Media Bureau." ITV, which often seems more myth than reality, he calls "Project Unicorn."
Still, he appreciates the seriousness of his job as well the dedication of agency personnel. "The quality of the people was unexpected. They believe what they are doing is important."
He joined the FCC in May 2001 as head of the Cable Services Bureau, and word soon got out that he would be Chairman Michael Powell's pick to head the combined operation.
He insists he harbors no pro-cable bias. In fact, he spent most of his time at Goldberg, Godles, Wiener & Wright fighting big cable operators. Just before moving to the FCC, he represented utilities in their battle to eliminate caps on rates cable companies pay to string wires to power poles.
When Ferree was tapped to head the cable bureau, press accounts described him as a longtime Powell friend. That overstates what is essentially a professional acquaintance, he insists. Sure, they knew each other as Georgetown Law students and clerked at different times for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Harry Edwards. And Powell spoke to a communications-law course Ferree taught; But "it's not like we got together on weekends to watch football."