Sam Zell's Insane Radio Henchmen

Radio people tend to be very weird, and over at struggling Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell is putting them in charge of everything, so the whole place is turning into some kind of clown show. There are batshit crazy emails, bizarre newspaper makeover ideas, pinball and an actual buzzer, like on a morning zoo radio show, used during meetings. Put on your LSD glasses and take a Hunter Thompson-esque ride through the freaky new Tribune Co.

The new radio guys at Tribune include:

  • Randy Michaels, number two at Tribune
  • Lee Abrams, Chief Innovation Officer, formerly of XM Satellite Radio, started last Tuesday
  • Brought in over the past few days, all from radio powerhouse Clear Channel: Jerry Kerstin, Marc Chase, Steve Gable, Dean Compton

The Times reported for tomorrow's paper that Abrams' "long, rambling, excited" emails are scaring the crap out of everyone:

"If we can morph the Soul of Dylan ... with the innovation of Apple and the eccentric-all-the-way-to-the-bank of Bill Veeck, the WORLD will be a better place," he wrote in one missive.

How would Abrams improve Tribune's struggling newspaper? By composing "front pages primarily composed of colorful maps," according to the Journal.

He also wants to shake up meetings with a "'cliché buzzer,' to ring when colleagues offer tired ideas."

Abrams' boss, Michaels, is only slightly less insane. Keep in mind this man is second only to Sam Zell at Tribune. Said the Journal:

He once arrived at a radio broadcasters' conference carried on a litter and dressed in the garb of an Egyptian pharaoh to underscore in a speech how powerful consolidation would prove for radio.

Michaels is now installing pinball machines and a jukebox at Tribune corporate headquarters in Chicago. Because there's nothing like pinball when you have $12.8 billion in debt, deteriorating credit and are worried about missing payments.

There are different theories as to why Zell is bringing these radio guys in. One is that radio was once seen as a medium on the way to extinction, like newspapers are seen now, but was revived. Another is that he wants to emphasize the broadcast side of Tribune, which produces only about 25 percent of revenue but 50 percent of profit.

Times: Tough Guy in a Mean Business'

WSJ: Tribune Turns to Radio to Revive Empire