XM's Lee Abrams Moves To Tribune Co.
By Frank Ahrens
Lee Abrams, the creative heart and soul of XM Satellite Radio since its 1998 founding in Washington, is leaving to help retool the Tribune Co.
Abrams, 55, will be the chief innovation officer for Tribune, based in his hometown of Chicago, the company said today. In the newly created job, Abrams will attempt to create new media strategies and business plans for the company's newspapers, television stations and online properties, Tribune said.
"Over the past couple of years, I've been fascinated with the concept of news and information as being the new rock and roll," Abrams said in an interview today. "There had always been music, but rock and roll took it to a whole new level, broke the rules, wrote a whole new playbook."
Abrams said he believes that the venerable news industry can undergo a similar revolution with creative leadership. Abrams has a long history as a radio innovator, but no experience in journalism.
In addition to the Chicago Tribune, the company owns the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, Newsday and other papers, as well as 23 television stations, a radio station and the Chicago Cubs. Last year, a boardroom revolt forced the company on the sales block. Tribune ended up going private in an employee-ownership plan devised by commercial real estate billionaire Sam Zell, who is now Tribune's chief executive and chairman.
Tribune is struggling under $13 billion of debt incurred in Zell's takeover plan and battling declining circulation at its newspapers and in advertising revenue, which is cutting into the cash flow needed to pay down the debt.
Abrams is a legend in the radio industry, credited with inventing the "album-oriented rock" format on FM. He was one of the planners of the notorious "Disco Demolition Night" between games of a 1979 doubleheader involving the White Sox and Detroit Tigers at Chicago's Comisky Park that resulted in an on-field riot and a White Sox forfeit.
Abrams also has been blamed for radio's demise as one of the fathers of consultant-generated playlists, which critics say homogenized stations across the country.
XM is awaiting regulatory approval for a merger with its satellite radio rival, New York's Sirius. Abrams said his departure was not related to the pending merger, but added that his job at XM may not be filled because it may be redundant in a merged XM-Sirius.
Abrams was hired at Tribune by longtime friend and radio veteran Randy Michaels, Zell's deputy.
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