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Lee Abrams to Move On

The mastermind behind more than 100 of XM’s music channels now heads to the Tribune Co. in his Chicago hometown.

Kudos to Lee Abrams, who’s moving on from XM Satellite Radio, where he’s credited with yet another chapter in his innovative radio career.

The mastermind behind more than 100 of XM’s music channels now heads to the Tribune Co. in his Chicago hometown.

Tribune owns several daily newspapers; its broadcasting group operates 23 television stations, WGN on cable, Chicago’s WGN(AM) and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The company went private last year in an employee-ownership plan devised by commercial real estate billionaire Sam Zell, now Tribune’s chief executive and chairman.

Tribune is facing declining advertising revenue and racked up $13 billion in debt from Zell’s takeover plan, according to The Washington Post.

In this newly-created position of chief innovation officer, Abrams will be responsible for originating strategies across Tribune’s publishing, broadcasting and interactive divisions; starting April 1, he’ll work for former Clear Channel Radio executive Randy Michaels. This means two innovative top-level radio people will now work for a company that has only one radio outlet.

“Lee is the most formidable creative thinker in the media business today,” stated Randy Michaels, Tribune’s president of broadcasting and interactive, in the announcement. “Lee’s going to pump new life into our content, re-energize our brands, and get people thinking and working together like they never have before.”

I first met Lee in 1981, when I was news director of WETT(AM), Ocean City. Talk about a great gig — going to the beach every day after work to watch the sunset. Our company had purchased an FM up the beach in Delaware and Abrams was consulting for what would become an AOR format. He suggested I adopt a sort of relaxed, rocker chick vibe to announce the news on the FM. Remember The Source? That was the preferred sound. “Israeli jets are moving on up over Lebanon” was a memorable lead that sticks in my mind from that time.

It was very different from our straight news approach on the AM and though most of our music jocks were jumping at the chance to be on FM, I declined, fearing that kind of “info-tainment” writing and delivery would hurt my journalism career when I advanced to a larger market. But Lee was cool about it. We had a laugh about it when we caught up at XM when he joined them in 1998 as senior vice president and chief creative officer.