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Ed Christian, Founder of Saga Communications, Dies

Remembered as "a passionate defender of broadcasting"

Headshot of Ed Christian
Ed Christian

This article has been updated with additional information.

Ed Christian, a longtime radio industry leader and proponent of localism in U.S. commercial radio, has died.

He was the founder, chairman, president and CEO of Saga Communications Inc., which announced his death Friday after a short illness. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Christian was 78.

The company named Warren Lada as interim CEO. Lada is a member of the board and former COO.

“Ed founded the company in 1986 and has fostered its growth to owning 79 FM radio stations, 35 AM radio stations and 80 translator stations in 27 markets,” Saga stated. Under his leadership it became a publicly traded company in 1992. “The broadcast industry has lost a pioneer and giant.”

Curtis LeGeyt, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, released a statement: “Ed Christian built Saga Communications into one of the preeminent radio groups in the country through keen business sense and a deep understanding of the power of local radio. He was a passionate defender of broadcasting whose leadership helped secure a bright future for the radio community. NAB extends our condolences to his family on their loss.”

Among other activities and honors, Christian was a former chair of the Radio Music Licensing Committee and a recipient of the National Radio Award from the NAB as well as the Ward L. Quaal Pioneer Award from the Broadcasters Foundation of America.

During his career he was a board member of the NAB and the Michigan Association of Broadcasting, president of the Associated Press Broadcast Advisory Council and board member and chairman of the Arbitron Radio advisory council, as well as an adjunct professor in Broadcast Arts at Central Michigan University.

Colleagues and online sources indicate that he also was an amateur radio operator, call sign W8EKC.

He and his company have been proponents of localism in radio. “At Saga Communications, we believe local media has the power to affect communities,” the company states on its website. “For more than 30 years all of our brands have been operated by local managers committed to building positive relationships with our audiences and clients.”

According to a company profile written in the late 1990s by Saga and posted on the website Reference for Business, Christian was born in 1944 in Grosse Pointe, Mich.

“As a child he dreamed of becoming a radio disk jockey. In 1986 he raised $38.5 million to buy out Josephson International’s radio division, which he had been running for 10 years, and renamed it Saga Communications. It owned three AM and five FM radio stations.”

“In the Nordic language, ‘saga’ means an ongoing adventure,” the company wrote. It quoted Christian saying, “This is how I view my company and my life. Our company is really an ongoing adventure.”

Radio industry blogger and provocateur Jerry Del Colliano wrote that Christian stood apart from radio managers who lose local focus, fire staff and go for the lowest possible ad rate.

“Ed was a radio junkie — listening to all his stations, regularly chatting with his market managers, insisting on rate integrity, local content and old school ideas,” Del Colliano wrote.

He said Christian was a pioneer in the use of translators, conservative about using streaming when it didn’t make business sense and “kind in very private ways.”

“To those of us who are proponents of local radio instead of hedge fund shortcuts, Ed Christian’s Saga and (small ‘s’) saga was completed with consistency, dignity and sense of purpose and profitability.” Read Del Colliano’s column.