It’s been quite the fortnight over at Tribune Tower. Almost two weeks ago NY Times media reporter David Carr dropped a bomb of a story detailing the sophomoric and sexist behavior of Tribune’s top management, led by Clear Channel’s former eternal frat-boy-in-chief, Randy Michaels. Then, almost as if on cue, Randy’s hand-picked “innovation officer” Lee Abrams let off the proverbial fart in an elevator by sending a memo around the company that was a textbook example of the sexually juvenile stuff reported on in the Times article.
But one head doesn’t seem to be a high enough price to pay. On Monday the Times reported that the Tribune board of directors also would be seeking Randy Michaels’ resignation this week. This drastic move comes just ahead of a possible deal between Tribune and its creditors to restructure and emerge out of bankruptcy. Such restructuring often involves management changes, thus tossing out the CEO before the deal has been finalized demonstrates just how much the board must view Michaels as a growing liability, rather than a joker who can be tolerated for a few more months.
Even though just yesterday Michaels was reported saying “I work here and I’m still working,” his own company’s flagship paper, the Chicago Tribune, reported that his resignation will happen before the end of the week. Now, at this point there is no love lost between Michaels and the professional journalists running the Trib. In fact, the paper’s editor, Gary Kern, was one of the most prominent Tribune employees to step up and formally complain about the fateful Abrams memo and the behavior of the Michaels-led band of overgrown teenagers.
While some commentators credit Michaels with increased revenue at Tribune, helping the company to climb out of bankruptcy, others note that the increase has come with a high price of jobs lost, along with the recent damage to the company’s reputation. Most ironically, Tribune has seen the fortunes of its flagship radio station, WGN-AM, decline under the Michaels regime. Recall that Michaels was once the money-printing genius of Clear Channel’s ascent in the late 90s and early 2000s. But after tossing out popular hosts and bringing in ringers from other markets lacking the loyalties of Chicago listeners, the station fell from 14th place in August to 20th place in September for the coveted 25 to 54 demographic. Furthermore WGN saw a decline in every daypart in every demographic in September. Aside from making breast jokes and hosting poker games, the only other thing Michaels seemed to be good at was writing up long lists of words and phrases that should never be used on air.
Although this situation has the look of a major fall for Michaels, it’s a little too soon to send a sympathy card. Even if Michaels decides to fall on his sword, he is likely to receive a sweet severance package amounting to 2.5 times his current salary and bonuses of about $8 million. Not a bad way to go, eh?
Then a new management team will need to step in a clean up Randy’s messes, just like the private equity firm that took over the money pit he left behind at Clear Channel. Shock jock, indeed.