Radio dealmaker takes over Tribune Co. stations

May 4, 2010

The main thing to know about the new president of Tribune Broadcasting is that he's another old crony of Randy Michaels from their days together at Clear Channel Radio. When it comes to figuring out who's who inside Tribune Tower, that may be all that really matters. 

Jerry Kersting, 60, a 34-year veteran of Clear Channel and its predecessors, was one of nearly two dozen radio pals hired for key executive positions soon after Michaels began running Tribune Co. for Sam Zell in 2008. First brought in as executive vice president of Tribune Broadcasting and promoted to chief operating officer less than six months ago, Kersting was named president of the broadcast group on Monday.

As head of day-to-day operations for 23 television stations, (including WGN-Channel 9), national cable channel WGN America, and news/talk WGN-AM (720), Kersting replaces Ed Wilson, who resigned Friday. It's worth noting that Wilson was one of the few Tribune Co. execs without Clear Channel on his resume, having previously run Fox Television Network, NBC Enterprises and CBS Enterprises. By several accounts, he didn't kowtow to Michaels, who moved up to CEO of Tribune Co. last December. "Ed was probably too strong for Randy," one insider surmised. "Randy runs the show."

Kersting is well known in radio circles as the dealmaker who worked closely with Michaels to merge Jacor and AMFM Inc. in creating the behemoth that became Clear Channel. "Jerry has the dubious distinction of completing more deals in radio, representing more stations and more dollars, than anyone else in the industry, Clear Channel bragged in a press release in 2001.

With his old pal in place, Michaels can solidify his grip on every aspect of Tribune Co. operations -- even as the company continues to struggle with reorganization under bankruptcy protection. "Jerry's leadership will keep us on the right path and drive even better results," Michaels said in announcing Kersting's promotion Monday.

A key to what lies ahead for the Tribune-owned stations -- and what may have forced the final showdown between Michaels and Wilson -- could be read into Kersting's vow to "shake up traditional local television news." What exactly does that mean? More commentaries from Larry Mendte and other convicted felons? More lists of forbidden words? More features on "your bozo of the week"? In a statement that could easily have come from Michaels himself, Kersting said:

"We've established some strong momentum across our broadcasting division, but there is a lot more to do. We intend to shake up traditional local television news by doing things differently and giving viewers innovative broadcasts and a clear choice in our markets. Every night, people turn on their local news and see the same thing wherever they flip the channel -- we intend to change that."

Translation to all Tribune Broadcasting staffers: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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