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Struggling Tribune Co. names new CEO

Tribune Co CEO
Randy Michaels, named Wednesday as the new CEO of Tribune Co., is a former broadcast executive who got his start as a radio engineer in college. Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Tribune Co., a newspaper publisher and broadcaster under bankruptcy protection for the past year amid a $13 billion debt load, named its chief operating officer to succeed Sam Zell as chief executive, with Zell remaining as chairman.

Wednesday's appointment of Randy Michaels, a former broadcast executive who got his start as a radio engineer in college, brings to the helm yet another executive with a background outside the newspaper industry. Before Zell, a real estate mogul, Tribune was headed for five years by Dennis FitzSimons, also a former broadcast executive.

Although Tribune operates 23 television stations, it also publishes some of the most esteemed newspapers in the country, including the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and The (Baltimore) Sun.

Michaels, 57, could bring to those newspapers his expertise in running Web sites. Before becoming chief operating officer of the Chicago-based company in May 2008, Michaels was head of Tribune's interactive and broadcast divisions.

With the CEO appointment, which is effective immediately, Michaels also joins the board.

Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy protection last year because of dwindling advertising revenue and a crushing debt load of $13 billion. Much of that debt was amassed when Zell took the company private in 2007.

Since the Chapter 11 filing, many have speculated that Zell would be pushed out as part of the reorganization plan.

Angry creditors have been looking into Zell's buyout and want to propose their own alternative plan for turning around the company.

On Tuesday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey in Wilmington, Del., granted Tribune more time to submit a reorganization plan, extending the period under which Tribune has exclusive rights to file a plan to Feb. 28, with the possibility of a further extension after a mid-February hearing.

Along with settling its debt, the company faces a crippling ad slump as Michaels takes over. Like almost all publishers, Tribune has seen the value of its newspapers plummet with the recession and the ongoing migration of readers and advertisers to free or cheaper alternatives on the Internet.

After working as an engineer at the radio station at State University of New York, Michaels worked at a small TV and radio station operator, Taft Broadcasting, and founded his own radio company in the early 1980s. After merging with Jacor Communications, that company was bought out by Zell in 1993. Three years later, Michaels was named CEO of the company.

In 1999, it was acquired again, this time by Clear Channel Communications, the largest U.S. radio station operator. Michaels continued to lead the company as a division of Clear Channel.

As Zell took the helm of Tribune in December 2007, he hired Michaels as executive vice president and CEO of its broadcasting and interactive businesses, which include the 23 local TV stations and more than 50 Web sites.