Newspapers Are the New Radio

I'm kidding -- just kidding.

A little.

Let's say some of you are right and I'm wrong -- Tribune CEO Randy Michaels is raiding Clear Channel for radio talent to reinvent -- newspapers.

That's what some people believe.

Now Randy has hired former KIIS-FM, Los Angeles GM and later Clear Channel market and regional exec Roy Laughlin as a Special Consultant. Former Jacor employee Jana Gavin is now Senior Director/Business Development for the Tribune Interactive division.

This adds to the many former Jacor (and Clear Channel) employees who have joined Randy & the Rainbows in their effort to reinvent the large metropolitan daily.

There is no doubt that good radio people are just as qualified to shake up the print business as anyone else. After all, both radio and newspapers change very slowly. They think change is something that you don't notice. Boy, do they have problems now that Michaels has taken over.

Tribune's new Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams told the Conclave recently that he wants to look at bringing great change to the American newspaper -- including the classifieds -- a former moneymaker that is being bled dry by Craig's List online.

Meanwhile Clear Channel is threatening to do what it does best -- sue -- their employees who bolt to join the newspaper business -- I mean, Michaels.

Wait a minute.

You can see what's happening, can't you?

Randy Michaels, the former successful head of Jacor (later sold to Clear Channel) is reconvening Jacor 2.0 -- the Sequel.

Right now all Michaels and friends have to run is newspapers and local TV stations -- both, by the way, out of their area of expertise. You could fit their joint newspaper and TV experience onto a very short resume. Or maybe that's good.

Either Tribune owner Sam Zell has fallen off his motorcycle one time too many or he and Michaels are sly like a fox.

I'm betting on the fox.

Once Clear Channel shareholders approve the sale to buyout specialists Lee and Bain, the new owners will be free to operate them and/or sell some assets.

I'm betting they will sell some assets.

In fact, I think Lee & Bain already have a potential buyer for some stations in Zell's Tribune entity.

Wouldn't that be a coincidence to have a slew of great radio people biding time working on newspapers and ready to hit the road running when they get their hands on some stations?

If Tribune really wants to remain in the newspaper business, they will find it a very tough lesson to learn that you can't turn newspapers around.

Young people don't read them.

Baby boomers have been reading them less and less.

And the generation that did read them -- The Greatest Generation -- is mostly gone now.

If you rebuild it, will they come?

Not unless it's all online. In that case, there is a potential future for a scaled down version of what we have come to know as print journalism.

For that matter, Tribune eventually buys radio stations, can Randy & the Rainbows turn them around?

As good as they are they will probably find that what we've been saying all along applies -- young people have abandoned radio and all that is left is what I call the available audience (baby boomers who love radio and older members of Gen X, their children).

CBS Radio President Dan Mason has been dealing with this realization since day one at the helm. He's bringing CBS stations back into the radio business for the available audience. It isn't easy -- even for a seasoned pro like Mason. Some stations are doing better than others. But it's still the only real option for terrestrial radio which is why you see CBS Radio also getting into new media.

So there is no getting around the fact that even the best radio people looking for one more good battle have an uphill fight.

If they want to end their careers drinking Randy's Kool-Aid about newspapers, that's fine. I don't think any of them are that dumb.

But without doing some serious -- if not humbling homework -- about the generation that got away from radio, reinventing newspapers or radio just won't happen.

The future is in the content business -- online, in social networks and on mobile devices. That's where the next big influx of population has migrated. Content providers like radio broadcasters must go where they live.

You can't blame a sentimental crowd like the radio people at Tribune for thinking they can save newspapers -- and even radio, but it's that kind of arrogance that got these two industries in trouble in the first place.

The next generation has moved on.

And the last generation of radio pure talent has gone back to reinvent the two things that this generation rejects -- newspapers and radio.

Stop the presses.

Look beyond the towers and transmitters.

The future of content is online and in mobile devices.

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