Tribune’s Appointment of Nils Larsen to Broadcasting CEO Leaves Many ‘Scratching Their Heads’

By Andrew Gauthier 

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Tribune Co. announced a significant change to the management structure of its broadcasting operations this week, eliminating the president position held by Jerry Kersting for the past year and appointing Nils Larsen (right), the current executive chairman of broadcasting, to CEO of the division.

In announcing the shakeup, newly appointed Tribune CEO Eddy Hartenstein said that Larsen was “the right person to lead our broadcasting operations.” But Chicago media reporter Robert Feder points out that Larsen, whose resume is lacking any real experience in broadcasting, can hardly be considered an ideal candidate for the position outside of the fact that he is one of Sam Zell’s longtime cronies.

“He’s someone who grew up in Sam’s environment and made a lot of money for him, but I don’t know how he sold himself as the right person to lead a group of television stations and a radio station,” a former colleague told Feder. “A lot of general managers who’ve been career broadcasters for 30 or 40 years must be scratching their heads.”

Feder writes that Tribune’s appointment of Larsen is just the latest move in an ongoing effort by the board and its chairman, Zell, to wash the company of former CEO Randy Michaels’ fingerprints:

The ouster this week of Jerry Kersting and the elimination of his position as president of Tribune Broadcasting leaves just two cronies of Michaels in positions of authority at Tribune Co. Where once dozens of his former Jacor and Clear Channel Radio buddies ran amok in the suites of Tribune Tower, now only Steve Gable remains as executive vice president and chief technology officer, and Sean Compton continues as president of programming.

For his part, Larsen says that he isn’t out to put his mark on the division. Upon his appointment, Larsen told Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune: “I’m not a believer in change for change’s sake… I don’t believe I need to put a distinctive fingerprint on things.”