Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Me ver 2.0

I love XM. Everybody from the guard I wave to every morning to the people here who have been through the pain and joy (and outrageous parties that literally destroyed my house) that come with building something new…from nothing. But I’m leaving. In upcoming blogs I’ll have some juicy XM stuff (all good), though on April 1, blogging will cease as I take on the ONLY thing that could ever peel me away from this place. An opportunity so profoundly “me” that I can’t help thinking the big guy is looking after my career. A three in a lifetime chance to re-invent (First there was FM, then there was XM, now there’s Tribune). Heading to Chicago on 4/1. I was hired by Randy Michaels. Three advantages there:

He’s possibly the smartest guy I’ve ever met
He MIGHT be crazier than me…at least I won’t have to fear being too out there.
We ARE going to re-write the future of media. He’s the kinda guy you want to do it with.

Here’s the press release:

Tribune Names Lee Abrams Chief Innovation Officer
CHICAGO Mar. 11, 2008 -- The sweeping change underway at Tribune Company today took another giant leap forward as the media giant announced the appointment of music and radio industry icon Lee Abrams as Chief Innovation Officer. Abrams will be responsible for innovation across Tribune’s publishing, broadcasting and interactive divisions, and will assume his duties April 1. He is the first person to hold the position in the company’s 160-year history.
“There is a remarkable opportunity for Tribune to design the future of American media with passion, intellect, and imagination that meets the spirit of the 21st century,” said Abrams. “We have the resources to pioneer a new age of information and entertainment that re-invents and enlightens—and that is exactly what we are going to do!”
Since 1998, Abrams has served as Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer at XM Satellite Radio, overseeing the development and programming of more than 100 radio stations. At XM, Abrams developed programming with such diverse artists as Bob Dylan, Snoop Dogg, Quincy Jones, Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis.
“Lee is the most formidable creative thinker in the media business today,” said Randy Michaels, Tribune’s president of broadcasting and interactive. “He invented the modern FM radio format, got satellite radio off the ground when no one gave it a chance, and managed to advise on the redesign of “Rolling Stone” magazine and the launch of TNT Cable Network in his spare time. Lee’s going to pump new life into our content, re-energize our brands, and get people thinking and working together like they never have before.”
Abrams, 55, was the founding partner of Burkhart/Abrams, the Atlanta-based consulting giant, and is credited with inventing album rock, the first successful FM format. He pioneered the radio “morning show” and gave Howard Stern and Steve Dahl their first major market jobs. Abrams has also been a marketing and content consultant to MTV, Swatch and Coca-Cola.
:: :: ::
TRIBUNE is America’s largest employee-owned media company, operating businesses in publishing, interactive and broadcasting. In publishing, Tribune’s leading daily newspapers include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Newsday (Long Island, N.Y.), The Sun (Baltimore), South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant. The company’s broadcasting group operates 23 television stations, Superstation WGN on national cable, Chicago’s WGN-AM and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Popular news and information websites complement Tribune’s print and broadcast properties and extend the company’s nationwide audience.


At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Forlorn Boater said...

That is a great opportunity, and I'm sure that the results of this will be amazing. Congratulations!

As a long-time listener, I think that that you are responsible for a lot of what makes XM special, and I hope that XM's programming can continue to excel in your absence.

Anyway, good luck. I'll go ahead and add the Trib to my favorites now. ;-)

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous James Lee said...


I read the article about your move to the new and exciting job! Firstly Congratulations Secondly Congratulations and the success of XM and Thirdly GO FOR IT! with the new position and the new take on where they are headed! I also work in the information industry and like you think that media is on a change of course. This is one example Http:// which is a Fashion magazine my wife has been doing for some time and we knew out of the gate it had to be digital! The printed media and the air waves are changing and the viewers dont even understand what an 8track, LP, and nearly not FM is or was in its importance to the world of communications.

I would like to speak to you more as if you have any time, please email me at so I may further introduce myself.

I seek to work in your world as I find it to be within my heart too.

James Lee

At 11:32 AM, Blogger cbro said...

best of luck and go Cubs...and Bears...and Bulls...have a beer at the Map Room for me.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Jason said...


At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 6:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you--

Yes, I am one of the Steve Kingston critics(and he deserves it--Ethel is by far the biggest joke on XM. FM Suit...yes. Music programmer...LOL).

Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for sticking up for us--I will say that from 2005 until mid 2006, XM was the best purchase I had ever made (ever)--it was like a drug and a religion COMBINED. It really blew me away--

That is why many of us were so upset with the FM trending and sound quality that is worse than any other audio product on the market (a clean FM signal sounds much better).

XM has officially lost its soul with your departure--sure there is still great stuff on XM, but anything even remotely resembling an FM format has been dumbed down, and ruined. I have no idea about a business model whose call to action is "slightly better than FM." When I first subscribed--you couldn't even mention FM in the same breath--

Good luck with your new endeavor--sounds like a perfect fit. They're lucky to have you.

At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best of luck Lee. I enjoyed hanging in your office with the gold records, and hanging out with you at the Yes shows. Your impact on XM made it the better of the two services and hopefully those still at XM will carry it forward.

Best of luck and I hope our paths cross again.

Ian Band

At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Gary said...

Best of luck Lee! I will miss your blog, but I look forward to whatever your next project is.

I can't help but feel your move is an ominous statement on the future of XM. I hope not, because I am a HUGE XM fan.

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Alex M said...

Good Luck Lee!

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Danny Sanchez said...

Congrats on the new post, Lee. Looking forward to having you!

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Luke H. said...

Darn. Why can't you continue to blog about your life annd views in general? I never thought of this as an "XM" blog but as a "Lee Abrams" blog.

If the guy that hired you is so cool and crazy, it seems like he would realize how great this blog is as well and how it can only be an honest asset to Tribune as it has been to your current employer.

At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome aboard the good ship Tribune! I think we're damned lucky to have you here. It's going to be an interesting ride!

At 9:58 AM, Blogger fhb said...

Best of luck, Lee, and thanks for everythibg you did at/for XM, not least bring Bob Dylan and Theme Time aboard.

At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Tony said...

Welcome to the Tribune!

Reading your blog reminded me of the emails I get from Bob Lefsetz. Someone who I think "gets it" and I wish they had more of an impact on the actual industry.

After reading through the various posts, you very much seem to get it and I couldn't be happier to have you on board.

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Silvio said...

Welcome Lee!

Just finished reading this blog entry, your intro letter to Tribune and your Bio. I am genuinely excited about our future as a newspaper with you and Randy at the helm.

"Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead"

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Lee!

I'm one of the employees from the Orlando Sentinel, and I just read your post about Innovation and it's ties to Radio and Rock & Roll.

I'm excited to see where you'll lead us. As a *very* young employee (mid 20s) it can get sort of disheartening to think that some of my more bohemian, avante garde sort of ideas might go unnoticed. But with you, Sam and Randy taking charge, I feel quite a bit stronger that some of the ideas I feel would really make Newspapers across the country shine have their fair chance of being heard, and tried.

As I seem to remember a letter to NASA being started once long ago when the space program was still a baby (forgive me if I don't get the quote quite right) "From a hopeful voice in the darkness..."

From this hopeful voice in the darkness, welcome to the team!

Loryanna in (not so Sunny) Orlando.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Jimmy Biggles said...

Good luck and good health. Thanks for the insights (and outsites) of the radio corruption that has penetrated our mindless ears for sometime now. I live in Kansas City and our radio is the worst! Everything you mention that what is WRONG with the FM format is what we are spoon fed everyday!
Keep on keeping on and i will catch ya on the flip side......

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am apalled by your use of the English language. "ecstatic with no-bullshit excitement" is really not the language that I expect from an Officer of Tribune.

I am not a prude. I even use words that are not exactly pure myself, but for a new employee of the Company to publish these inferences is inexcuseable.

"Average sucks."

Another colloquializm that has no place in a blog or memo to all employees. You can use this type of language in your meetings, in your personal speech and within your personal circle of friends, but it is not an appropriate phrase to use for someone of your capacity.

"It’s gotten to be accepted that average is fine. No it’s sucks!"

Yet another example of the same inappropriate language. At our locale, this could lead to some sort of investigation and punishment.

I feel offended by this type of language in written form. It may not remain as a permanent history of yours, but some of us will remember only the profanity and somewhat vulgar use of our webspace.
Thank you for your message, but it has given me a much different perception of you as a leader of our organization.

At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Daniel said...

Congratulations! I'm starting at the Tribune on Monday, and I'll be working on some social media initiatives. Hope to see you there, Lee!

At 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A journalist colleague of mine just emailed me your email to the
Tribune staff (see below). It is beyond dishearteningto think that someone who has little or no command or regard for grammar and punctuation can gain such a high position. I am appalled and depressed.

3/13/2008 10:59:04 AM

Tribune innovation chief's e-mail to employees

Posted By:
Jim Romenesko

Memo from Lee Abrams, Tribune's new innovation chief

Please forgive this rambling introduction letter, but I am ecstatic with no-bullshit excitement and pride in joining The Tribune Company.

While my background is in steeped in "Rock n Roll", I strongly believe that News and Information is the NEW Rock n Roll. Imagine it's 1952. Music has existed for centuries and part of the fabric of our culture. While music was a hotbed of activity in the Black community, in mainstream America we were in a blasé era of Mitch Miller and Patty Page. Then-Rock n Roll! It had a street level connection to the Post War American Spirit. Tapped into the pulse of the American way of thinking. It was based on: imagination, looking FORWARD, respecting but not praying to the musical playbook, moved fast...met the rhythm of America, worked at innovating-it was a mission to come up with the next cool thing, revolutionized the 'look' of people, etc... Now fast forward to 2008, News and Information has been around since the dawn of Man, but it's a lot like where music was in 1952: Poised for a dynamic breakthrough that re-invest the media. The NEW Rock n Roll isn't about Elvis or James Dean, but it IS about re-inventing media with the exact same moxie that the fathers of Rock n Roll had. The Tribune has the choice of doing to News/Information/Entertainment what Rock n Roll did to be the Ray Charles, Dylan's, Beatles and U2's of the Information age...or have someone else figure it out, or worse, let these American institutions disappear into irrelevancy. I think Rock n Roll is the best choice. America needs a heartbeat, and we can deliver that on 21st Century terms. Rock n Roll musically is behind us. NEWS & INFORMATION IS THE NEW ROCK N ROLL

One thing that drives me nuts is Pop Culture's evil cousin that I call Junk Culture. Terrorists don't scare me...a dumb America is frightening. On a very personal level, it is important to me that I help Tribune fight 'junk culture'. Smart re-invention that enlightens. Websites can be Disneyland for the mind; TV stations (especially news) can put the Kent Brockman cliché to rest and create a visual experience that intoxicates with brilliance and freshness; And Newspapers! We owe it to our culture to make sure they thrive...We can make America smarter. Not more elite...just smarter.

I realize I have a history in radio, but that's behind me, nonetheless there's a great radio analogy. In 1954 Radio was proclaimed dead. In fact, you can take stories from back then about radio's death and substitute the word newspaper and you have 99% of the articles written today suggesting Newspapers impending death. Well, a couple of guys threw out the Arthur Godfrey playbook invented Top 40 Radio. Guess what. Radio went into a NEW golden age...bigger than ever...the soundtrack of the streets. TV? It got bigger and bigger. My point: Yes, the Internet is huge competition, but there's NO reason we can't create the equivalent of Top 40...Not a hyper teen thing. But something that has the same dramatic impact across all demographics and lifestyles. It's doable.

Soul. I hope I can bring that out in us. Soul is something that big companies rarely have. And having it not only improvers the spirit, but it's a competitive advantage. Most media companies are soul-less. If we have Soul, we have a dramatic intangible advantage. Historically, the great companies had Soul. In the modern era, they do not. You know the ones that do. Those companies have FANS not just users.

Art. How unfashionable in today's bottom line World. But we need to be artists. Media Artists. A great artist delivers something that lasts and touches people. If we approach EVERYTHING from mail delivery in the building to breaking stories with an artist Point of View, we will create lasting change. Artists create Quality. Quality lasts. Art enriches lives. We can/will re-define the art of brilliant media.

The economics. I am an economic dunce. My old company would give me free vacation days during budget season so I'd stay out of the process. I know the "buzz" is cutbacks, fear, paranoia etc...Hey---that's part of the reality for survival. But I hope to encourage revenue growth in a different way. Simply put-If Tribune properties turn users into fans and we make intelligent moves to significantly (and dramatically) increase circulation and viewership, the revenue WILL skyrocket. That I know.

But I've also witnessed creative people being beaten up by the financial realities to the point where it's taken their eye off the future and are operating under fear and nostalgia. How about channeling the fear into writing the future. Everyone will win...emotionally, creatively and economically.

Speaking of intelligent moves, that's what change is all about. Intelligent. Whoever buys Wrigley Field would be foolish to tear down the Ivy...There's Ivy at Tribune media properties. But then again, there's opportunity. For all of you Baseball historians, we need some Bill Veeck magic (Check the archives) in the Company. He's the guy that put up the Ivy in the first place...and created thousands of innovations that helped take "Baseball is dead. its an NFL World" to record attendance. Eccentric All The Way to the Bank.

If we can morph the Soul of Dylan...with the innovation of Apple and the eccentric-all-the-way-to-the-bank of Bill Veeck, the WORLD will be a better place. WE have that opportunity.

PASSION, CHARACTER AND MUSCLE: Passion is just that. Like Soul and Art-intangibles that Joe Media Executive doesn't "get", but are secret weapons in the mission of enlightening people with our content. Character is the need to LIVE outside the envelope (cliché-sorry). And Muscle is what we have. This company is bad ass big -- channeled right, that muscle can change the world!

Creative Batting Average. I hope to bat 400. That's where of every 100 ideas I feed you, 40 are usable. But MORE importantly, I hope to raise YOUR creative batting average, with the goal being a COMPANY batting average that is SO far above the competioon, that the Tribune is THE Media All Star that is admired, loved and deeply respected, not for it's history, but for the effects the high batting average has on Today's fan, advertiser and the American street.

Average sucks. Best to be brilliantly good, or SO bad, it's engaging. It's that evil zone of average that American Media is stuck in. WE MUST not accept average. Fight it! It's gotten to be accepted that average is fine. No it's sucks!

Theater of the Mind. We have to play there. We gotta deliver the magic that gets in people's heads. As a kid I'd have dreams about comic characters that I'd read in the Tribune. We need to have such an impact on the imagination that people dream about us. Sounds spacy and obscure? It is. But once we impact the theater of the mind that lives in everyone's head, with Internet, Print and TV...we have touched people on a level that they need and want to be touched...but outside of a Star Wars epic, media hasn't done in years.

I'm looking forward to meeting and bonding with everyone in the Company. Personally, this isn't a's a MISSION. And being based in Chicago is nice as my off duty passions include Chicago History, Lifelong White Sox Superfan (I guess I'm OK there since I understand Mr. Zell owns a piece), ephemera (I love print) and aviating! I grew up in suburban Flossmoor. I know we're a global company, but my love for Chicago is life long.

If you have a chance, check my blog. Read all 108 posts. It's generally aimless ranting about what is wrong with media. On April 1, I will cease writing it since now I'll have the chance to actually help do something about it!

I REALLY look forward to April 1. I think you'll find me a little out there...but for the right reasons! I have complete empathy for what everyone does...and a burning desire to help you/me/us Change the World and design the future. We can/will do that! (And have some fun along the way)

--Lee Abrams

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Tim Windsor said...

Welcome to Tribune, Lee.

Before you relocate to Chicago, maybe we can convince you to take a short drive up 95 to The Sun, where we're up to some innovative things with interactive and print.

For instance, in just a few weeks, we'll be launching a new free daily newspaper, b, and a companion web site, We intend to be the starting place for daily conversation for anyone in the Baltimore area.

One suggestion though: your new blog needs to come out from behind the firewall, and it needs comments. Let's build this new news business out in plain sight where we can benefit from the insight and suggestions of all kinds of smart people, whether they're inside our company or not.

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Forlorn Boater said...

Mr. Abrams -

A couple of these comments lead me to think that the new gig is going to be more of a challenge that it first appeared. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes:

"Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty... I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led diffcult lives and led them well."
-- Theodore Roosevelt

And, if you'll forgive one attributed to Yogi Berra:

"There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em."

Please keep up your blog so we can follow the goings on!

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Dan said...

I think the blogs criticizing Lee's writing style as unbecoming a Tribune executive are ridiculous. I was a radio programmer and DJ for many years, and am now an attorney. My primary responsibility is *writing*. I appreciate the written word as much as anyone; *you* should appreciate that Lee Abrams was hired to be creative and inspirational, not to be an editor of one of your newspapers. He cares about real news and information, not Brittney Spears. XM's loss is your gain.

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Jay Marvin said...

Good luck Lee! Good things happen to good people.

At 2:01 PM, Blogger brooklyndodger said...

Welcome,Lee. You may not remeber,but Randy introduced us as we passed in the lobby of the building several weeks ago.....I'm in charge of programming for the TV station group.....look forward to working with you....we have much to do
Marc Schacher

At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Congratulation on the new job. I hope you do great things at the Tribune like you did with XM.

Unfortunately, this means that I've pretty much lost hope that XM will be any better than it is right now, and that if the merger does happen with Sirius, that what I loved about Sat Rad will die. Why does everything eventually have to scum to junk culture eventually?

Anyways, it was good to meet with you a couple of years ago. Have fun in your old stomping grounds.


At 5:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep an eye on Bob Shomper while you're there.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger STL Citizen said...

It is obvious that you'll be busy - but I would like to echo the sentiments of others who have posted comments: please blog here when you can, as you'll always have an appreciative readership.

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous fwwank said...

So the merger is happening, huh? This all but confirms it for me.

At 5:57 PM, Anonymous larry fast said...


It was a pleasure working with you to create the XM sounders, those sonic channel identities that were my small contribution to what was the best in satellite radio. I hope that you'll have some equally challenging artistic endeavors at Tribune. It would be an honor to run the creative process of inventing the future with you again sometime.

Best of luck in the transition,


Larry Fast
Synergy Electronic Music

At 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an XM subscriber I will miss you terribly. XM is changing lately and not for the better. I will miss this blog too. I hope you create a new way to communicate with all of us who love reading your inspirational media ramblings.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Alan In Ann Arbor said...


Not always on the same page with your tastes in music and what you did to FM radio in the 70s and then again in the 80s (lol) but I admire you and wish you good luck in your new job. With XM you GOT it, and the excitement and rush of what radio was at one point and has to be once again if it’s going to have a place in the new media future.

I’ve had a sick feeling in my gut with the XM/Sirius ‘merger’ that is not going to be a merger and your silence over the last year has spoke volumes and stoked my fears that this round of ‘good old days’ is about to end.

Good luck!

Alan Goldsmith

At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I've got to admit. I'm a little dissapointed in my peers.

I read through the Tribune comments, and I have to say they're a little foolish and maybe just a bit cowardly.

To call a man out for bad grammar when he never advertised himself as a writer? You only need good, precice grammar if writing is your JOB. His job is to field and implement new and exciting ideas, not figure out what's the best sentance structure in which to present said ideas.

As writers also, you should all know best that certain words generate visceral responses. Those responses are the ones that people like Sam and Lee are looking to elicit! They're important in shaking people loose from their daily grind.

AND THEN - to top it all off, not to sign your name? Really. You're going to visit a man's blog to bash him, and then not even have the guts nessecary to say who you are?

Honestly. I'm watching people in this company rail against something for which they should be rejoicing! It's a new era, and a new playing field. Imagine being able to turn around in twenty years and say you pioneered something as important as a News and entertainment subsection of the world.

Thinking that Newspapers were always going to stay conservative just because of their history is saying that classical music would always win out over Rock and Roll. (Sorry Lee, had to borrow from you). As much as Newspapers do represent the News, they are ALSO used for entertainment purposes, and as such, should attract the sorts of people who know how to operate in that line of work.

I've played around in the movie industry before as a Storyboard artist (no, you've never seen my work, it's a hard industry to get into) and I'm here to say that any entertainment industry is run by very........ interesting people, who live by very different rules.

So here it is, love it, or leave it.

Loryanna - with the Orlando Sentinel.

At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Alan Swan said...

Best of luck Lee with the new job! Go on... keep up the blog!!

At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I could be a fly on the wall to hear your private thoughts on the [inevitable merger approval] news that came today. Of course we will never know because, Lee, you are a true pro and pioneer who knows innately when the growing stops and the next thing begins. We will be following your V.3 career!




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