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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tribune Co. Gets Serving Of Cincinnati Jelly Pudding: Hippie Rock Booster Frank Wood Is On The Board

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Frank Wood became a media mogul by running radio ads for zany products like negative-calorie cookies and an academy in Indianapolis that taught students how to speak with a haughty French accent. Not French, just the accent. There was even a pitch for the "White Rose and Lilac Virginity Restoration Clinic." The ads weren't real -- they filled up blank spots and made ears perk when he needed listeners.

Now the staid Tribune Co. that has been losing newspaper readers in Chicago, Los Angeles and suburban New York City is about to get a shot of creativity and entrepreneurial gusto from Ohio. Wood is joining the Chicago-based MSM giant's board of directors today as it goes private. It has been said many times he helped switch the FM band from elevator music to rock. Can he do something like that for newspapers?

Wood's trajectory is legendary -- he took his dad's classical music radio station WEBN-FM, 102.7 and turned it into an album-rock pioneer with an off-the-wall zest. Some say the early days of WEBN were the role model for the TV sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati." Wood used to do a show as Michael Xanadu and the segment was known as Jelly Pudding. The station is now owned by Clear Channel and it remains a ratings force in the industry.

Former WEBN newsman Rick Bird wrote this piece for the Cincinnati Post in 2002 when WEBN celebrated its 35th birthday. Bird captures the creativity that flowed freely at the time. Wood is Harvard and the University of Chicago, which trained him to be a lawyer. He does not have a repuation as a buttoned down character.

Randy Michaels, another Cincinnati broadcasting whiz, is becoming a Tribune Co. senior exec. Michael is a former deejay who assembled many of the pieces that became Clear Channel. Eventually, he and the chain parted company. Michaels was an early proponent of putting political talk shows on AM radio, a move that probably saved AM. With creative and risk-taking executives and directors like Michaels and Wood at Tribune Co., there may be a chance that a business built on dead trees can actually manage to find its way to a lively future.

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