Is a Lynch Mob Coming to the San Diego Union-Tribune?

The Libertarian Lass, Gayle Falkenthal The Libertarian Lass, Gayle Falkenthal 6 Comments

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While the blogosphere and Twitterverse foams at the mouth over the spectre of hotelier Doug Manchester’s reported purchase of the San Diego Union-Tribune today, far more attention should be paid to the other key player on this team: former radio station owner and executive John Lynch. When it comes to newsroom operations, John Lynch is likely to have far more influence on the day to day product as president and CEO than Manchester.

Let’s provide a little context for you. John Lynch came to San Diego in the early 1970s and worked as a sales executive at the KFMB radio and television stations. He was then offered a five percent ownership stake to come work for broadcast owner Ed Noble of Noble Broadcasting. Lynch took the deal and helped Noble build up an influential radio empire in San Diego. Lynch can take credit for developing one of the nation’s first sport talk radio stations,  XTRA Sports 690. But the station that put him and Noble on the media map was alternative-rock station 91X (XTRA-FM), the first such commercial station of its kind.

Lynch’s team popularized the alternative rock format, heard previously mainly on college radio stations such as KCR Radio in San Diego.  It’s hard to describe the impact of the station. It was considered innovative and forward-thinking in its day, lauded for its creativity, risk taking, and for hiring first rate talent and paying them well.

Those of us working in San Diego radio at the time admired Lynch’s moxie, envied his radio stations, and feared him as competition. Many of my friends were well-employed by Noble Broadcasting and enjoyed great careers in what I consider the second heyday of modern radio.

Lynch bought out Ed Noble’s ownership share after he died. When the FCC relaxed its ownership rules allowing individual companies to own an unlimited number of radio stations, Noble and Lynch eventually owned 20 radio stations. He sold Noble to Jacor Communications in in 1996 for $152 million. Jacor was purchased several years later by ClearChannel Communications.

According to a 2003 item in San Diego Magazine, Lynch was kept out of the broadcasting business until 2001 due to a five-year noncompete agreement. He jumped back in the minute he could as CEO for San Diego stations owned by Broadcasting Company of the Americas. At its peak it operated three radio stations with Mexican signals, the San Diego Padres flagship “XX Sports Radio” XEPRS (1090), talk “San Diego 1700” XEPE and oldies “105.7 The Walrus” XHPRS. It also ran three stations owned by Local Media of America to run three more. Lynch was ousted in 2010.

Lynch has an eye for talent. He launched the careers of well-known names like Jim Rome, and made local stars of his 91X team like Mike Berger and Jeff Prescott, Steve West, and Mike Halloran. He also has strong opinions on programming and performance.

Lynch has taken his own political stands. He is a devout Catholic. He’s expressed support for building the San Diego Chargers a new stadium. He backed Steve Francis over Jerry Sanders for Mayor of San Diego.

Lynch is a guy who could afford to go golfing every day for the rest of his life, but he is a driven personality. During his hiatus from broadcasting he got involved in a failed tech startup venture involving development of a retail marketing product. He’s hands-on. He’s also known for his larger than life personality and his arrogant nature, thankfully tempered a bit by a sense of humor.

I find reason for optimism in the fact that Lynch respects talent, respects proven performers, and respects a strong work ethic. He may be challenging to work for but he won’t be an absentee boss. He is a larger than life personality. He could be just the thing to breathe some life into the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Comments 6

  1. Gayle:

    As a longtime sports talk radio fan, I can point to how
    John Lynch SPENT money to promote and make radio
    stars out of Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton, Jim Rome, Coach
    John Kentera, the late Chet Forte, Bill Werndl, Billy Ray
    Smith, etc.

    His San Diego success with that format in the late 1980s
    made San Diego one of the first 5 markets in the USA to
    show sports talk could be profitable.

    He LOVES a challenge, and if given the chance he can
    do it again with the Union-Tribune. Here’s hoping he
    now has that opportunity.

  2. Thanks, Gayle,

    Once again, Rostra gives us the inside skinny on the big stories that would appear later in the conventional media, or perhaps not at all.

    We’re fortunate that the Rostra hive mind has contributors with such varied experiences and insights.

  3. I think the biggest problem with this is that Doug M. “makes news” and it will be a challenge, both for him and the paper, to figure out how to cover that.

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