Mickey’s Monkey

By Jerry Del Colliano

Yesterday, KGO/KSFO President & General Manager Mickey Luckoff finally got the monkey off his back that has been hounding him for the past three years.

Luckoff fired his boss -- Farid "Fagreed" Suleman, CEO of Citadel.

I’ve got the inside story for you on what happened and why – and why now?

After all, the newly non-bankrupted Citadel Broadcasting needs KGO and KSFO in San Francisco to continue to print money – the better to fund Suleman’s new deal.

You won’t believe the details on their relationship and what it was like for Luckoff to go from ABC management to Mickey Mouse management. You’d think previous owner Disney would have been the Mickey Mouse operator but it turned out it may have been Citadel.

Luckoff spent 35 years as the driving force behind KGO’s news/talk format working for ABC, Capital Cities, Disney and Citadel. He has won tons of awards. Raised millions for lots of good causes. Attracted and kept some of the greatest radio talent on-the-air.

When I spoke with Mickey yesterday I told him he should get an anti-nausea award for not getting sick to his stomach watching Fagreed mismanage the company.

The 74-year old Luckoff is upbeat. He’s getting married at the end of the year. Will write a book about his experiences. It’s all good now that he has ended his long national nightmare.

In a moment you’ll know the proverbial rest of the story. And when Luckoff wrote his resignation letter (you won’t believe it). Plus, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I’ve compiled a list of eight reasons why Luckoff left his employ after three and a half decades.

So here is the inside story you won’t be reading in the happy talk press this morning:

1. Incredibly enough, Luckoff has only been in Farid Suleman’s company face-to-face only a few times in the three years that Citadel has owned KGO. Fagreed, as Suleman is known for being cheap with everyone else but himself, needed Luckoff to crank out revenue to help his tanking company. Suleman reportedly single-handledly wrecked some of the other ABC properties that Citadel overpaid for but he kept hands off KGO – until now.

2. Fagreed’s meddling was the main reason Mickey Luckoff surprised him with his resignation yesterday. As Popeye used to say, “that’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more”. Maybe it was the hubris of his new long term deal with his investment banker bosses or Fagreed’s move to new palatial digs in Miami, but Suleman's moratorium on meddling ended recently.

3. What kind of meddling? Fagreed would send VP/Programming Scott Shannon who apparently sold his soul to the company store to tell Mickey’s programmers that his station didn’t sound like WCBS-FM in New York. Of course, Luckoff didn’t want it to sound like CBS-FM because his hot talk station was in San Francisco – not that a little detail like that would bother a consolidator.

4. Farid would apparently approve hires without consulting the boss.

5. Luckoff apparently got fed up with Fagreed’s perceived concept that people are basically worthless and mean nothing to him. After all, Mickey built the franchise the other way around based on people. And he’s taken good care of them along the way.

6. Suleman reportedly started going over Luckoff’s head and talking directly to his department heads leading them to wonder, who is in charge here?

7. There is also the allegation that Suleman told suppliers not to talk to the boss – that they had to go through him. A deal breaker in the end.

8. Luckoff wrote his resignation letter nine months ago and kept it in a drawer. When he attended the NAB Radio Show last week he found it hard to keep his mouth shut about what he was planning to do. Finally, he returned to the Bay Area and he had had enough. Nobody quits Farid making Mickey Luckoff the most admired “nobody” in the radio industry right now.

Mickey Luckoff survived four companies, numerous recessions and an earthquake or two and even the Arbitron People Meter that robs from the rich news/talk stations and gives to the poor repetitious music stations.

Maybe the seminal moment was when he watched Fagreed schlep through a pre-arranged bankruptcy with creditors taking over the company only to watch Suleman live up to his name Fa-greed when he inked a $43 million package for himself.

Not interested in replacing seven-year old news vehicles.

Or giving a raise to the employees who are helping to keep his bankrupt company afloat.

Or stopping the firing of talented people in tough economic times or rehiring them when the new ownership kicked in.

When Mickey Luckoff joined ABC to manage KGO in 1973 he took it upon himself to find out why some major advertisers didn’t buy schedules on KGO. He targeted Macy's and Coors (KGO was too liberal for the conservative beer company).

One day on the way back from calling on Coors in Colorado, Mickey Luckoff’s plane was hijacked.

At first the passengers were told they were going to have to land in Colorado Springs to repair the hydraulics system – a sketchy scenario to seasoned travelers.

Not long after, the pilot got on the public address system and said, “This airliner is no longer under the control of United Airlines”.

That makes twice that Mickey Luckoff has been hijacked.

The second time, by a bumbling interloper who took great American radio stations and personally led them into bankruptcy.

Both times, Luckoff lived to tell the story.

(Note from Jerry: Within days Inside Music Media will move to a paid subscription model now being tested – the kind I often champion for the media industry. Most of you have been auditioning me for up to four years now. I hope you have found my work insightful, deadly honest, entertaining and informative. I will continue on for you with gratitude to all my friends in this space – Jerry).

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