UPDATE 1-Tribune Co gets FCC approval, nears bankruptcy exit
* Company clears last regulatory hurdle to ending bankruptcy
* Speculation will intensify over future
* Asset sales, new CEO likely
Nov 16 (Reuters) - Tribune Co, the owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and 23 television stations, said on Friday it received regulatory approval needed to end its nearly four-year stay in bankruptcy.
Tribune said it received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to transfer its broadcast licenses to the new owners who will take over the company when it emerges from bankruptcy.
Tribune filed for bankruptcy in 2008, a year after real estate mogul Sam Zell gained control through a leveraged buyout.
The company plans to transfer ownership to its main creditors -- Oaktree Capital Management, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Angelo, Gordon & Co.
"This decision will enable the company to continue moving forward toward emergence from Chapter 11, a process we expect to complete over the course of the next several weeks," said a statement from Eddy Hartenstein, Tribune's chief executive officer.
Many observers expect the new owners to quickly select a management team to run the company and decide which businesses to shed.
Reuters reported in September that Peter Liguori, a former top executive at News Corp's Fox and Discovery Communications Inc, has emerged as the leading candidate for chief executive.
The Los Angeles Times reported last month that News Corp's Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch was interested in the paper. News Corp called the report "wholly inaccurate," although the Times stuck by its story.
"There is likely to be a good deal of media speculation about Tribune's future in the days ahead," Hartenstein wrote in an email to Tribune staff on Friday. "Try to ignore it."
In 2007, Zell took control of Tribune through a leveraged buyout that saddled the company with $13 billion in debt just as the newspaper industry hit a severe drop in advertising revenue.
The company filed for bankruptcy a year later and became embroiled in a bruising battle with between the company's lenders and bondholders.