“Jessica Jones” get the ax

More to do with Netflix breakup; Punisher also canceled

Back late last year when Netflix pulled the plug on several Marvel series on the streaming service, I predicted on Twitter The Punisher would be canceled in March.

Was a mere eleven days from being right.

In a President’s Day news dump, Netflix announced the cancellation of Jessica Jones and The Punisher, the last two remaining Marvel series on Netflix after the streamer pulled the plug on three other shows last fall: Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Daredevil. The cancellations marks the end of an increasingly strained relationship between Marvel and Netflix, formed in 2013.

Since Marvel parent Disney announced plans to launch a new rival streaming service called Disney Plus and pull their movies upon launch, Netflix has begun dropping product from rival studios in favor of its own in-house, produced product. Netflix’s deal with The CW is up this spring, and it’s likely

In a rambling press release, Netflix made the cancellation of both shows official, and thanked the cast and crew for their “contributions”.

Meanwhile, Marvel issued its own press release and was more straightforward in not only addressing the cancellation of Jessica and Punisher, but their relationship with Netflix:

A spinoff of Daredevil, Punisher debuted in second season last month, while Jessica’s third season debuts later this year.

With the Marvel Netflix Universe officially kaput, Marvel TV is now shifting its focus to programming to Disney Plus and Hulu, where Marvel has a four-series deal (Hulu is soon-to-be majority owned by Disney once their deal with 21st Century Fox to buy much of the company is complete.)

Jessica Jones perhaps became the first series to go from a top ranking in one of T Dog Media’s year-end best show lists to receiving a T Dog Media Turkey Award as the second season was completely disappointing. As I noted, Jessica was hit for taking “the term “sophomore slump” to a new level as the second season of this show went completely off the rails with terrible storylines, uninteresting new characters, and completely unrealistic situations (such as Trish quitting her radio show on the air.) “It’s Patsy” all right.”

Many fans also felt the same way with not only this show, but the other shows in the MNU as well, as it felt the universe was running out of gas. Also not helping was constant showrunner and writing room changes for most shows.

With the book closed on this era, it’s time for Marvel to focus on some new fresh faces for its television programming as the Hell’s Kitchen Four call it a day.


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Tamron Hall heads to WCIU in primetime

Lack of room on WLS-TV’s schedule leads Disney/ABC to sublicense program to WCIU

In an interesting twist, Weigel Broadcasting-owned WCIU announced Thursday the acquisition of Tamron Hall’s new talk show and is airing in primetime at 8 p.m., beginning in September, after WLS-TV’s weeknight 7 p.m. newscast on the station.

The news was first reported by Robert Feder Thursday morning.

Distributed by Disney-ABC Home Entertainment and Television Distribution and pre-sold to the ABC-owned stations (including WLS-TV), the move was necessary given there was no room on WLS’ daytime schedule as the station wanted to avoid burying the series in late night or cancelling the popular local talk show Windy City Live at 1 p.m. to accommodate Hall.

Instead, Disney-ABC resold the show to independent WCIU to air in a more viable time slot. Hall was sold as a daytime/early fringe entry.

Other ABC-owned stations, such as WABC in New York, KABC in Los Angeles, and WPVI in Philadelphia, will air the show this fall as planned. Disney-ABC and the ABC-owned stations share the same owner in The Walt Disney Company.

In an unusual arrangement, both WCIU and WLS share the local rights to two Disney-ABC shows: Right This Minute and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Ironically, both are on the chopping block for next fall as Hall’s program is likely to displace the duo on several ABC O&Os, although no time period decision has been made yet.

Hall posted the news on Twitter Thursday:

“Tamron is the real deal. We are looking forward to reintroducing her to loyal and new fans in Chicago.  Having her show on prime time will allow so many more viewers to see how special Tamron is on so many levels,” Weigel Vice Chairman Neal Sabin said in a statement.

WLS GM John Idler said “We are thrilled that ABC 7 Eyewitness News on WCIU, The U will be leading into Tamron Hall.  It’s great to have her back home and adjacent to Chicago’s #1 news brand.”

The addition of Tamron Hall’s show would certainly be a ratings improvement over recent fare in the time slot at WCIU which in the last year consisted of game shows Millionaire and Funny You Should Ask and tired off-network sitcoms The Game and Rules of Engagement. Last month, Disney-ABC announced additional clearances for Hall, now in 80 percent of the country for next fall.

Local viewers remember hall from her days as an anchor at Fox-owned WFLD where she spent a decade before joining NBC News and later co-anchoring the third hour of NBC’s Today with Al Roker in the 9 a.m. slot until 2017, when they were unceremoniously dumped for Megyn Kelly.

Hall was one of several talk show projects announced last fall aiming for a September 2019 premiere, along with singer Kelly Clarkson and author Mel Robbins, with NBC’s owned stations acquiring the former (including WMAQ here) and Tribune buying the latter from Sony. While Clarkson has also cleared 80 percent of the country, Sony has yet to announce any station sales outside of the Tribune group for Robbins.

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It’s official: Cubs to launch their own network, powered by Sinclair

Controversial broadcaster to run local baseball team’s new network; officially ends relationship with WGN-TV after seven decades

Sinclair Broadcasting failed to get Chicago’s WGN-TV, but they were able to snare the next best institution in the Windy City.

In a deal speculated since December, the Chicago Cubs announced Wednesday they were launching a new regional sports network named Marquee with the team as the main attraction, beginning approximately a year from now. All regular season Cubs games – excluding those on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and Fox’s Saturday night baseball package – will appear on the channel, ending WGN-TV’s relationship with the team after 71 years.

Marquee plans to air extensive pre-game and post-game programming, in addition to all-access shows, classic games, and other programming. The team also said it would carry other local sports, but wouldn’t specify.

WGN currently carries 45 Cubs games, with WLS-TV carrying another 25, and NBC Sports Chicago carrying the rest. None of these outlets will carry any Cubs games come 2020.

“This partnership brings together one of the most iconic sports franchises in the country with one of the largest television broadcasting companies,” said Sinclair president and CEO Chris Ripley. “It is hard to imagine any content that is more unique and valuable than the live sports entertainment the Cubs have been delivering to their fans for more than a century. Sinclair’s strength in production, distribution and local sales will support bringing more content to more viewers, all while leveraging the latest technology.

What’s also notable is no more over-the-air games, outside of Fox. The Cubs are following a trend in the last decade of sports teams striking exclusive deals with regional sports networks – something Chicago teams have largely avoided until now. In hooking up with Sinclair, Cubs owners the Ricketts family believe they have great leverage here:

– The Cubs are the market’s most popular team not named the Bears, and they believe fan demand will drive the channel

– Though Sinclair doesn’t own any local stations in Chicago (it tried to buy WGN owner Tribune Media in a deal that collapsed late last year), it does own stations downstate and in Iowa and Indiana, where there’s a significant amount of Cubs fans. For example, Sinclair owns CBS affiliate WSBT in nearby South Bend, home to a Cubs-affiliated minor league team. They can use this type of leverage to strike a deal with the local cable operator the next time their retransmission consent deal is up for renewal.

However, this won’t guarantee placement on cable or satellite channel’s lineup. Adding Marquee – who is reportedly seeking $6 a subscriber, would certainly drive up cable bills in the Chicago area – something local residents certainly would not appreciate given the metro area is already taxed to death, and dread the thought of surging entertainment expenses with numerous streaming services on the way. And this situation is even worse if you’re a non-baseball or White Sox fan.

And there’s the RSN itself. Disney has had trouble selling the 22 Fox sports networks for the last few months as the value of such channels are declining in the face of cord-cutting. Latest suitors include Liberty Media and even Major League Baseball. Sinclair is also in the running, and would add Marquee to its portfolio if it were to pull it off.

There is no word if Marquee would let viewers stream their programming – many RSNs are already doing so, including NBC Sports Chicago and Fox Sports nets (though you would have to be an authenticated cable subscriber to do so.)

There is also a potential issue with Comcast, the dominant cable provider in Chicago with more than two million subscribers – who also owns soon-to-be rival NBC Sports Chicago, who’ll retain the Blackhawks, Bulls, and White Sox in a deal announced last month. Marquee could also have trouble securing channel space on other area systems – especially satellite providers DirecTV and Dish, neither carry the Los Angeles Dodgers’ SportsNet LA channel. Keep in mind however, the Big Ten Network had these same obstacles in obtaining distribution at launch and were eventually overcome.

Reaction to the deal of course, was negative – not only for the possibly of future Cubs games being inaccessible, but hooking up with Sinclair, who is known for its right-wing tilt in its local newscasts.

And Sinclair were up to their dirty tricks again Monday night, as reported by the Baltimore Sun:

The real question here is, why would the Cubs take this plunge on launching a new regional sports network when they are clearly falling out of favor as viewers are cutting the cord? Simple – the team wants control of its own product, and can earn more revenue in a dual revenue stream – via advertising and fees paid by cable and satellite companies (MSOs). By distributing their product with Sinclair, they don’t have to pay anything to a cable company.

But this also means is limiting access to the product – especially after Cubs fans have been getting games for free basically since forever. And this is just more backlash for the Ricketts family – especially after racist e-mails from Joe Ricketts surfaced a couple of days ago and the family is trying to oust 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney, home of Wrigley Field. The Ricketts family are increasing their investments in and around the park, much to the chagrin of local residents, leading some to nickname the area “Disneyland by the L”.

Now the Ricketts are looking to become some sort of media moguls. Given the reputation they’ve achieved in the last few years, I’d say they’ve arrived. How much this is grounded in reality of Marquee being successful remains to be seen – but climbing into bed with one of the most arrogant and ethically bankrupt broadcast groups in the country doesn’t help.

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DreX “X’d” out at B96

Co-hosts Gabe Ramirez and Nina Hajian take over as of Monday

After ten months, DreX is out at B96.

As first reported by Robert Feder Friday, Entercom-owned WBBM-FM pulled the plug on the low-rated morning program.

However, two of DreX’s co-hosts remain: Gabe Ramirez and Nina Hajian take over the morning slot effective on Monday. Ramirez was a holdover from the previous morning show with Jamar McNeil (now working in radio in Toronto) and Shelly Menaker (now at WKSC-FM.) Hajian came to Chicago from sister Top 40 station WBMP-FM in New York City after they flipped to Alternative in November 2017 as Entercom took over the former CBS Radio stations.

Known as Kevin Buchar, Drex arrived at the contemporary hit radio station last April in hopes of boosting B96’s sagging ratings in the daypart. Coming from a long morning run at San Antonio’s KTFM, Buchar had a strong track record at competitor WKSC-FM (Kiss FM) from 2003 to 2010, the first five competing with B96’s longtime duo Eddie Volkman and Joe Bohannon, also known as Eddie & JoBo.

But since the duo departed in 2008, B96 has had trouble replicating their success. Despite an eight-year absence from the Chicago market, DreX was hired mainly because he was a familiar name with radio audiences. But with him finishing outside of the top fifteen, it was clear the show wasn’t working.

The move comes as B96 has struggled in the ratings for the last few years. Once one of the premier Top 40 outlets in Chicago and across the country, the station has recently recorded ratings not seen since the early 1980s, before the flip to “Hot Hits” and a Top 40 format in May 1982. The format itself is also floundering, as stations are depending less and less on urban and hip-hop acts, eroding minority listenership.

Today’s move to install Ramirez and Hajian as permanent morning hosts however, suggests a format change is not in the cards – for now.

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Super Bowl ratings: Super Dud

Viewers tune out Patriots-Rams; lowest ratings in over a decade

Thanks to numerous punts and less-than-inspiring play, Super Bowl LIII turned into a Super Dud.

In the lowest-scoring game in Super Bowl history – sixteen points in total, the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams settled for a 3-3 tie at halftime in a game featuring numerous punts and incomplete passes. In the second half, the Patriots scored the lone touchdown of the game en route to a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

The Rams’ three points is the lowest scoring output on record in a Super Bowl. To put everything in perspective, the Vancouver Canucks scored five goals in a victory the previous evening in a game against the Colorado Avalanche.

The game perhaps reminded many of Super Bowl V, which was referred to as the “Blunder Bowl” or the “Stupor Bowl” as the matchup between the then-Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys was also filled with poor play, numerous penalties, and other miscues. But the game did have a higher score total, as the Colts beat the Cowboys 16-13.

Not surprisingly, the ratings reflected the poor play as the big game drew the fewest viewers in over a decade. According to Nielsen, Super Bowl LIII airing on CBS fell below the 100 million mark, drawing 98.2 million viewers on the network with an additional 2.5 million coming from streaming services and ESPN Deportes, bringing the total to 100.7 million, down from the 104.3 million from Super Bowl LII (Patriots-Eagles) last year.

On the Programming Insider website, I predicted the game would draw 107 million viewers – off (way off) by about seven million viewers.

Ratingswise, Super Bowl LIII drew a 44.9 household overnight rating, the lowest for a Super Bowl since Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 (Steelers-Cardinals) and was down 5.3 percent from the 47.4 rating Super Bowl LII earned and down 8 percent from what Super Bowl LI earned (Patriots-Falcons.) The final rating was 41.1, down 5 percent from last year.

Worse, the game scored a 31.0 rating and 40 million viewers in the adults 18-49 demo – the lowest since 1992, down 7 percent in rating from last year’s Super Bowl. The game scored a 34.6 rating in another important demo, adults 25-54.

The Patriots’ home market of Boston (WBZ) led all 56 metered markets with a 57.1 household rating, followed by Richmond, Va. (WTVR, 52.6) and Buffalo (WIVB, 52.4). The Rams’ home market of Los Angeles (KCBS) earned a 44.6 rating, considered to be the lowest rating for any city participating in the big game.

Both WBZ and KCBS are owned by CBS.

CBS’ “The World’s Best” drew 22.2 million debut for its debut after the Super Bowl.

Los Angeles historically has had trouble drawing big audiences for their hometown teams not named the Lakers or Dodgers – the same was true for the Los Angeles Kings’ two Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2012 and 2014, dragging down the national national rating. Nearby Anaheim’s teams (Angels in 2002 and Ducks in 2007) also had the same problem.

In the Rams’ former home of St. Louis, the game earned a 38.9 rating on KMOV – ranking 53rd. But the least-watched market came from the home of the Saints- New Orleans, drawing a 26.1, the lowest number ever on record for a Super Bowl in that market.

Chicago numbers were not available; they’ll be posted in this space once they are released.

There are several reasons why the numbers for the Super Bowl were down significantly from previous years. For one, New Orleans viewers tuned out en masse – thanks to a non-called pass interference penalty play late in the fourth quarter during the NFC Championship Game between the Rams and Saints. Many Saints fans felt they were robbed of their chance to return to the Super Bowl, generating significant outrage throughout the entire state of Louisiana. Thus, viewers refused to watch the game.

Saints fans weren’t the only ones sitting out the game. Many African-American viewers across the country decided to boycott the Super Bowl due to the league allegedly blackballing Colin Kapernick for kneeling during the National Anthem in 2016, as he hasn’t played in the league since then. Though it wasn’t notable the last two Super Bowls, the #BoycottNFL hashtag picked up steam in recent weeks after numerous African-American performers turned down an opportunity to perform during the Halftime Show, or be associated with the game altogether. There’s no doubt Super Bowl viewership among African-Americans is likely to be the lowest in recent memory.

Another reason why the numbers were down was due to “Patriots fatigue”. Non-fans certainly had enough of watching Tom Brady and Co. play in the big game as they have represented the AFC four out of the last five years and won three out of the last five Super Bowls. The same can be said for the dynasties of the Boston Red Sox and Golden State Warriors, whose championships last year didn’t exactly break ratings records.

As for the post-Super Bowl entertainment, CBS launched a new reality competition show World’s Best, hosted by James Corden. It’s a talent competition – a cross between 1 vs. 100 and America’s Got Talent – if not a direct ripoff of the latter program. The debut drew 22.2 million viewers, but down from the 38.7 million viewers for the premiere of Undercover Boss after the Super Bowl in 2010.

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2019 Super Bowl Commercials review: Lackluster effort from a lackuster game

Have it your way with Andy.

Commercials and the game itself fall flat

In common lore, thirteen is considered an “unlucky” number.

Well, the thirteenth edition of T Dog Media’s Super Bowl Commercial roundup certainly hit the sour spot as most of the ads in this game were bland, stupid, boring, and awful – just like the game itself, as the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams played amazingly bad football for almost the entire game – punts and dropped passes, in all.

In fact, this entire Super Bowl was unlucky as many viewers planned not to tune in for one reason (Colin Kapernick being blackballed from the NFL) or another (New Orleans and St. Louis’ fans objections to the Rams advancing to the Super Bowl.)

Sadly, some of the brands with recent entertaining Super Bowl Commercials – particularly Tide and Mountain Dew – were not in this year’s big game, and their presence were sorely missed.

A common theme in this year’s ads were robots and technology – and at times, how much we can make fun of them for not enjoying things humans do (prevalent in THREE ads, from Pringles, TurboTax, and Michelob.) Based on these ads, I expect an upcoming robot uprising soon to doom us all. Maybe they can take out the Sprint guy first.

As there were so many bad Super Bowl ads this year, the number of Best Super Bowl ads were cut to eight. Promos and movie trailers do not count, and some of the videos on this page could soon become unavailable, so you might see gray boxes if you come across this article in the future.


I had a hard time selecting eight good ones, let alone ten. But here goes:

1. Washington Post, “Democracy Dies In Darkness”. This spot hands down was the winner. It reminds us without journalism, democracy does indeed die in darkness – especially given who is currently in The White House.

2. Verizon, “The Coach Who Wouldn’t Be Here”. Touching ad reminds us how important first responders are in our lives. Features Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, who was saved by a first responder after an automobile accident in 2005.

3. NFL, “The 100-Year Game”. Well-received, awesome commercial featuring NFL Players – past and present doing what they do best at a gala. Of note is this commercial had the highest score in USA Today’s Ad Meter.

4. Bud Light/HBO “Joust”. This was an unique twist on an ad – selling Bud Light and cross-promoting the new season of Game of Thrones. Clever on HBO’s part given the premium channel doesn’t sell advertising.

5. Olay, “Killer Skin”. Sarah Michelle Gellar in an funny ad parodying all those scary movies she was in.

6. Amazon Alexa, “Not Everything Makes The Cut”. Some Alexa ideas aren’t good ones, like Harrison Ford’s dog ordering 200 pounds worth of dog food or someone getting blasted out of a hot tub.

7. Hyundai, “The Elevator”. Jason Bateman as a elevator operator. if you look closely, one stop on the elevator tour was to Judge Judy’s courtroom. And the person who arrived on “The Talk’s” floor was actually relived it wasn’t the set of the CBS daytime talk show.

8. Burger King “Eat Like Andy”. Andy Warhol eats a Whopper, a real-life excerpt from an 1981 art film. Clever ad, but it ranked at the bottom of USA Today’s Ad Meter.


Where to begin? As I noted above, this was not the best year for Super Bowl ads. As a result, I’ve expanded this section also to eight. And they are (click on link to watch):

1. Devour, “Food Porn”. Yes, it’s another “hipster boyfriend” ad, featuring a guy who is addicted to terrible TV dinners. His intervention is Wednesday night at Jenny Craig.

2. MintMobile “Chunky Style Milk”. We’re unfortunate Susan from Seinfeld was nowhere nearby as a family was downing expired milk if it were Long Island Iced Teas.

3. TurboTaxLive “Robochild”. Imagine if a Hollywood producer developed a sitcom around this creepy robot girl. They can name it…oh, I don’t know, Small Wonder.

4. Stella Arotis “Change Up The Usual”. I never watched a minute of Sex In The City so I’m not familiar with The Dude. But the Most Interesting Man In The World was there, sitting next to The Guy.

5. Audi, “Cashew”. Guy dreams he’s inherited an Audi but wakes up choking on a cashew in his office cubicle, where we all want to be in life.

6. Bud Light, “Special Delivery”. This commercial caused quite a stir as Bud Light accused rivals Miller Lite and Coors Light of using corn syrup in their product. Oddly enough, Anheuser-Busch does use corn syrup in its other beers., including…Budweiser. Also: Miller Lite and Coors Light are made by the same freaking company.

7. Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, “The Pitch”. I don’t know what the heck this was. Do you?

8. ADT, “Trust The Pros”. The ad was forgettable, but more interesting was CBS-owned WBBM-TV’s local newscast hours later profiling several angry customers who were ripped off by an ADT dealer. To have a awful Super Bowl Ad AND get slammed for deceptive practices on the local news the same night isn’t exactly winning.

On a local note, not one Chicago mayoral candidate bought adtime during the game. While it is a missed opportunity for them (too expensive?), it’s relief for Chicagoland TV viewers already suffering through the commercials and an even worse game. And Advocate Health Care’s new campaign ripping off The Partridge Family theme song would top this worst list if it ran nationally. Let’s all get healthy by joining Andy at Burger King and downing a couple of Whoppers.

Halftime Show

This year’s halftime show featured Maroon 5, performing with Big Boi and Travis Scott. As you probably know, several African-American performers turned down invitations to perform due to the NFL’s alleged collusion against Kapernick, who hasn’t played in the league since 2016 due to his decision to kneel during the national anthem. Many also felt the show missed an opportunity to celebrate Atlanta’s rich musical heritage.

Predictably, Maroon 5 – the band everyone pegs as “safe and non-threatening” – fell flat on the stage, performing hits no one wants to hear anymore (Harder to Breathe, Moves Like Jagger, etc.), while Big Boi and Travis Scott added nothing to the presentation and neither did an odd placement of an animated SpongeBob Squarepants cameo.

Everyone seemed to agree as social media users panned the halftime show and the Tribune’s Greg Kot gave it one of the harshest reviews I can remember outside of Nipplegate. It might be time for the NFL to finally retire this concept as this gimmick has broken no new ground in the last few years.

Grade: F

Further reading/listening

Eric Deggans of NPR gives his take on the Super Bowl ads here.

Ad Age also reviews all the Super Bowl ads, and you can see more here.

As I noted at the top of this article, this is the thirteenth consecutive year T Dog Media has done a Super Bowl Commercial roundup. For past reviews dating back to 2007, click here (older videos posted in those reviews may no longer be available.)

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The Media Notepad: “Man Of The People” set for season two

WGN’s “Man Of The People” is a hit.

Also: WCIU to air Black History special; Record ratings for radio stations airing Christmas music; St. Louis anchor suspended for racial slur.

In a battle for local TV and comedy justice, The Man Of The People defeated the evil Captain Chesapeake from Baltimore.

WGN-TV announced last week the renewal of locally-produced comedy Man Of The People hosted by WGN morning sports anchor Pat Tomasulo for a second season, as first reported by Robert Feder. Featuring a comedic look at the week’s news, on-the-street interviews, and sketches, the program has indeed been a welcome addition to local TV. After several weeks of repeats, People returns with all-new episodes February 2.

On tap for the second season, Tomasulo plans a “Big Game Party” (no doubt related to a certain big sporting event Sunday); a “Red Carpet Special”; and another visit with the Mall Walking Ladies at Norridge’s Harlem-Irving Plaza as the first one drew nearly 250,000 views on YouTube. In fact, Man Of The People’s YouTube page has 4,000 subscribers.

According to Feder, the series has done well in its 10 p.m. Saturday (or later, depending on sports overruns) slot as People is the highest-rated entertainment show in households and the 25-54 demo, beating American Dad reruns on WCIU (the slot was occupied by Bob’s Burgers until last September) and Dateline on WPWR.

Last year, T Dog Media gave an “A” grade to People and low and behold, the show’s humor hasn’t lost a step. In the review, I noted “the [studio] audience looked younger than those who attend Windy City Live, so we already know they didn’t bus in folks from the nearest Old Country Buffet.”

Also in the same review, I noted viewers “enjoy Man Of The People Chicago viewers before Captain Chesapeake fires the Man.”, in reference to Hunt Valley Md.-based Sinclair Broadcasting, who was poised to take over WGN parent Tribune Media last year before the deal collapsed. “Captain Chesapeake” was a former 1970s and 1980s kids show host for Sinclair flagship WBFF-TV, now a Fox affiliate.

Due to Sinclair’s own arrogance, Captain Chesapeake’s boat sank. Score one for “The People” and Pat Tomasulo.

(Credit: Chicago Business Journal)

The next time someone tells you terrestrial radio is dying, you might want to take a look at the recent “holiday book” released this week. Numerous radio stations set ratings records this year with the Christmas music format (or as I call it, the “Holly Jolly” format), with numbers not seen in years.

The highest number came in the Salt Lake City market, where KSFI scored a blockbuster 21.8 share.

Some stations saw ratings they haven’t seen in years. iHeart’s KOST in Los Angeles with Christmas music scored its highest ratings ever and the highest for any L.A. station in 52 years. Another iHeart Christmas station (Detroit’s WNIC) scored the highest ratings for any Motor City station since 1976.

Locally, iHeart’s WLIT finished on top of course – but ratings for the Holly Jolly format were actually down from 2017, falling 7 percent (13.3 to 12.4). Still, WLIT dominated the market total-day with the station’s lineup finishing first in every depart – something not seen in Chicago since WGN Radio’s heyday the 1980s.

And the impact stretches far beyond radio. Christmas music also dominated streaming services this holiday season as several holiday songs made the Billboard Hot 100 – in some cases, not even doing so when they were originally released (due to rules at the time.) For example, Mariah Carey’s 1994 hit All I want For Christmas Is You reached number 3 for the week ending January 5, 2019 and was streamed on Spotify 10.82 million times.

So why is Christmas music so popular this year? Easy – given the rotten times we’re currently living in (especially with the nation’s political discourse and the recent government shutdown), listeners are certainly looking for something positive to listen to – not to mention a family-friendly format (you can listen in the car with your kids) and has strong appeal with female listeners – something advertisers love.

While the December and holiday “books” is a non-important survey for stations not airing Christmas music as it disrupts regualr listening patterns, it is an important profit center for those who do.

Weigel-owned WCIU is producing a Black History Month special titled Creating History, a look at local influences and their talents, stories, and experiences to create meaningful change. Set to air February 3 at 12:30 p.m., the special profiles six individuals who are working to make Chicago and the world a better place to live – while showing compassion for others.

Among those featured include a Good Samaritan who feeds Chicago’s homeless community; a Chicago rapper who is also a public school teacher; an artist from the Englewood neighborhood; and a teenager whose raises money to purchase resources for residents in her hometown of Riverdale (the Chicago suburb, not the inane TV show.)

The special is hosted by The Jam’s Felicia Lawrence and Jordan Cornette, who also is one of David Kaplan’s co-hosts on WMVP-AM’s Kap & Co. The special is also slated to run on WCIU February 24 at 12:30 p.m. and on sister station The U Too February 10 and February 17 at 2:30 p.m. All dates listed are on Sundays.

Look for other stations and local outlets to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans in February as it is Black History Month.

A news anchor for Tribune-owned Fox affiliate KTVI in St. Louis has decided to step away after “misspeaking” during a newscast earlier in the month.

On the morning of January 17, Kevin Steincross inadvertently used a slur while reading Dr. Martin Luther King’s name, using the “c” word instead of “King”. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he returned to the air at 9 a.m. the same day and apologized for the mistake.

However, the action wasn’t enough for many viewers and the local chapter of the NAACP, who wanted the anchor terminated. Station management apologized again Friday and met with the NAACP and several civil rights organizations in the St, Louis area, including the Urban League. The station has decided to put Steincross on “indefinite leave”. Steincross appeared on sister station KPLR to announce he was stepping away from the anchor desk.

CW affiliate KPLR and KTVI are both owned by Chicago-based Tribune Media.

St. Louis NAACP spokesman John Gaskin told the Dispatch “Had we not called for his termination we genuinely believe that they would not have done anything in the first place. I think [Tribune Media] needs to do some very in-depth soul searching.”

And this may be one of the reasons why Tribune had to act as the company announced last month it was being sold to Irving, Tex.-based Nexstar for $4.1 billion. Tribune officials fear this would draw more scrutiny to the deal – especially after a previous attempt to sell the company failed.

St. Louis has had a history of outrageous moments over the airwaves. The most infamous came in 1993 when WKBQ-FM morning personalities D.C. Chymes and Steve Shannon landed in hot water after one of them said the “n” word live on the air while arguing with an African-American caller. The duo were sued, suspended, and later fired (they resurfaced later on the same station a year later under a different format and a different owner.)

Last year, Jamie Allman was fired from his KFTK-FM morning show and lost his nightly talk show at ABC affiliate KDNL after threatening Parkland School shooting survivor David Hogg on social media by using the word “poker” in the most provocative way possible, interpreted as sexual assault.

Of note, the Cubs’ Kris Bryant said the home of the archrival Cardinals was “boring” during a recent appearance at a fan convention.

It may be, but not when it comes to local media.

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“Hall”, “Clarkson” gains momentum

Production commitments likely after station clearances top 70 percent, plus other syndication news of note

As expected, new talk shows headlined by former American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson and former WFLD news anchor and Today co-host Tamron Hall received a big boost as both programs announced new stations at the beginning of NATPE from Miami, which begins today.

NBCUniversal’s Kelly Clarkson has been sold to 80 percent of the country, including the NBC-owned-and operated stations and others from groups representing Cox, Dispatch, Gray, Hearst, Hubbard, Quincy, Sinclair, and Tegna, among others.  Stations buying Clarkson include KOMO/Seattle, WXYZ/Detroit. WKYC/Cleveland, WTVF/Nashville, and KSL/Salt Lake City.

Locally, Clarkson was sold to NBC-owned WMAQ (NBC 5), and is expected to take over Steve’s 2 p.m. time slot, though no decision has officially been made.

Disney-ABC’s Tamron Hall also added to its station lineup, with 70 percent of the country on-board including the ABC (in a pre-sale), Cox, Hearst, Scripps, Sinclair, and Tribune groups, among others. Unlike Disney’s last major talk show Katie (with uniform clearances at 3 p.m.), stations can schedule Hall at their discretion.

Locally, ABC-owned WLS-TV (ABC 7) bought Hall, but no time slot has been announced.

More information was also released about the two shows: Clarkson plans to interview fans, local heroes, and others on her Facebook Watch series for her upcoming tour in preparation for her daytime gig. Meanwhile, Hall’s format would vary, from interviewing a guest for an entire episode to several segments found in other daytime talk shows. Hall also said her show plans to be “compelling and informative”.

Meanwhile, no information has been announced so far regarding the third daytime talk show on the market, one hosted by author Mel Robbins. Sony has already sold the project to the Tribune stations.

In other news:

Twentieth Television confirmed it has secured a 75 percent clearance rate for new Meredith Vieira game show 25 Words Or Less, with CBS, Gray, Hearst, Northwest, and Sinclair signing on. In Chicago, the show is expected to be paired with Family Feud in markets where Fox has the show, including Chicago’s WPWR-TV.

MGM confirmed it has sold new courtroom strip Personal Injury Court to CBS-owned CW affiliates in San Francisco (KBCW), Atlanta (WUPA), Seattle (KSTW) and Tampa-St. Petersburg (WTOG), plus independent WLNY, also a CBS O&O, as the program has yet to be sold in Chicago or Los Angeles. From the creator of Paternity Court and Couples Court, Personal Injury Court brags about having “the highest cash payouts in the history of court shows” (MGM must have one heck of an insurance policy.) Judge Gino Brodgon has been tapped to reside over the cases.

Trifecta Entertainment announced a second-cycle renewal for Pawn Stars, with one hundred “new episodes” (or realistically, off-cable repeats) of the popular series based in a pawn shop in Las Vegas. The new package has been sold to WLNY and several Tribune stations currently carrying the show including KDAF/Dallas and ; in Chicago, Stars currently airs on Weigel’s WCIU sister station, The U Too (Channel 26.2/48.1). The 16th season premiere of Pawn Stars aired Monday night on History Channel in a new hour-long format.

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The state of syndication in 2019

Led by Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall, new shows aim for time slots

With the 57th National Association of Television Programming Executive convention set to start this coming Tuesday from the Fontianebleau Hotel in Miami, there is actually something to talk about regarding syndication in 2019, in vast contrast to previous years.

That’s because syndicators are actually offering new programming and a few veteran programs are actually on the bubble. And in another oddity: there is an absence of new off-network product in syndication this fall as sitcoms The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family continue to dominate in the ratings.

The focus is on daytime and early fringe – especially with NBC Universal Television Distribution and Disney-ABC Domestic Television bringing new talkers helmed by Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall to market as both shows are being marketed at NATPE in Miami next week. Clarkson and Hall have been sold to the NBC O&Os and ABC O&Os, respectively, with Clarkson set to air on NBC 5 (WMAQ) in Chicago, and Hall on ABC 7 (WLS-TV).

Clarkson is reportedly set to take over Steve’s slot on the NBC-owned stations this fall. As for the future of his program, Harvey said at CES recently he hoped the series would continue under another syndicator. Despite decent ratings, production costs for Steve ballooned after moving from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2017. Plus, even though NBCU syndicates Steve, it doesn’t own it; it’s produced by IMG – Clarkson’s show is owned by NBCU.

This won’t be the only changes at the NBC-owned stations this fall. Two other programs  – long-running newsmagazine Access and spin-off Access Live may be undergoing some changes soon as hosts Natalie Morales and Kit Hoover are reportedly out, and current Extra host Mario Lopez is being considered to take over as host of the prime access (hour before primetime) show. The moves are obviously meant to boost sagging ratings for both programs, who each dropped the “Hollywood” name a year ago as a means of expanding coverage outside of celebrity news. There is also talk about expanding Access to an hour to replace the departing Extra, but if this goes forward, it remains to be seen how this would fit into stations’ schedules who didn’t carry Extra in prime access – especially at WMAQ and Washington’s WRC, who both air news as an Access lead-in.

Speaking of Extra, the series is rumored to recruit former Access co-host Billy Bush as the Warner Bros.-syndicated programs is moving from NBC-owned to Fox-owned stations this fall (Extra made the move locally in 2016.)

Meanwhile, Tamron Hall’s clearances are expected to be announced this week, with speculation centered on replacing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Right This Minute on the ABC-owned stations (both air on WLS in late night.) In Chicago’s case, Hall could wind up replacing Windy City Live at 1 p.m. WLS could be forced to repeat a scenario from 2013 when the station dropped its 11 a.m. newscast in 2013 to make room for Live With Kelly and Michael (now Kelly and Ryan) at 9 a.m. and moved Windy to 11 a.m. Hall could also wind up in late-night.

ABC 7’s “Windy City Live” could lose its 1 p.m. slot to Tamron Hall’s new show come September.

Another new contender in the daytime TV sweepstakes is motivational speaker Mel Robbins, whose Sony show is cleared on Tribune stations – although it is not known if flagship WGN would carry it. The move signals Tribune’s intent to back away from conflict talk as numerous stations carry Steve Wilkos and Maury.

Elsewhere, MGM recently announced two new first-run strips (daily shows): Personal Injury Court, featuring litigants who looking for payouts for their injuries; and The Drama, where a panel hands out advice with a “touch of humor” to people dealing with personal problems. The company already has Paternity Court with Lauren Lake and Couples Court on the air, neither are measured by Nielsen since MGM does not subscribe to the ratings service and both are not on the air in every market.

Earlier, NBCU cleared Jerry Springer’s new court show Judge Jerry in 75 percent of the country with a large number of stations who carried his old talk show, including Chicago’s WCIU in the lineup. And Fox’s owned stations bought a new Meredith Vieira-hosted game show 25 Words Or Less from Debmar-Mercury after a successful test run last year. Some Fox stations are currently testing a new talk show from CBS featuring Dr. Steve Perry (no, not the former Journey singer.)

In terms of shows on the bubble – in addition to Millionaire, Minute, and Steve, others in jeopardy include Discovery’s True Crime Files and Sony’s Live PD Police Patrol, whose primary airing was downgraded in Chicago last week. Other programs on the bubble include Twentieth’s Page Six TV, Dish Nation, and Top 30 as the syndicator prepares to be taken over by Disney; and PPI’s Canadian talk show Cityline. Meanwhile, Debmar’s Caught In Providence was recently renewed for a second season.

As for weekly syndicated programming, former daytime TV judge Joe Brown is coming back with a new topics-driven show Hot Topics With Judge Joe, which begins next month over Fox-owned WPWR; PPI has a new reality/drama hybrid Forensic Factor and is expected to be paired with The Listener in some markets.

Last but not least – is perhaps for the first time in recent memory, no major off-network sitcom is being offered for next fall, meaning stations’ over-reliance on aging off-CBS sitcoms Mike & Molly, Rules of Engagement, 2 Broke Girls, and The King of Queens is likely to continue – not to mention Seinfeld and Friends, the latter recently renewing its Netflix deal for an eye-popping $100 million for one year. However, Twentieth is rumored to expand Bob’s Burgers to weekdays next fall, from its weekend-only airings. The downside is the series could be forced to air in late-night and overnight time slots, where the majority of Twenieth’s off-network animated series (American Dad, King of the Hill, Family Guy and The Cleveland Show) currently reside.

In the coming days, expect more new projects to be announced as we head into NATPE.

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The Media Notepad: NBC Sports Chicago names new boss

Also: Bulls, Blackhawks ratings continue to drop; don’t expect an announcement on a new Cubs network anytime soon.

NBC Sports Chicago announced Thursday it has hired Kevin Cross as senior vice president and general manager of the regional sports network (RSN). He take a position once filled by Phil Bedella, who left in May 2017. He’ll report to NBC Sports Regional Networks President Bill Bridgen.

In a statement, Bridgen said: “Kevin has demonstrated expert leadership not only in content development and execution, but also in numerous facets of our business. His many years of management experience in the regional sports business, along with his creative mindset, will benefit both our network and our team partners for years to come.”

A South Side native, Cross has worked in the business for more than 25 years. He began his producing career at the old SportsChannel Chicago in 1993 and worked trough various iterations of the channel, including Fox Sports Net Chicago and Comcast SportsNet. He has also had stops at Timeline Products and CLTV.

Cross is set to take over day-to-day operations of the RSN at a time when the network is about to undergo a significant change when the Cubs depart the NBC Sports Chicago partnership in October to launch their own channel (see below) and is continuing with existing partners Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox, and Chicago Blackhawks. And judging by the ratings for all three – and the exit of the popular Cubs – not to mention the struggles RSNs like NBC Sports Chicago are facing, the price-per-subscriber point is expected to drop significantly.

And speaking of those ratings for the Bulls and Blackhawks, the numbers for NBC Sports Chicago couldn’t have come at a worse time.

According to the Sun-Times, ratings so far this season for both teams are down again as they continue to struggle on the hardwood and the ice, respectively. Bulls games so far has averaged a 1.4 household rating on the RSN, down 22 percent from last season’s 1.8 average.

The Blackhawks have averaged slightly better with a 2.1 household rating, which is actually decent for hockey, a sport who historically hasn’t drawn well. However, the team is down 13 percent from the 2.4 season average in 2017-18.

The ratings declines come as no surprise: both teams are at or near the bottom of respective leagues in the standings and there is a possibly Chicago could become the first city to have the number one draft pick in both sports simultaneously. As of this writing, the Blackhawks have lost five in a row and have the worst record in the NHL; the Bulls have dropped nine straight and have the second-worst record in the NBA.

Makes you miss the Bears, doesn’t it?

Still, the Blackhawks poor performance haven’t dampened NBC Sports Network’s enthusiasm as they have the most national appearances of any NHL team, thanks to superstar players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The team once again played in the Winter Classic January 1 against the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame’s football stadium in South Bend, Ind. And no wonder: amid a gorgeous backdrop, the game registered an 14 percent ratings increase from the 2018 Winter Classic between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers. Boston had the highest household rating at 7.9; Chicago came in third with a 5.8., but down from the 7.4 they earned the last time they were in the Classic (-22%.)

And don’t forget the Hawks’ season average ratings are still higher than they were in the 2007-08 season, before they won they won three Stanley Cups and were still a doormat franchise.

If the Blackhawks continue to put up performances on national TV like they did Thursday night – a loss against the Rangers aired on NBCSN – their appeal could easily diminish.

Meanwhile, the NBA is probably glad the Bulls aren’t on national TV much – ratings are down for partners Turner and ESPN thanks to LeBron James’ move to the Los Angeles Lakers in the off-season – magnified more thanks to James’ injury in a Christmas Day game against the defending champion Golden State Warriors and has been sidelined ever since. As opposed to playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, James’ plays for a team whose games start late for those in the Eastern Time Zone – another factor in the drop.

And as for the Cubs, don’t look for the team to announce details regarding their new RSN anytime soon. During an appearance on WSCR-AM Thursday morning, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts stated they would have no announcement on the new network, as a Q-and-A session with the owners at the upcoming Cubs Convention has dropped due to “low ratings” (their words, not mine.) Ricketts stated the same in an interview with WMVP-AM later in the morning.

“People would rather watch the mascot play bingo than listen to the owners speak”, Ricketts said on WSCR.

Other topics Ricketts covered in his Thursday morning media barnstorming junket included talking about off-season moves (or lack thereof) and criticizing the alderman of the ward Wrigley Field is in.

Ricketts made stops at WSCR and WMVP Thursday with the convention coming up this weekend at the Sheraton downtown, assuming fans can get there with a major snowstorm coming. While the Cubs Convention would be an ideal place to unveil the new RSN, uncertainty surrounding the Fox RSNs may have played a role in a decision to hold off on an official announcement.

This may be because Sinclair Broadcast Group – reportedly a partner with the Cubs in their new RSN venture – is in discussion to buy the 22 Fox RSNs from Disney – but would need backing from private equity firms to pull it off. As noted here earlier, Disney had hoped to sell the RSNs, but had a difficult time unloading them because potential suitors – notably Comcast and AT&T, are scared off due to anti-trust concerns from the Justice Department – the same reason Disney had to unload them in the first place.

Rumors of the reported partnership with Sinclair in a Sun-Times article a few weeks ago sparked some social media criticism as the company is known for right-wing propaganda in its local newscasts and for forcing anchors to read a script on fake news last year, word-for-word on almost all of its TV stations.

The mess may not be resolved for awhile. Thus, the Cubs are being smart in holding off on an announcement – hopefully not too long as the new network is scheduled to launch in 2020.

And if the Cubs are looking for time to fill on their new network, a bingo game show with Clark The Mascot wouldn’t be a bad idea – it sure beats watching the inane Ellen’s Game Of Games.

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“New Fox” passes on Disney RSNs

New entity not interested in reacquiring regional sports networks

In a setback for Disney, “New Fox”, the entity formed after the bulk of the original 21st Century Fox was sold to the company, said in a filing Friday it has no plans to re-purchase the 22 regional sports networks, or RSNs put up for sale as part of the deal.

In the SEC 8-K filing, New Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch confirmed in a statement, “In connection with these preliminary discussions, Fox confirms that it does not intend to bid for any of the Fox regional sports networks that Disney (or any entity operating on its behalf) may sell as required by the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The Fox RSNs, which includes The Yankees’ YES Network, and RSNs in Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, and Minnesota among others, had to be sold as part of the deal with the Justice Department’s decision to sign off of the Disney-Fox merger.

With much of the film studio and production company sold to Disney, “New Fox” will consist of Fox Broadcasting, Fox News, Fox Business Channel, the Fox owned-and-operated stations (including Chicago’s WFLD and WPWR), Fox Sports, FS1 and 2, and the Big Ten Network.

One of the reasons why Fox passed on the RSNs may be due to the networks being a “slow-growth business” as more emphasis is being placed on streaming as more and more viewers are cutting the cable cord.

With Fox dropping out, it leaves very few options for Disney as rival media companies are passing on the networks due to the same anti-trust concerns. According to several reports, only Sinclair Broadcasting is left as a possible suitor, who may have to partner with private equity firms to pull off the purchase.

Sinclair has been mentioned as a possible partner in the new Cubs’ RSN, and according to reports the new network is to be named Marquee. But the team has refused to comment on the matter, leaving many in the dark on what would happen come 2020.

While the RSNs provide live, local sports programming – something advertisers want, they lack the popularity of the NFL, whose games are broadcast by NBC, CBS, Fox, and ESPN as the popularity of the other sports leagues don’t even come close. Also, ratings for RSNs are cynical, depending on how teams are faring. Ratings for NBC Sports Chicago’s three teams they re-upped for – the Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox all declined in 2018 as each teams finished at or near the bottom of the standings. And with the popular Cubs out of the mix, it would be tougher for NBC Sports Chicago to gain any ratings traction even if the three teams improve.

Plus, several MLS teams are shunning RSNs for streaming deals, such as LAFC, the Chicago Fire, and more recently, D.C. United, as they opted for a deal with new streaming service FloSports. Those teams believe their younger-skewing fanbase are adopting streaming instead of paying for a cable subscription. United co-owner Jason Levien told the Washington Post: “[P]hilosophically, we don’t believe just putting live games up is the best way to drive engagement. There’s too much else to watch. We believe you have to create context. We charge a premium because we promise to build context. The fans are going to know why they are watching. We know it’s a little bit of a premium — we are unapologetic about it because the goal is to offer the best value for that specific fan.”

Given this, it is clear the allure of the regional sports network has faded amid changing fan and consumer tastes.

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Clubsteppin’ becomes first local station to drop R. Kelly’s music

Move comes as controversies surrounding singer heats up

The first local shoe to drop in the ongoing R. Kelly saga is a “rimshot” radio station.

Clubsteppin’ 95.1 – a new Urban Adult Contemporary station who launched last August, announced Thursday it is removing R. Kelly’s music from their playlist in light of allegations surrounding the singer’s alleged abuse against women, raised to a higher level by Lifetime’s six-hour docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.

The news was reported Friday by the Chicago Tribune.

As documented by the Tribune, station CEO Lamont Watts spoke to fans of the station on Facebook and Instagram: “As a leader of a team where women contribute unselfishly, in a business where the majority of our audience is women; as a son, a brother and a husband of a devoted family; and to hear and see the pain and suffering that is real for so many, effective immediately, we will no longer play the music of R. Kelly.”

Based from his internet radio station Clubsteppin.com, Watts struck a deal last summer to bring his format of 1970s and 1980s step dance music (commonly known as ‘steppin’) to Windy City Broadcasting’s translators W236CF in Chicago and W236CG in Bolingbrook, fed by WLEY-HD2 (107.9). Those translators appear on a “rimshotter” station (95.1 FM) reaching Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs, where the majority of the area’s African-Americans population resides and competes with iHeart Media’s V103 (WVAZ) and Crawford’s Soul 106.3 (WSRB). Clubsteppin’ is the eighth radio station in the Chicago market targeting African-American audiences at a time when the market’s black population is declining. 95.1 FM in the Chicago area is split with another “rimshotter” station – active rocker WIIL-FM, who serves Chicago’s northern suburbs and southern Wisconsin.

“Clubsteppin” launched on 95.1 FM via two radio translators in August 2018.

Shortly after its launch last August, Clubsteppin’ picked up The Tom Joyner Morning Show after Soul 106.3 dropped it for a new local morning program. Joyner removed Kelly’s music from his syndicated show last year.

Watts’ station joins several Urban and Urban AC outlets around the country who have eliminated R. Kelly’s music from their playlists. As reported here on Thursday, two Dallas and an Atlanta station removed Kelly earlier in the week, with WBLS-FM New York and Stevie Wonder’s KJLH-FM in Los Angeles, doing so even earlier – all are independently owned.

A tipster to T Dog Media’s Twitter feed also noted Urban AC station WJMR in Milwaukee quietly dropped Kelly’s music six months ago. WJMR is owned by Saga Communications, a mid-sized radio chain who owns other stations in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, and several other states.

But the majority of Urban and Urban AC stations in the country are owned by huge radio conglomerates such as Cumulus, Urban One, Entercom, and iHeart Media – the latter also owns Urban Contemporary WGCI-FM while Entercom owns WBMX-FM (104.3 Jams). None of those local stations – including Crawford’s Power 92 (WPWX) and Soul 106.3 – have still not commented publicly.

This comes as significant developments took place this week involving the disgraced R&B star. A protest took place Wednesday night outside of Kelly’s West Loop recording studio – now being investigated by city officials for possible zoning violations. The same night, Kelly was spotted at a club in the city’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood after-hours, performing one of his signature hits, “Bump ‘n’ Grind”. Police were called to the club, but no arrests were made. Kelly’s lawyer on Friday stated he was innocent of all allegations at a raucous press conference.

On Friday, a report of Kelly holding women in a cult against their will at his Trump Tower apartment was proven to be false, according to Chicago Police.

As Clubsteppin’ is the latest independently-owned radio station to bail on Kelly, major radio chains are taking a “wait and see” approach. But with the controversies continuing to grow, can they afford to?

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“Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries puts black radio stations in a bind

Outrage over R. Kelly’s sexual misconduct grows

In a move similar to what Detroit’s WMGC-FM (Bounce 105.1) did with Kanye West after his comments on slavery last spring, a pair of radio stations in Dallas and one in Atlanta have announced it would no longer play any music performed by R. Kelly on their airwaves in wake of last week’s controversial Lifetime documentary on the famous R&B singer.

But unlike the Detroit station, who returned West’s music to rotation after only a few days in what was likely a publicity stunt, this time it’s going to stick.

Two Dallas radio stations – KRNB-FM and KKDA-FM announced it has removed R. Kelly’s music from its playlists. They were joined by WAMJ-FM in Atlanta and two other stations: WBLS-FM in New York City and KJLH-FM in Los Angeles (owned by Stevie Wonder) both removing his music well before the documentary aired. Tom Joyner announced in an on-air radio interview with MeToo founder Tanara Burke last year he would no longer play R. Kelly’s music on his syndicated show, also based in Dallas.

As classified by Nielsen’s BDS, KRNB is a Urban Adult Contemporary station; KKDA-FM has an Urban Contemporary format. Both are owned by Service Broadcasting Corp., one of the few independently-owned stations left in radio.

The controversial documentary featured numerous women who claimed they were sexually assaulted and abused by the Chicago-born singer, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Jim DeRogatis investigated the claims of sexual abuse for the paper back in 2000, and continued for years. In 2008, Kelly was acquitted on child pornography charges after allegedly having sex with a 14-year old on tape in a decision stunning many observers.

Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly reached 18 million total viewers over three nights with numerous airings over Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network.  Last Thursday, the docuseries drew a 0.9 rating in the adult 18-49 demo, beating programming on ABC and Fox and is likely to finish as the top entertainment show among African-Americans for the week. The docuseries also drew considerable social media response; #SurvivngRKelly and related hashtags dominated social media on Thursday and Friday nights.

For the Dallas stations, it was a clear cut decision. Claudia Jordan, a former model, TV star (Deal or No Deal, Real Housewives of Atlanta) and co-host of The Rickey Smiley Show told the audience on her KRNB morning show she co-hosts with Rudy Rush the reason why the station decided to stop playing Kelly’s music as documented by Complex: “Up against the background of what we know…. Where there were girls actually locked up in rooms and urinating in buckets and held against their will, even if they were over 18, (Kelly’s music) just has a different meaning now. I just feel like, in good conscience, we just can’t continue to support this guy. Sadly there are a lot of people out there and what they do in their work—they are talented people—but they have demons. And I feel like as a woman that is an advocate for other women.… We cannot support this man anymore. I’ve been a victim of abuse from a man, and it wasn’t as extreme as this. But reading all the comments, we have to at some point take a stance.”

Over at sister station KKDA on her morning show, former Chicago radio personality Dee Dee McGuire said: “I’m glad that radio is taking that stance. Radio has always played a major role in the black community… That goes back to the civil rights movement. We have to take care of our own. If the courts won’t take care of [Kelly] in terms of punishing him, then we’ll stop playing his music as punishment.”

On Monday, former “Deal Or No Deal” model Claudia Jordan announced on her Dallas morning radio show she co-hosts with Rudy Rush that her station would no longer play R. Kelly’s music.

While the five radio stations mentioned ended their association with Kelly, it helps to note these are independently-owned. Most radio stations serving the African-American community are owned by conglomerates Cumulus, Urban One (formerly Radio One), Entercom, and iHeartMedia. As this blog noted last spring, consolidation in radio over the last two decades have led to more and more playlist decisions taken out of the hands of local station mangers and into those of national programmers.

In Chicago, iHeartMedia owns Urban AC WVAZ-FM (V103) and Urban Contemporary WGCI-FM; Entercom owns Classic Hip-Hop WBMX-FM (104.3 Jams) and Denver-based Crawford Broadcasting owns Urban Contemporary WPWX-FM (Power 92) and Urban AC WSRB-FM (Soul 106.3) – all have played some variation of Kelly’s music; in fact, WGCI was instrumental in the rise of R. Kelly in the first place. So far, none of these stations has publicity commented on Kelly or announced any plans to pull his music. However, one Chicago radio personality (Angi Taylor of Kiss 103.5) appeared at an anti-R Kelly protest Wednesday night at his West Loop recording studio. WKSC is a sister station to both WGCI and V103.

Both WGCI and Power 92 have been targeted in the past from community activists over music content. Several organizations have urged iHeart and UrbanOne to remove Kelly’s songs from their playlists.

Since the documentary aired, the Cook County State’s Attorney is urging anyone who was abused by Kelly to come focused, as Atlanta-area prosecutors have done likewise as he is accused of holding women against his will in a cult in Georgia. And already, there is an after-effect: ABC’s new sitcom Schooled pulled an R. Kelly song from Wednesday’s premiere episode. And the Chicago Tribune’s and Chicago Sun-Times’ editorial boards have weighed in, with the latter urging Kelly should be “muted”, as in #MuteRKelly” trending on Twitter.

Whether this latest controversy over Kelly affects his radio airplay remains to be seen. Even though the number of stations bailing out on Kelly is growing, keep in mind there is a significant amount of people who still support the disgraced R&B superstar, especially in his native Chicago as the saga has deeply divided the area’s African-American community. Local radio programmers know this as the controversy surrounding Kelly isn’t going to end anytime soon and any decision to drop Kelly from the airwaves won’t be an easy one.

(Editor’s note: An earlier draft of this story incorrectly stated R. Kelly’s full name.)

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D.C. programmer joins iHeartMedia Chicago

Howard hopes to take cluster to new level

There isn’t much going on in D.C. these days with the government shutdown, but one radio programmer is hoping to inject some excitement in the Chicago radio scene.

As first reported by Radio Insight last week, iHeartMedia Chicago has hired James Howard to become Senior Vice President of Programming for the six-station cluster and additionally, taking on duties as program director for Top 40 WKSC-FM (Kiss FM 103.5). Howard will report to Matt Scarano, who is iHeartMedia’s Chicago Market Manager.

Howard is coming over from iHeartMedia’s Washington D.C. cluster, where he was also Vice President of Programming. He replaces Tommy Austin in the role, who is heading to its national programming group.

In his sixteen years at iHeartMedia/Clear Channel, Howard has held programming positions in several markets, including Atlanta and Orlando. In Washington, three of iHeartMedia’s stations rank in the top ten. “James Howard has a winning track record,” said Scarano in a press release. “His breadth of knowledge, leadership and programming creativity will be a tremendous asset to our team.”

Howard is joining the cluster whose performance is mixed at best. While WKSC is beating longtime rival WBBM-FM (B96), the station only ranks twelfth in the market amid an ongoing creative slump in the Top 40 format right now. And given Howard’s experience as a rock programmer, there is already speculation surrounding the future of low-rated country music station WEBG-FM (Big 95.5.)

Other iHeartMedia stations in Chicago include top-rated urban adult contemporary WVAZ-FM (V103); urban contemporary WGCI-FM; adult contemporary WLIT-FM (The Lite); and gospel WGRB-AM.

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Broadcast networks to carry President Trump speech Tuesday night

Despite criticism of their news organizations.

For the first time since he’s taken office, President Donald Trump is giving a speech to the nation Tuesday night at 8 p.m local time on the issue of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. All the broadcast networks – especially CBS, NBC, and ABC announced Monday they would carry the speech, despite much hesitation. Fox Broadcasting, PBS, and locally, WGN-TV are also expected to carry the speech.

The move, of course was panned on social media by TV critics and others.

The four broadcast networks have new programming scheduled for Tuesday night at 8 p.m. – as of this writing, it is not known how those programs would be impacted.

You’d think after the President criticized the news divisions – especially those of the broadcast networks’, referring to them as “fake news” and “enemy of the people”, you think they would tell the President to take a hike, right?

Might want to think again. It’s far more complicated than that.

For one, even though a sitting President cannot force networks to carry any speeches, there is something called “public interest” they have to adhere to. Remember, the broadcast networks are carried by affiliates who are licensed by the FCC to use spectrum to beam pictures onto your fifty-inch Samsung TV at home. And those affiliates are a part of station groups who belong to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a lobbying organization whose been pushing Congress for decades to deregulate the industry – something Republicans have long supported.

For example, the station groups and the NAB have long advocated for the loosening and/or elimination of the station ownership cap, which stands at 39 percent coverage. With a Republican administration more sensitive to their needs than Democrats, they don’t want to… let’s say “upset the apple cart”.

Also, the group known for right-wing commentary on its local newscasts – the infamous Sinclair Broadcasting, has ties to the Trump administration. My guess is if the broadcast networks they were affiliated with didn’t carry the speech, they would, pre-empting programming in the process. I believe Sinclair – and other station groups (such as Nexstar, Tegna, Tribune, etc.) pressured them to carry his speech – there is too much at stake for them in their deregulation agenda not to. Keep in mind President Trump was in support of the Sinclair-Tribune deal before it fell apart and was upset when the FCC didn’t approve it.

It goes to show you how powerful these groups are with the networks – and the affiliate-network relationship isn’t exactly great. Last spring, Sinclair complained about the broadcast networks they’re affiliated with carrying “liberal propaganda” in the form of network newscasts and late-night talk shows – not to mention some prime-time programming. It’s an issue I brought up last spring here and is rooted in history as during the 1950s and 1960s, many Southern network affiliates – notably WLBT in Jackson, Miss. refused to carry programming featuring any African-American actors and blacked out news stories on the civil rights movement, pretending it was “cable trouble” as the station manger said the networks were promoting “Negro propaganda”. As late as 2009, an ABC affiliate in Macon, Ga. dropped the network over “objectionable programming”.

But rather than complain, the best way to deal with President Trump’s fake “national emergency” is to not tune in. But I know you will, and you’ll let me know how you feel on my Twitter feed, which you do everyday anyway. All I know is when it comes to the broadcasting industry, some communities’ “public interest” matters more than others – especially when a Republican administration is involved.

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