Chicago news media fails in protest coverage

Chicago Police car set abalze Saturday afternoon in River North neighborhood.

No live coverage of Saturday morning mayhem, ignores violence downtown for most part Saturday afternoon and early evening 

Local news media needs to explain the lack of coverage

When Chicago’s local news media signed off last night around 10:30 p.m., all seemed good: Chicago protests were tame compared to other places around the country where police clashed with protesters days after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, resulting in riots that has ravaged the Twin Cities for the last few days.

Or so we thought.

After midnight, the real chaos began downtown as protesters smashed windows, slashed police car tires, threw garbage cans, and engaged in mob action as vandals battled police on State Street and Wabash Avenue, stretching roughly from Lake Street to around Roosevelt Road. Another out of control protest took place today downtown, with more vandalism and looting.

Other cities have had similar protests and problems as well – New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Denver, Houston, etc. – taxing local news organizations across the country.

Live coverage on local TV news stations have been almost non-existent as outlets have stuck with regular programming, sports reruns, infomercials, and all. There was no live coverage whatsoever of the mayhem that took place early Saturday morning, even from radio stations and newspaper websites. The only coverage came from the #ChicagoScanner hashtag on Twitter and an online police scanner.

Protests outside Trump Tower. (NBC Chicago)

Even when they went live at 5 p.m. Saturday for their regular newscasts, the coverage of the protests on at least two stations were absolutely lousy – devoting little time to the mayhem going on downtown and instead focusing more on weather, suburban restaurants re-opening after being shuttered by Covid-19, and even sports segments when they are no sporting events going on. It’s as if the local news stations had absolutely no interest in covering the problems downtown. Even CNN devoted more coverage to what was happening in Chicago than the local stations were. 

Chicago wasn’t alone – in Los Angeles, local stations opted for pre-packaged stories on the protests instead of live coverage. In Detroit, a poster from an online message board noted NBC affiliate WDIV didn’t begin protest coverage until 11:30 p.m. while ABC affiliate WXYZ didn’t bother to cover them live at all outside of their regular newscasts.

It’s 6:52 p.m., and as I type this, a squad car was set on fire at Kinzie and Rush and looting was taking place as the local stations are airing regular programming (reruns) and one network-owned station is running an infomercial (guess which one.) Meanwhile, the Tribune and Sun-Times – not to mention several radio stations are updating the public either on-air or on social media. 

Local media outlets have been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic where staff have  been either furloughed or laid off, and the impacts are clearly being felt in the coverage (just this week, CBS 2 laid off a dozen staffers.) But there is really no excuse in barely covering what’s going on in the Loop – if you can find a way, damnit, find a way! Over the years, media consolidation has decimated newsrooms across the country as greedy broadcast companies have put profit over covering their communities. For example, locally-owned CLTV was shuttered last year after Irving, Tex.-owned Nexstar bought Chicago-based Tribune Broadcasting in a deal approved by three uncaring FCC Republican commissioners. 

And now we’re paying the price. 

As I said before, stations need to earn their licenses in serving the public – so far, they have failed in that mission. In fact, they’ve been failing in this mission for years as I pointed out last September on how Chicago media outlets cover crime and minority communities in general. 

The lack of local coverage we’re seeing tonight is the epitome of all this. It’s absolutely pathetic. 


Twin Cities riots tests patience, nerves

Media covers disturbances; radio station burns down

In what is being described as one of the nation’s worst case of racial disturbances since the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul were hit with an orgy of rioting and looting for the last two nights over the death of African-American resident George Floyd by Minneapolis police. 

Floyd was arrested Monday in south Minneapolis and was seen on video with a police officer kneeling on his neck, killing him. After waiting several days, the officer was finally arrested Friday afternoon and charged. 

The four officers involved in the case were fired, but it didn’t stop protests from taking place and on Wednesday, those protests turned into vandalism and arson heading into evening. By Thursday, the chaos spread into St. Paul with cameras catching people smashing police cars with bricks and looting a Target store (another Target store was looted Wednesday near the area where Floyd was arrested.) Target is headquartered in Minneapolis.  

The rioting continued into Thursday night, attracting the attention of the cable news networks and local Chicago stations, who devoted more time to the story than they did the previous night. Live coverage showed the 3rd District police station on fire and fires burning through Minneapolis and St. Paul. President Trump went on Twitter slamming Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey and using language reminiscent of Richard J. Daley’s “shoot-to-kill” orders during the 1968 riots on Chicago’s West Side after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

On Friday, a CNN reporter who is of African-American and Latino decent was arrested on-air – provoking outage from many, reminding those of the journalists who were roughed up by Ferguson, Mo. police during the Michael Brown saga (of whom I referred to as the “Barney Fife Police Force”.) He was released an hour later and the Minnesota Governor had to apologize to CNN. 

Friday night, protests have spread to other cities across the country, including New York and Los Angeles. In Atlanta, CNN headquarters were vandalized. Here in Chicago, a protest shut down Ida B. Wells Drive, but no other serious incidents have taken place as of this writing. 

Local media kept viewers on top of the chaos with all four local news stations pre-empted programming Thursday night in the 15th-largest television market. 

CBS O&O WCCO-TV provided live coverage through its newly launched CBSN Minnesota news channel while live coverage could also be accessed from the websites of Fox-owned KMSP and Hubbard’s ABC affiliate KSTP – however, the latter suffered from buffering glitches. 

NBC affiliate KARE was the biggest fail of the evening, with the Tegna-owned station failing to provide a link to its live coverage on the front page of its website. 

Also keeping tabs were Entercom’s WCCO-AM; MPR;  the websites of the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press; and alt-news City Pages. 

Outside of the CNN incident, there were no attacks on the media covering the event (as opposed to the ’92 L.A. riots, where local stations’ and CNN’s vans and equipment were damaged and vandalized), but one local radio station lost its facilities. Situated in the area near the 3rd police district headquarters, the studios of Spanish-language KMNV-FM (branded as La Raza 95.7) were lost in the fires. Via Facebook, the station – which employs a Regional Mexican music format, stated the following in both English and Spanish: “As you may already know, the building where our facilities were located was burned down by the same horde that looted dozens of businesses along Lake St. without the authorities intervening to contain them. Right now we are evaluating the options we have and through social media we will be informing you.”

The station was located on the corner of Lake and 27th Avenue and is owned by Santamaria Broadcasting. It was knocked off the air Wednesday evening as their power was cut and is not broadcasting online. 

Whether the impact of these riots on the Minneapolis-St. Paul market remains to be seen. Already, the area’s television and radio stations were suffering from ad cancellations due to Covid-19, as businesses were forced to close amid the pandemic as top-rated WCCO-TV was able to escape the layoffs other CBS-owned stations endured earlier in the week. Before the pandemic, the Twin Cities was generally regarded as one of the strongest media markets in the Midwest, compared to struggling peers Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cleveland as each have lost population within the last decade – even as crime has been an issue in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Whether the Twin Cities can maintain that strength now seems to be in question. 

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CBS lays off staff, including Chicago’s CBS 2

More than a dozen staffers let go, including longtime investigative reporter Pam Zekman 

[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.] 

Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Pam Zekman was one of a dozen staffers let go at CBS-owned WBBM-TV Wednesday as parent company ViacomCBS made 300 to 400 layoffs at CBS Entertainment Group.  

It appears CBS 2 bore the brunt of the layoffs, first reported by Robert Feder. Among the names released were news anchor Erin Kennedy, sports anchor Megan Mawicke, reporters Mai Martinez and Mike Puccinelli and meteorologist Megan Glaros. 

Other CBS-owned station layoffs announced thus far was Baltimore reporter Mike Schuh and Pat Warren, who were laid off at WJZ-TV; KDKA in Pittsburgh laid off anchors Susan Koeppen and Rick Dayton; and KCBS/KCAL laid off anchors Jeff Michael and Sharon Kay, and meteorologist Garth Kemp.  Like CBS 2 here, KCBS ranks at the bottom of the news ratings while WJZ and KDKA each top the competition in their respective markets.

Philadelphia’s KYW-TV also laid off more than a dozen people. CBS News was also hard hit, including longtime correspondent Dean Reynolds. 

The layoffs come as the coronavirus pandemic has decimated advertising revenue, falling as much by half – and even more in some cases as businesses closed and slashed their ad budgets. Radio has been hit the hardest as iHeartMedia, Cumulus, and Hubbard have all have either furloughed or laid off staff locally in the last two months. Outside of station group owner Tegna, most television broadcasting companies have been spared – until now. Viacom and CBS re-combined last year after spitting apart in 2005 as Viacom and CBS Corporation, respectively. 

CBS has always had a reputation for layoffs and cutting costs, starting in the mid-1980s under former owner Larry Tisch, who took control of the company at the time. Wednesday’s action comes to mind a similar layoff by CBS in 2008, on the brink of the Great Recession. Another huge layoff made by CBS in 1996 saw seven anchors and reporters from New York’s WCBS-TV fired in a story that made the front page of the New York Post. 

Last year, CBS 2 cut Marissa Bailey and Rob Johnson. 

The move by CBS 2 ends a long run for Zekman, who joined WBBM as an investigative reporter in 1981 at a time when the station dominated the local news ratings, led by anchors Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson. Even though the station has been numerous eras (including a tabloid TV), Zekman’s investigative reports were always must-see TV. Before joining WBBM, Zekman worked at the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and won two Pulitzer prizes. 

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WIND-AM’s Amy Jacobson lands in hot water with Governor

Protesters at a “Reopen Illinois” rally at the Thompson Center last week, with some carrying anti-Semitic signs. (Forbes)

Barred from daily press briefings, but can still submit questions

Another embarrassing moment for Chicago radio 

In a move many are criticizing, WIND-AM talk show co-host Amy Jacobson was removed from the press pool of the Governor’s daily coronavirus press briefings on Tuesday after she spoke at a “Reopen Illinois” rally in front of the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago Saturday. 

As first reported by Robert Feder Tuesday morning, the decision was made by Governor J. B. Pritzker’s press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh, pointing out the rally also contained Nazi imagery as many protesters held up signs mocking the governor, who is Jewish. Jacobson pointed this out on Twitter Saturday, saying the rhetoric had no place at the rally. 

Jacobson can still submit questions, but it would be up to reporters whether or not to accept them. 

Meant to protest Governor Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders keeping most businesses closed due to the pandemic, the Reopen Illinois rally was held in Chicago and another taking place in Springfield. Reopen Illinois was sponsored by a conservative PAC group based in southwest suburban Joliet and speakers included Illinois Republican President Tim Schneider and Erich “Mancow” Muller, who is on opposite Jacobson and co-host Dan Proft mornings on Cumulus’ WLS-AM. 

The rallies have become a rallying cry among many conservatives across the country – especially in states with Democrat governors including Illinois, California, New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The chasm comes as many rural and suburban municipalities have recorded a lower Covid-19 rate than many urban and more-populated areas.  There is also an added racial dimension, as the areas with the highest Covid-19 rates are in minority communities.

For example, the mostly-Hispanic community of Belmont Craigin on the Northwest Side had one of the highest rates, as does many zip codes on Chicago’s South and West sides, west suburban Maywood and Bellwood, and the south suburbs – home to most of the area’s African-American population. 

By comparison, mostly white communities in Kane, McHenry, Kendall, and DuPage counties have rates substantially lower as many political leaders are now also calling for Pritzker to re-open the state. The crowd at both rallies were predominately white. 

There were complaints by many in Chicago’s press corps about Jacobson’s decision to speak at the rally, given she’s a journalist and raises serious conflict of interest issues. But Salem-owned WIND management stood by Jacobson, questioning the way Pritzker takes, um… questions from the press. On her radio show with Proft, Jacobson criticized Pritzker for the way he handled the shutdown during the pandemic.  

This is not the first time Jacobson has been embroiled in a ethical controversy. In 2007, a photographer shot footage of Jacobson – then employed at NBC-owned WMAQ as a reporter- at a household who was the subject of a missing persons investigation in a bikini. The footage was sent CBS-owned WBBM-TV and shown on-air (I documented how all of this unfolded.) Jacobson was later dismissed by WMAQ, and landed in radio at WLS-AM and later at WIND. 

On Tuesday night, Jacobson fired back at her critics (like myself) in a tweet about “haters” bringing up the Stebic stuff from 13 years ago. 

The only reason me and others brought this up is not to be disrespectful to the Stebic family, but to point out a pattern of her violating ethic rules in journalism. For one thing, this woman is very lucky to still be employed in Chicago media as for we all know, if she were a woman of color pulling this, her career would have been over a long time ago. 

It also says a lot about her employer, who is basically one of the worst radio companies in America – famously known for letting former Rep. Joe Walsh keep his job after numerous controversial comments (he left the station last year for an ill-fated run against President Trump.) Certainly, WIND could have sent someone else. 

But this also says a lot how people like Jacobson and Mancow continue to hang around Chicago radio – management who hire them time and time again while diversity in local talk radio is lacking behind the scenes and on the air at the mercy of those who refuse learn their lessons from past mistakes. Seems appropriate their fanbase is a bunch of deranged lunatics starved for attention knowing their boy probably won’t win in November.

It’s beyond pathetic. 

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Storms, flooding knock out local stations’ signals

A past photo of Willis Tower getting struck by lightning. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CBS 2, CW 26, others lose signals for the day; WLS-FM, WFMT also forced off air 

(Editor’s Note: This post was updated at 12:37 a.m. on May 20.) 

A massive rainstorm Sunday evening wrecked havoc in the Chicago area, flooding numerous streets, including Lower Wacker Drive and the already-closed riverwalk. Nearly four inches fell at O’Hare while over eight inches were tabulated in west suburban River Forest. 

The flooding also forced the closure of Willis Tower, as it knocked out a ComEd substation – including power to the transmitter, forcing several local over-the-air TV stations and their respective digital subchannels off the air. 

Stations affected were CBS-owned WBBM-TV, WTTW, WYCC, WWME (MeTV), WCIU (CW 26), WCPX (Ion), WMEU (The U), and WJYS. Other TV and radio stations weren’t affected as they switched to backups at either the formerly-named John Hancock Center or at the Prudential Building. 

There reportedly was no interruption for Comcast or WOW! cable subscribers, but there was for DirecTV and Dish customers. While a few local stations were knocked off of DirecTV, WBBM was replaced by their sister flagship station WCBS-TV from New York City, syndicated programming and New York ads included. For example, CBS Television Distribution’s Inside Edition – which usually airs at 7 p.m. ET on WCBS, aired at 6 p.m. over DirecTV’s Channel 2 here (Inside generally airs at 3 p.m. on ABC-owned WLS-TV, but has been pre-empted for the last two months by Gov. Pritzker’s daily coronavirus press briefings.) 

There was no luck for fans of CW programming, whose WCIU on the channel 26 position on DirecTV was still blacked out. As of this writing, none of the stations have been able to restore their over-the-air signal as Willis Tower remains without power. 

The floods also knocked out the signal for Cumulus’ WLS-FM and classical music WFMT, but WLS-FM’s signal have since been restored. Both stations have facilities at Willis. 

Already, posters of a local message board are reporting the signals of WBBM and WCIU have landed on other over-the-air stations. WBBM has temporarily replaced Light TV on WFLD-Ch. 32.4 (albeit with messed-up sound mixing.) WBBM’s digital channel on WMEU’s 48.3 was also knocked out by the flood. 

WTTW returned to DirecTV Tuesday afternoon but with a national PBS feed in standard definition with no local content. WTTW and other stations are still off the air as of Tuesday evening. 

Late Tuesday, Weigel’s CW 26 and MeTV returned to the air on DirecTV. 

There is no word on when power would return to Willis Tower. 

Check back here or @tdogmedia on Twitter for updates. 

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Blago’s Back: Cumulus lands former Governor

Do the time, land a radio show

It seems there’s a common thing in Chicago radio where if you go to prison, you wind up with a job in radio. 

The perception was never more true than on Thursday when Cumulus Media – owner of conservative-talk WLS-AM, classic hits WLS-FM, and alternative WKQX-FM in Chicago, announced they signed former Illinois governor Rod Blagoveich to host a podcast called The Lightning Rod every Wednesday beginning on May 20.

Blagoveich was sent to prison for trying to sell a senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he became President and was sentenced to 14 years. Current president Donald Trump commuted his sentence in February (of course, appearing on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice back in the day didn’t hurt.) 

Thanks to the 45th President springing him out, Blagojevich has become a fan of Trump, labeling himself as a “Trumpocrat”. 

Cumulus market manager Marv Nyven – the same one who brought Mancow Muller back from the gutter last year despite past legal wrangling between the two, said in a statement “Blagoveich is a polarizing political figure who served his time and now he’s serving up the truth, only on WLS-AM. It will be messy, it will be raw and it will be ROD as you have never heard him before.”

Blagojevich has appeared on WLS-AM before; he hosted a few times between 2009 and 2011, before he went to prison. 

“After a long exile, I made it home”, the former Governor said in a statement. “It’s a brand new day. I’m finally free and fired up to speak my mind, provide insights from the inside, and share what I’ve learned from the school of hard knocks.”

Cumulus declined to comment further beyond the press release. Despite Nyren’s odious claim in the press release about him being on WLS-AM, he will not appear on the station’s actual air, at least for now. His weekly show is available only via download and on-demand listening, and is available on a variety of platforms including iHeartRadio and iTunes. 

Hiring convicted felons to host radio shows is nothing new – in fact, it’s basically unique to Chicago. Former alderman Cliff Kelley did a daily radio show for WVON-AM for years, while WGN-AM employed another disgraced alderman, Jim Laski from 2008 to 2010 during the Sam Zell-Randy Michaels era at Tribune Broadcasting. 

Perhaps the best thing about this venture is Blagojevich’s show is it’s only available on podcast and on-demand streaming, so he’ll be basically easy to avoid. Of course, there will be a few who is curious to see what he has to say. Whether this would turn into a full-time gig for Blagojevich remains to be seen, but this news is already “bleepin’ golden” for Cumulus Chicago. 


PPM ratings: WBBM Newsradio 780 dominates during pandemic

Station remains on top as Felicia Middlebrooks departs

The first PPM survey released in the Covid-19 era showed Entercom’s WBBM-AM dominating the ratings as listeners are tuning in to the latest coronavirus-related information.

With the period covering March 26 to April 22, the station swept all dayparts (with the exception of middays, where WBBM finished second to WDRV-FM/The Drive.) Also benefiting were other news/talk stations WGN-AM with their highest ranking (third) since the early 2000s and public radio’s WBEZ-FM, who finished fourth overall and on top in the 25-54 demo.

Conservative talk WLS-AM also scored a ratings increase, up 14 percent from the last period.

WBBM’s morning team of Pat Cassidy and Felicia Middlebrooks helped guide the Entercom-owned station to a easy morning drive victory. But Wednesday, Middlebrooks announced her departure from the station after 36 years to form her new multimedia production company, Saltshaker Productions. She’s also launching a new podcast She Matters, focusing on issues mattering to women.

“On May 29, I’m dropping the mic, at least for daily radio news. I’m not retiring. I’m rewiring,” Middlebrooks wrote in a letter to listeners and colleagues (which you can read in full here.) “Just to be clear, I’ve been working on this next level plan for nearly a decade.  This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, and it is MY decision.”

After several small-market radio jobs, the Gary, Ind.-born Middlebrooks was hired as an intern at CBS-owned WBBM-TV in 1982 and switched to its then-sister radio station two years later, becoming the first African-American woman in the country to co-anchor morning news on a major AM station and she lasted 36 years -far longer than most solo radio gigs in this market in any daypart. It’s her longevity and her familiarity with listeners is one of the reasons WBBM is on top in morning drive.

While it is funny in any other circumstance, the “Bye, Felicia” joke from the movie Friday should not apply here as Middlebrooks is anything but inconsequential, and she is definitely going to be missed.

Elsewhere, several music stations – The Drive excluded – had a much tougher book this time around as listeners migrated to news/talk stations. Declines were clocked at numerous AC, CHR, and rock stations not only here, but in New York and Los Angeles. However, some of those stations fared better in their key demos. For example, WGCI moved back into the top ten in 25-54s and also did well in 18-34s, while The Drive finished first in 18-34s. Regional Mexican WLEY also scored a decisive victory over rival WOJO by zooming up the 18-34 and 18-49 demo charts.

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Sinclair slapped with $48 million FCC fine






Closes book on botched Tribune deal

In one of the biggest fines ever levied against a broadcast company, the FCC fined Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcasting $48 million Wednesday for misrepresenting themselves in their pursuit of Chicago-based Tribune Broadcasting, which was later sold to Nexstar. 

The fine and consent decree also closes three investigations into the company, including its conduct over selling stations at below market prices and skirting the ownership laws to maintain control over them; the failure to negotiate restransmission fees with cable and satellite companies in good faith; and violating FCC rules regarding sponsor identification during newscasts and other programs. Sinclair had to amend their sales proposal numerous times, including selling WPIX in New York and WGN-TV in Chicago to Sinclair-connected “shell” companies. For example, Sinclair planned to sell WGN to a used car dealer in Maryland for only $60 million – the value point well below the last major sale of a Chicago commercial station, Fox’s purchase of WPWR-TV for $425 million in 2002. 

“Sinclair’s conduct during its attempt to merge with Tribune was completely unacceptable,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Today’s penalty, along with the failure of the Sinclair-Tribune transaction, should serve as a cautionary tale to other licensees seeking commission approval of a transaction in the future.” 

But when it came to the company’s right-wing commentary on their newscasts, Pai defended their right to air them.

“On the other hand, I disagree with those who, for transparently political reasons, demand that we revoke Sinclair’s licenses.” Pai continued. “While they don’t like what they perceive to be the broadcaster’s viewpoints, the First Amendment still applies around here.”

The oddity of this part of the statement is while he crows about maintaining First Amendment principles, it sure didn’t apply to the Super Bowl “Nipplegate” controversy and NYPD Blue indecency cases in 2004 as the FCC under the last Republican chairman (Kevin Martin) fined numerous CBS-owned and ABC-owned stations WLS-TV in Chicago and KTRK in Houston, respectively. It smacks of hypocrisy at its worst.  

The revocation of Sinclair’s licenses were never really in doubt as it is a rare for the FCC to yank licenses. The last FCC revocation took place in 1990 when the agency opted not to renew the license of Spanish-language Telemundo affiliate WSNS-TV in a confusing and complex case involving two local business groups as the station was accused of airing scrambled soft-core porn movies in the early 1980s as part of the ONTV subscription service, which was discontinued on July 1, 1985. The FCC’s move was panned by Latino community leaders and Hispanic members of the Chicago City Council, fearing the new licensee would deprive the community of a vital voice. Telemundo later bought WSNS; NBC would later purchase Telemundo, making WSNS and WMAQ-TV duopoly partners. 

The FCC also revoked licenses for WLBT in Jackson, Miss. in 1971 over civil rights violations and Boston’s Channel 5 (the original WHDH) in 1969 and Channel 7 (WNAC)  in 1980, giving the city the dubious distinction of the only American TV market whose stations lost their FCC license twice.  

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WGN America to launch “NewsNation” Sept. 1

Ambitious effort comes in the middle of pandemic; CBSN Chicago finally launches

During a conference earnings call Wednesday, Nexstar – owner of WGN-TV in Chicago and  former superstation WGN America, detailed more information on their new venture for their cable network, NewsNation. 

“This will be hard news, 100% absent of bias,” Nexstar CEO Perry Sook said. “We’re so serious about that we’re hiring a panel of rhetoricians to review our broadcasts for unconscious bias that may creep into the words we use and the reporting that we do.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the process of hiring has been slow – just 30 to 40 people out of the 140 planned employees have been hired thus far for the new prime-time project, scheduled to run on WGN America seven nights a week from 7 to 10 p.m. local time (repeating from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.) with 197 Nexstar stations contributing content. NewsNation is currently building a state-of-the art studio at WGN-TV’s studios on Bradley Place. The big selling point is the channel is aimed at the “heartland”, a.k.a. anywhere outside of New York and Los Angeles, the nation’s two largest media markets, and Washington, D.C., the sixth-largest.

The new effort is scheduled to premiere September 1, weeks before the prime-time season begins. 

A few weeks ago, Nexstar unveiled a new multimedia marketing website promoting NewsNation, touting its heartland location with an “all-original format”emphasizing on live pictures and breaking news. Nexstar also plans to develop a website, mobile app, and smart TV options for NewsNation.

Sook said there is a need for unbiased journalism. “From my barber to certain investors, people have said that the timing for this couldn’t be better,” Sook said on the conference call. “The country just wants straight news, no opinion and they’ll make their own decisions.”

The new NewsNation is going head-to-head with opinion shows on cable news networks Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. Fox News alone generally draws anywhere between three to five million viewers a night with its pro-Trump programming. 

NewsNation is creating an advertiser-friendly environment for marketers who avoid scheduling ads in or around controversial opinion shows and to attract viewers who are looking for hard news. “Advertisers know that the value of live programming, from a ratings standpoint, is much stronger than running off-network sitcoms or hour-long dramas,” NewsNation sales and marketing executive vice-president Dave Rotem said.  “Viewers watching news are more engaged and more likely to make purchasing decisions.”  If anything, the newscasts should improve WGN America’s prime-time ratings. 

Meanwhile, the other big news project in this town arrived on April 21 as CBS-owned WBBM-TV finally launched its 24/7 streaming service CBSN Chicago. Announced last year, the CBS-owned stations would create 24/7 local news streaming services for each of their individual markets.

Naturally, CBS launched the local versions of its online CBSN service in New York and Los Angeles from the newsrooms of WCBS-TV in December 2018 and KCBS-TV in January 2019, respectively. But the nation’s third-largest CBS-owned station had to sit and wait behind smaller CBS-owned markets such as Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Denver, and Pittsburgh.

Adding to the wait, the coronavirus pandemic delayed hiring to staff the new venture. For now, the channel is airing encore telecasts of CBS 2’s newscasts, but it is not known when the station would be able to add original content. The channel was meant to fill the void left by the closure of CLTV by Nexstar late last year.

CBS plans to launch the last four O&O local news streaming services in Baltimore, Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Sacramento later this year, likely with the same encore news format CBS 2 currently has in the interim. CBS owns four other stations (Detroit, Atlanta, Seattle, and Tampa-St. Pete – the latter three are CW affiliates only), but has no plans to launch any local news streaming services in those markets.

CBSN Chicago and all of the CBS-owned local streaming services are available on, the station’s websites, and the CBS Local app available on numerous platforms. 

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Hubbard makes cuts; WTMX, WSHE hit hardest

Radio clusters in Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis hit hardest; TV side spared (for now) 

It was Minneapolis-based Hubbard Broadcasting’s turn to trim its workforce due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic –  and Chicago was hit very hard.

Robert Feder reported Friday afternoon of a dozen cuts at Hubbard’s cluster. Among those whose jobs were eliminated include evening personality Phil Manicki and overnight host Greg Easterling from classic rock WDRV-FM (The Drive); evening personality Brian Middleton and producer/on-air personality Robb Rose from WSHE-FM; and producer Cynthia DeNicolo and social media manager Melissa Dever from WTMX’s Eric In The Morning.

Six other employees in other various roles were also eliminated.

The moves come as radio companies are being hit hard nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic as businesses were forced to close due to numerous stay-at-home orders, drying up crucial advertising revenue (though according to some listeners, the amount of commercial time on radio stations has somehow remained the same.) Entercom, Cumulus, and iHeartMedia are among those big radio chains who announced layoffs since March. Earlier this week, iHeartMedia forced any employee who earned more than $50,000 in salary to take two weeks unpaid leave – and that’s on top of the ninety-day furloughs many iHeartMedia employees were forced to take. 

Chicago wasn’t the only market affected by the cuts.

In Hubbard’s flagship market of Minneapolis-St.Paul, ESPN affiliate KSTP-AM has dismantled its experimental “Skor North” format, leaving six personalities out of work. Content director Phil Mackey explained more in this letter he posted to listeners. In the interim, KSTP plans to rely more on ESPN-syndicated content though an hour of Minnesota Vikings content (where the “Skor” name originated from) from 5-6 p.m.

In St. Louis, sports talker WXOS-AM let morning personality Bernie Miklasz go, but is retaining its live and local format for most of the day. Three other on-air personalities were dropped from the St. Louis cluster, as was the program director for country station WIL-FM, Danny Montana. In all, twenty employees were let go from the cluster. 

Also, eleven employees were let go from Hubbard’s Cincinnati cluster, though none were on-air staff. Cutbacks were also reported at Washington D.C.’s all-news powerhouse, WTOP-AM. Layoffs were also reported in Phoenix and Seattle. Last month, Hubbard fired Seattle-based syndicated morning host Jubal Fresh after going AWOL from his job after three months. His former Brooke and Jubal morning show – now retitled Brooke and Jeremy In The Morning – airs on WSHE.

Even though Hubbard’s radio properties were decimated by layoffs, the television side – including Minneapolis ABC affiliate KSTP and independent KSTC among others, were not affected.

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ESPN scores ratings win with “The Last Dance”

Debut of highly-anticipated documentary series doesn’t disappoint in the ratings or quality department.

The premiere of the documentary chronicling the Chicago Bulls’ final championship season proved to be the draw it was supposed to be.

The ten-hour series The Last Dance was originally supposed to premiere on ESPN in June, but was moved up to April as the coronavirus pandemic wiped out live sporting events across the globe, leaving ESPN and other national and regional sports networks with little fresh material to air.

The Last Dance’s first two episodes drew a big crowd Sunday night to ESPN and ESPN 2, drawing an average of 6.1 million live viewers from 8-10 p.m. Central Time.  In the all-important adult 18-49 demo, Dance averaged a 2.7 rating during the two hours, easily beating everything on the broadcast networks including NCIS: New Orleans and American Idol.

Breaking down both hours, Dance drew 6.3 million viewers on ESPN and ESPN 2 and the second hour drew 5.8 million viewers among both networks. ESPN 2 aired a “bleeped” version of the documentary, but in all, only a handful of “f-bombs” were present in the broadcast.

The numbers gave ESPN its most-watched original program since 2004 when it aired You Don’t Know Bo, which drew 3.6 million viewers. In 2016, a ten-part documentary O.J.: Made in America’s premiere drew a 3.4 million. The first two episodes of The Last Dance are now ESPN’s most-watched documentaries ever.

This is the second straight weekend an offering on cable bested programming on the broadcast networks. On April 11, Lifetime’s original movie on the Detroit-based gospel group The Clark Sisters drew 2.7 million viewers and a 0.7 rating in the adult 18-49 (and a 0.9 in women 18-49) – beating everything on the broadcast networks in both demos.

Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson celebrate their sixth and final NBA championship together. (JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)

Locally, The Last Dance was a big hit, drawing a 12.6 household rating for the first hour and an 11.7 rating for the second, averaging a 12.1 rating for both hours (numbers for both the ESPN and ESPN 2 telecasts are included in the total.) By comparison, the last cable documentary originating in Chicago – CNN’s much criticized eight-part Chicagoland in 2014, the first episode earned only a 1.8 household rating, giving Dance a whopping 600 percent advantage. Nationally, Dance’s 6.3 million first-episode viewers dwarfed Chicagoland’s 629,000 by a staggering 902 percent.

Utilizing smart TV data provided by Inscape, Chicago was the top DMA for Dance, followed by three other Illinois markets – Peoria-Bloomington, Rockford, and Champaign-Springfield-Decatur (St. Louis – which has numerous Illinois markets in its DMA known as MetroEast, did not place in the top five.) Other areas with high viewership include Jonesboro, Ark. (near where Scottie Pippen grew up) and Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, in Michael Jordan’s home state of North Carolina. Raleigh had the second highest TV rating for the docuseries (6.5); Charlotte the fourth-highest (4.5).

While many were comparing last night’s ratings for The Last Dance to the Bulls’ ratings during the 1997-98 season (where they easily topped every program in the market – even Seinfeld, which was the top-rated program nationally), keep in mind today’s viewers watch TV differently than they did back then. The Last Dance was repeated at 11 p.m. and at midnight, not to mention numerous viewers who were watching via DVR. Netflix plans to release the documentary to its service July 19.

Response to The Last Dance – during the program and before it aired based on reviews from TV critics has been phenomenal with a 91 Metacritic rating and an outstanding 100 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

The first two episodes of The Last Dance were certainly impressive. A camera crew followed the team during the 1997-98 season before the team went their separate ways – a notion a lot of people figured as tensions between the team and management were on clear display. As contracts were expiring, then-coach Phil Jackson dubbed the season “The Last Dance”.

Giving interviews were Pippen, Jordan, Jackson, and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, among others – and even footage of Bob Costas was shown when he was calling Bulls games for WGN during the 1979-80 season. The premiere of the ESPN documentary received considerable hype in local media – even on rival news stations (ESPN owner Disney also owns ABC 7, aka WLS-TV in Chicago.)

The Last Dance continues on ESPN and ESPN 2 for the next four Sundays.

(Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated The Last Dance would be available on Netflix two days after airing. It has since been corrected. – T.H.)

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PPM Ratings: WBBM Newsradio dominates amid Covid crisis

All-news station remains on top; conservative talkers fail to benefit.

(Editor’s Note: This piece incorrectly reported Top 40 outlet WBBM-FM declined significantly in overall numbers from two months ago when they actually went up, from 2.6 to 2.8. T Dog Media apologizes for the error. – T.H.)   

While many radio stations are struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic as , at least more listeners are tuning in to them to get news and information around the country.

Chicago was no different as news and regular talk stations saw sharp increases from two months ago as Entercom’s WBBM-AM and WCFS-FM easily topped the market in March with a 45 percent advantage over second-place WVAZ-FM (V103).

Nexstar’s WGN-AM also saw a huge surge with a fifth-place finish with its strong performance in several months. And public radio’s WBEZ-FM finished right behind WGN in sixth. Public radio stations did well in other large markets too, with New York’s WNYC and San Francisco’s KQED-FM finishing in the top five.

The survey period – from February 27 to March 25 was basically split in half – one was before the coronavirus pandemic hit and the second basically came after March 11 when a Utah Jazz player tested positive for Covid-19 and the NBA wound up suspending the season as stay-in-home orders ramped up shortly thereafter.

Conservative talker WLS-AM – did not benefit from the expanded coronavirus news coverage as their numbers slipped  a bit from last month and finished in 21st place. (Chicago’s other conservative talk outlet – WIND-AM – does not subscribe to Nielsen.) This appears to be the case in a few large markets as well, as similar stations didn’t grow their audience amid the pandemic as most were either flat or down slightly over the last two months.

Without any live games, both all-sports stations (WSCR/The Score and WMVP/ESPN 1000) were also down from two months ago.

It was a mixed bag for FM music stations as many were flat or down in this book. While Hot AC outlet The Mix (WTMX) was down a bit overall, it finished first in key demos including adults 18-49 and adults 25-54. Top 40 WKSC-FM was down significantly in overall numbers (while rival WBBM-FM went up a bit), but both fared much better in key 18-34 demo where WKSC placed first. And classic rocker The Drive (WDRV) – who recently launched a another television campaign – this time featuring everyday Chicagoans “rockin’ on” (from their homes), finished third overall and in their key adult 25-54 demo and tied for fifth in 18-49.

Even though all-news WBBM did top locally, music stations in New York and Los Angeles still held the top spots in overall rankings with adult contemporary WLTW-FM topping in the former and classic hits KRTH-FM finishing first in the latter.

Of course, this is only half the story. We’ll see how listening trends are for April when the next survey is released a month from now as most of the country – and all of Chicagoland – are under some kind of stay-at-home order.


The Media Notepad: WGCI announces new evening personality

Also: Jonathan Brandmeier returns with a podcast; daytime talkers perform from home; changes at Tamron Hall.

Even though iHeartMedia and other radio companies are either furloughing or laying off employees due to the loss of advertising revenue caused by COVID-19, one station did manage to announce a promotion: iHeart’s WGCI announced last Tuesday that Zach Boog is the new evening personality at urban contemporary WGCI-FM. 

A stand-up comic who graduated from Tennessee State University, Boog joined WGCI as a part-timer in 2017 from Nashville urban contemporary station, WUBT-FM (The Beat.) Prior to his promotion, Boog was doing fill-in and weekend work at WGCI. He replaces DJ MoonDawg (Michael Muniz) who was laid off in January after six years as he became a victim of iHeartMedia’s restructuring process. More than one hundred personalities were laid off nationwide – including top-rated personality Chris Michaels at sister station V103 (WVAZ-FM), whose evening slot was replaced by a syndicated show hosted by Keith Sweat.

“I grew up listening to 107.5 WGCI. It is a dream and an absolute honor to take over nights at this legendary station. I couldn’t be more excited for what the future holds.” Boog said in a statement. Boog is a native of Gary, Ind., home to musical artists Deniece Williams and of course, the Jacksons.

On a separate note, iHeartMedia Chicago has launched “Healing Chicago Together”, an initiative to help nonprofits, businesses, and restaurants during the coronavirus crisis. All have been affected as stay-at-home orders have crippled the local economy.

The Brandmeier Broadcast System is back on the air: yes, legendary Chicago radio personality Jonathan Brandmeier, re-launched his website recently and tested the waters for a possible podcast last weekend with a three-hour live-streamed program Saturday morning, now available on-demand titled “Showcast Episode 1 – The SH*t Show” – which can used to describe… well, let’s just say a lot going on right on.

Here’s  what the website described:You weren’t dreaming…Jonathon Brandmeier WAS streaming. And now it’s a podcast. Here’s what happened, unfiltered and unedited, as we tested the all new Brandmeier Broadcast System.”

Is there going to be more podcasts on the way? Brandmeier told Robert Feder “More, more, and more is coming.” And this weekend, Brandmeier delivered with a second live-streamed show and podcast. Titled “Woo Woo”, it featured Cubs fan Ronnie “woo Woo” and an archived segment featuring the late George Carlin.

Brandmeier was best known for his stint at The Loop (WLUP-FM) from 1983 to 1996 and again from 2005 to 2009. The Radio Hall of Famer was also employed at WGN-AM and WLS-AM, where he left in 2016.

Several syndicated talk shows are slowly returning to the air – but in a limited capacity, as many of their hosts did segments from home.

Ellen DeGeneres returned on April 6, stating she hopes her Warner Bros.-distributed show can serve as a distraction from what’s going on in the world. “I wanted to start doing my new show as soon as possible because it’s really for people who are stuck at home,” she said. “Especially my staff and crew. I love them. I miss them, and the best way I can support them is to keep the show on the air.”

Others who decided to return – albeit on a limited basis include Kelly Clarkson, who is shooting segments of her show from her ranch in Montana, and Rachael Ray, who is doing at least a few shows per week from her home in upstate New York. One of the oddest returns? Wendy Williams, who did her show April 6 from her New York City apartment amid a chirping smoke alarm and her two cats running around all over the place.

The rush to return has come as homes-using-television levels have surged in daytime and many shows – on the three major networks and in syndication are scoring numbers not seen in years. For one, Live With Kelly and Ryan topped all talk shows in syndication last week with a 2.6 rating, despite airing predominately in mornings at either 9 or 10 a.m. and is not subject to pre-emptions from press conferences later in the day. But so far, the constant interruptions hasn’t had much of an impact on the ratings for syndicated daytime fare as Judge Judy – whose show is ending in its current format next year- remained on top, despite President Trump pre-empting the show in Chicago and elsewhere.

Is there trouble ahead for Tamron Hall’s talk show? Two weeks ago, Bill Geddie departed his position as executive producer of the Disney-ABC syndicated talk show, and replaced by The View’s Candi Carter. According to the New York Post, Geddie – also a veteran of The View – did not see eye-to-eye with Hall on how the show is run. The tensions reportedly arose over Geddie wanting to pursue former Fox News Channel host and Inside Edition anchor Bill O’Reilly as a guest.

Also out is co-exec producer Talia-Parkinson-Jones.

Like all talk shows, Tamron Hall is on production hiatus but has been doing her show from her home (like others, as noted above) with several segments airing on the syndicated program. But on April 6, Chicago viewers had to tune in earlier to watch as CW 26 (WCIU) moved Hall’s show to 10 a.m. and restored Warner Bros.’ The People’s Court at 4 p.m., the show Hall replaced last September as it’s believed she was drawing lower ratings than Court did in the early fringe time period. Worse for her, Hall’s show is now on opposite The View, Wendy Williams, and Rachael Ray.

Hall’s show remains in prime-time at 8 p.m. on The U (WCIU 26.2/WMEU 48.1), but is not available to all Chicago viewers without an antenna.

Tamron Hall was renewed for a second season back in December despite so-so ratings (1.0 in the last Nielsen ratings report, ranking near the bottom of the syndicated talk show category.) There is no word if CW 26 was among those who renewed the show, and if it turns out Weigel declined to bring Hall back for a second season, Nexstar’s WGN-TV does have an 1 p.m. slot open, soon to be vacated by the now-canceled Mel Robbins Show.

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Entercom, iHeartMedia announce layoffs and furloughs

Thanks to coronavirus pandemic, tough times for radio just got together

Two of radio’s biggest chains announce layoffs and furloughs as the economy continues to collapse amid the coronavirus epidemic infecting the globe with Entercom and iHeartMedia announcing a reduction of their workforce, suspension of 401k contributions and pay cuts.

Entercom announced Thursday morning numerous layoffs across its clusters nationwide, including here in Chicago. Notable names being cut include WUSN-FM PD Kenny Jay and WSCR-AM host Julie DiCaro.

Entercom’s Milwaukee cluster has also laid off WSSP-AM host Chuck Freimund after an eleven-year run.

Connor Knight announced on Twitter today was his last day at WSCR.

Others released from Entercom Chicago include WUSN afternoon host Kasper and B96 afternoon host Eric Tyler. Promotions people from the company were also laid off.

The cuts weren’t limited to the Midwest, of course. In Buffalo, WGR’s Paul Hamilton and WKSE-FM’s DJ Anthony were furloughed. Other Entercom markets experiencing layoffs (so far) include Detroit, Atlanta, New York, and Philadelphia. I’m certain there’s more included.

For what’s it’s worth, CEO David Field is taking a 30 percent salary reduction.

Meanwhile, iHeartMedia has furloughed more than thirty employees locally, according to Robert Feder. This comes on the heels of several key exces forgoing pay for the rest of the year, including CEO Bob Pittman. This comes on the heels of earlier layoffs this year.

Suburban radio owner Alpha Media has also laid off personnel, including two-decade veteran Carol McGowan, who was let go from Joliet’s WCCQ-FM.

This come as advertising revenue is drying up as clients are cutting spending since stay-at-home orders have closed businesses in over 80 percent of the country, affecting all of the top ten TV and radio markets. As a result, more than six million people have filed for unemployment in the month of March, a new record.

So far, television has been spared from major cuts and furloughs as homes-using-television usage has surged. But like radio, advertising spending has slowed as major retailers and others have sat out. A greater concern is what happens in the future if the pandemic continues and ends up not only wiping out the rest of the NBA and NHL seasons, but the NFL season as well. Live sports is a huge money maker for the broadcast networks and cable sports networks, as it is the only form of programming not affected by streaming.

Another concern is if the pandemic continues is the 2020-21 television season and whether it could start on time. The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered television production around the globe, including all scripted programming. If the pandemic lingers into summer – and there’s a decent chance it could – many programs could not return until late or even well into 2021. Pilots aren’t able to shoot and there is a possibility prime-time programming could go into reruns soon if the pandemic doesn’t ease up. Some reality programming has also been affected, as The Bachelorette and the next season of Survivor were forced to suspend production. Already, the Canadian version of Big Brother had to suspend production due to coronavirus.

When you add all of this up, it could cost the major broadcast networks more than $2 billion in lost revenues. Any layoffs and furloughs could occur in the fourth quarter if the football and fall television seasons are affected.

While radio and newspapers are the ones baring the brunt of these job losses so far in the media industry, remember…we’re only getting started.

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ESPN moves up Chicago Bulls documentary to April 19

“The Last Dance” features legendary Chicago Bulls team vying for their sixth championship title

One of the most highly-anticipated sports documentaries of all time has finally received a drop date.

The Last Dance, a ten-hour documentary featuring never-before-seen footage of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and their quest for their sixth NBA championship title, is premiering on ESPN April 19, with State Farm Insurance and Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as presenting sponsors.

The documentary series is also streaming on Netflix, but only outside of the United States.

The Last Dance was expected to premiere in June but because of the coronavirus pandemic wiping out sporting events across the globe – leaving sports networks with little original programming to air, ESPN needed something to broadcast as many viewers were asking them to move up the documentary, but network officials said the miniseries wasn’t completed.

ESPN plans to air the ten-part documentary over five weeks – April 19, April 26, May 3, May 10, and May 17 with two episodes a night. Encores of the previous week’s two episodes will air from April 26 through May 17 from 6 to 8 p.m. local time, with fresh installments airing from 8 to 10 p.m. There are no plans to air the documentary on ABC, whom the network and ESPN share a corporate parent in Disney.

“As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience,” ESPN said in a statement. “We’ve heard the calls from fans asking us to move up the release date for this series, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve been able to accelerate the production schedule to do just that. This project celebrates one of the greatest players and dynasties ever, and we hope it can serve as a unifying entertainment experience to fill the role that sports often play in our lives, telling a story that will captivate everyone, not just sports fans.”

The documentary is directed by Jason Hehir, who credits include another documentary on an iconic Chicago team, The ’85 Bears.

The Bulls helped the NBA establish as a global entity as the team treated like rock stars everywhere they went on the road to sold-out arenas. One game they played in Atlanta against the Hawks during the final 1997-98 season drew 62,000+ to the now-defunct Georgia Dome – an NBA record that still stands today.  The 1997-98 squad also set ratings records for SportsChannel Chicago and WGN-TV, then rights-holders to the team.

One of the most memorable moments from the season came in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals when Michael Jordan made the shot against the Utah Jazz late in the game to give the Bulls the lead – and their sixth NBA Championship.

Over one hundred people were interviewed for this documentary, including Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and former President Barack Obama, a die-hard Bulls fan.

The documentary is certainly welcome relief – albeit temporary – for sports fans starved for original content as live sports is on the shelf for the foreseeable future.

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