American Top 40 at 50

The iconic countdown show turns 50 this Saturday and a year-long celebration is planned

One of America’s iconic radio shows is turning 50 this Saturday, and the party is going to be one year-long celebration.

Premiere Networks announced Tuesday plans to celebrate American Top 40 as it marks its 50th year in radio. (although it did not air in 1996 or 1997.) Details were scant, but plans include interviews from the show’s archives and interviews with the show’s co-creator and host, Casey Kasem. Contests are also planned and include once-of-a-kind experiences throughout the year.

“Over the past five decades, American Top 40 has become a cultural touchpoint for millions of people around the globe,” said Julie Talbott, President of Premiere Networks. “Casey Kasem created the gold standard that we carry on today, and we’re so proud of how Ryan [Seacrest] has expanded that legacy. He’s taken the show to new heights over the past 16 years with added reach, engagement and technology, while continuing to drive impressive results for our partners.”

Seacrest took over from Kasem on January 10, 2004. AT 40 airs Sunday mornings from 6-10 a.m. on WKSC-FM (Kiss FM.) Today, the show is heard on about 500 radio stations worldwide and is in most major radio markets nationwide, including New York (WHTZ) and Los Angeles (KIIS). 

Kasem helped launch the show as host with Don Bustany on July 4, 1970 on only seven stations. By the end of the decade, AT40 was heard on over 400 stations nationwide in more than 100 countries, and on the Armed Forces Network. In the Chicago area, AT40 aired on WCFL, WDHF-FM (now WEBG), WBBM-FM, WLS-AM, WYTZ-FM (now WLS-FM), and WKSC. AT40 was also heard on Kankakee’s WBUS-FM. 

A TV spinoff, America’s Top 10 aired in syndication from 1980 to 1992 and was distributed by Golden West Television and successor All American Television (now part of Fremantle, producer of Family Feud.) 

In 1988, Kasem left AT40 in a contract dispute with Capital Cities/ABC and signed a deal with Westwood One to launch a competing countdown show in January 1989 named Casey’s Top 40 while Shadoe Stevens replaced Kasem on AT40. Six years later, ABC Radio canceled AT40 due to declining revenues, affiliate clearances domestically, and the downturn of the Contemporary Hit Format in general, but was kept on internationally until the end of January 1995.

Kasem would get into another contract dispute – this time with Westwood over his request to rename Casey’s Top 40 to AT40, given Kasem regained rights to use the name months after the show went off the air. After legal wranglings, Kasem relaunched AT40 in March 1998 with AMFM Networks (now Premiere Networks) as Westwood was forced to discontinue their countdown shows weeks after he left.

Kasem also brought his two spin-off shows – Casey’s Hot 20 and Casey’s Countdown (renamed American Hot 20 and AT20/10, respectively) to AMFM – targeting Adult Contemporary audiences, continuing in those roles as host even after he stepped down as host of AT40. Both ended when Kasem retired in 2009.

Reruns of his 1970s and 1980s countdown shows continue to be popular as both continue to be syndicated to local radio stations, even after Kasem’s death in 2014 (Both shows had a brief run at WLS-FM.) Sirius/XM also airs reruns of the 1970s on its 70s on 7 channel.

AT40 of course, spawned numerous imitators (Rick Dees, Dick Clark, Dan Ingram, Scott Shannon, etc.) – and some were even successful. And the countdown format Kasem pioneered has also been used in other music formats. In fact, Kasem and Bustany also created a countdown for the Country music format- America’s Country Countdown with host Bob Kingsley, which launched in 1973. Tom Joyner also did one for the R&B format in the 1980s and 1990s called On The Move

But of course, there is one and only Casey Kasem.

Outside of the main AT40, there are a few radio stations marking the 50th anniversary this weekend, including Premiere Networks airing the first show (now in stereo) in syndication this weekend. In addition, several stations are running marathons with numerous specials (Book of Records, Top Disappearing Acts, etc.) to air. One North Carolina station (WPNC-FM) is running a whole week of American Top 40 shows!

While American Top 40 is celebrating its 50th anniversary, it is not the only music program marking the feat in 2020. Comedy/novelty music The Dr. Demento Show is also celebrating its 50th this year (the show is still going strong online) and so is Soul Train, who got its start at Chicago’s WCIU also in 1970 (the show ended production in 2006, but lives on in specials.)

[Editor’s Note: An earlier post listed the wrong start and end time for AT40 on Kiss 103.5 FM in Chicago.] 

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iHeartMedia’s new Black Information Network launches

Replaces fifteen terrestrial radio stations including Atlanta conservative talk outlet

In the aftermath of the George Floyd police murder and protests for racial justice nationwide under the Black Lives Matter movement, there have been calls for more diversity in every faucet of life – especially in the media business, particularly when it comes to news and information.

On Tuesday, iHeartMedia launched a new information network targeting African-American audiences. Christened the Black Information Network, it is billed as “the first and only 24/7 national and local all news audio service dedicated to providing an objective, accurate and trusted source of continual news coverage with a Black voice and perspective.”

iHeart believes there is an audience for this content – 86 percent of Black listeners surveyed stated the necessity of this type of service while 83 percent of those surveyed stated information available on BIN wasn’t available on mainstream TV and radio – with respondents proving equally strong in the 18-34 and 35-54 demos.

The format is similar to what you would find on all-news stations – news, weather, traffic (if applicable) – but in addition, includes biographical segments on African-American figures and content from some of iHeartMedia’s stations targeting Black audiences. Segments of some BIN content is also being made available as podcasts. 

The new BIN is headed by Tony Coles, who was a former senior vice president of programming for iHeartMedia’s station group in Chicago, and recently as vice president of iHeartMedia’s West region. He will continue to be based here in his new role.

The new BIN launched on fifteen terrestrial radio stations after stunting with speeches from Black leaders on Monday. The new format replaced a variety of formats at launch, including a heritage conservative talk station in Atlanta (WGST). Once home to Atlanta Braves baseball and launched the careers of Sean Hannity and Neal Boortz, the station has ranked near the bottom in recent years. The most recent PPM report showed WGST tied for 33rd place in the Atlanta market with a scant 0.2 rating.

The new initiative from iHeartMedia intended to help African-American businesses in the Chicago area.

Other formats ditched for BIN include sports talk in Detroit; Macon and Augusta, Ga.; and New Orleans; Alternative in Cleveland and Norfolk, Va.; and Gospel in Nashville. most of these stations barely achieved an one rating. 

In Chicago, the format didn’t replace faltering country station Big 95.5 (WEBG-FM), but it did secure a position on the HD-2 channel of WVAZ-FM. Listeners can tune in to BIN on iHeartRadio’s app or website.

iHeartMedia’s Hip-Hop/R&B Contemporary and R&B Adult Contemporary stations WGCI and WVAZ respectively, are also the official news service for both and 91 other iHeartMedia stations in both formats.

Advertising partners in the venture include Bank of America, CVS Health, Geico, Lowe’s and Verizon, among others.

The move is the latest overture to African-American listeners. On June 19, iHeartMedia Chicago launched a Brilliantly Black initiative, to support African-American businesses in the Chicago area. The stations are encouraging listeners to type in “brilliant” in each of iHeartMedia’s six radio stations’ websites search boxes to find out more about those businesses. Many of them have struggled in recent months, thanked to the forced shutdowns due to Covid-19 and later, the rioting and looting of many of those same businesses during protests on May 31 and June 1. 

Before the calls for more diversity and programming targeting African-Americans became more vocal, Fox launched a new streaming channel called Fox Soul, whose programming is now being tested on several Fox-owned stations nationwide, including My Network TV affiliate WPWR-TV from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A special note: Despite the fact I blasted the idea a few weeks ago saying it will not make a difference in diversifying newsrooms, T Dog Media will comply with new AP guidelines and will capitalize the “B” in black, effective immediately. T Dog Media will also stop referring to African-American radio stations as “urban” as there have been some controversy over the name, first coined by now-defunct trade magazine Radio & Records in the 1970s, with their chart known as “Black/Urban Contemporary”(by comparison, rival Billboard has never named similar charts as “urban”.) 

From this point forward on the blog, “urban contemporary” is now known as Hip-Hop/R&B Contemporary and “urban adult contemporary” (or urban AC) is now known as R&B Adult Contemporary.

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US 99 pulls plug on Jason & Katie morning show

WUSN morning show cancellation is second in thirteen months

The continuing struggles of the country music format in Chicago is continuing to take its toll as Entercom’s WUSN canceled its morning show after only ten months on the air.

As first reported by Robert Feder Tuesday, WUSN pulled the plug on the show hosted by Jason Pullman and Katie Bright with the last broadcast talking place earlier in the day.

Entercom Chicago Vice President of Programming Todd Cavanah said there would be “a nationwide search” for a new host (or hosts) with Drew Walker named interim host from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m.

Bright abruptly decided to depart from the station, as she found the morning position too grueling as a mother to two young children. With the move, US 99 decided to cut ties with Pullman, who moved to the Chicago area to take the job after ten years working for country radio station WUBL in Atlanta, where he was laid off in early 2019. Pullman is expected to return to the Atlanta area.  

The duo were paired together in August 2019, just three months after US 99 canceled Stylz and Roman’s morning show. Shifting over from sister station contemporary-hit radio WBBM-FM, the move was considered odd given they had no country music background. The result was three years of mediocre ratings and decided to hire a team with a little more familiarity with the product. In addition to Pullman’s stint in Atlanta, Bright worked as the national director of promotions at Warner Records Nashville.

The pandemic has hurt revenue for television and radio stations nationwide, including Chicago where numerous employees on-air and off – have been laid-off or furloughed. With Bright quitting, it was an opportunity to WUSN and Entercom to clear some payroll off the books.

According to May’s Nielsen PPM rankings, US 99 ranked 18th opposite Bobby Bones’ low-rated syndicated show on rival iHeartMedia-owned Big 95.5 (WEBG-FM), another struggling country station. Overall, WUSN ranked 16th; Big 95.5 ranked a dismal 24th as together, they have a cume 4.0 overall rating. By comparison, eight Chicago radio stations have higher numbers including classic hits WLS-FM and adult contemporary WLIT-FM.

The low numbers for each station on terrestrial radio indicate country music fans are fed up and tuning out as their presentation leaves very little to leave desired. Many listeners have shifted to the numerous country music channels on Sirius/XM (where there is more variety, of course) or listening to playlists on Spotify or YouTube. For years, US 99 was the only country game in town until after iHeartMedia flipped the then-WNUA to country in 2015 after two failed Spanish-language formats took up the frequency. It shows how thin the country music audience in the Chicago area is stretched.

And as for this “nationwide search” for a new morning show, Cavanah is using the same approach City Hall did when they were looking for a new police superintendent. And so far, we all know how that is turning out.

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Media Notepad: Sony pulls “Police Patrol” from syndication (updated)

Also: Amy Jacobson gets her press cred back; WGN Radio may bring back Garry Meier; NewsNation hires Joe Donlon and two WGN-TV vets 

[Editor’s Note: This post was updated on June 27 at 8:50 p.m.]

In a move not unexpected, local stations have dropped episodes of Cops and Live PD: Police Patrol from their schedules as protests have flared across the country over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other African-Americans by police officers, including Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.

Several weeks ago, Paramount Network canceled Cops ending its 31 year-run followed by A&E’s cancellation of Live PD after six seasons. A scandal surfaced over the show erasing footage of Javier Amblin’s death, taped in 2019. 

As reported by NextTV, Sony Pictures Television told stations it would no longer distribute Live PD spinoff Police Patrol in syndication nor to the CW Plus roster of stations in markets ranked below 100 after June 19.

Numerous stations have also pulled Cops off their schedules. A source said Disney Media Networks – who acquired rights to Fox-era episodes of the show as part of its parent company’s purchase of Twentieth Century Fox in 2017, is in negotiations to release stations from their contracts. 

On June 22, those few remaining stations who were airing Cops are now airing Chris Harrison-era episodes of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which ended its syndicated run last year and is now back in primetime a a weekly series hosted by Jimmy Kimmel with celebrity contestants.

On June 15, Weigel’s The U – available on different channel positions throughout Chicago (except DirecTV), has replaced both Police Patrol and Cops with reruns of court shows Judge Jerry, Paternity Court, and Couples Court With The Cutlers from 5 to 7 p.m. The station has also dropped another police docuseries, Sheriffs Of El Doraldo County, which remains in syndication for the time being. 

Abruptly pulling a program from syndication before the end of the season isn’t unusual – in the past, if a program didn’t deliver, a distributor would cancel it before the season was over (it last happened to The Megan Mulually Show, canceled in January 2007 after three months.) But in recent years, stations stuck with struggling shows as if they were yanked mid-season, they would have to scramble to find a replacement, which isn’t easy nowadays. But this move by Sony is notable because the decision to pull the show isn’t tied to ratings – the show averaged a household 0.9 season-to-date, which is a success by today’s standards, as opposed to when Mulually was on the air (0.8, tied for last place among talk shows during the 2006-07 season.)  

It was believed Sony’s two-year contract with local stations to air Police Patrol was up this September, but it’s unknown if Sony was actively seeking renewals. Police Patrol debuted in off-network syndication quietly in September 2018, with little promotion or marketing. 

After suing the Pritzker administration for getting booted out of the press pool for speaking at a “Reopen Illinois” rally, WIND-AM co-host and reporter Amy Jacobson has her press credentials returned to her, as first reported by Robert Feder Tuesday.

Beginning immediately, Jacobson can attend press briefings like any other reporter. Jacobson was represented by the conservative Liberty Justice Center, who represented her in the lawsuit. The group claimed Pritzker’s actions violated the First Amendment.

Jacobson had been critical of Pritzker and the way he has handled the pandemic on her morning show she co-hosts with Dan Proft on the Salem-owned radio station, despite public opinion polls showing otherwise.

“Governor Pritzker’s ban on Amy Jacobson was a complete overreach and he’s right to walk it back,” Liberty president and co-founder Patrick Hughes said in a statement. “The governor may not like when journalists ask tough questions and he may not always agree with their coverage, but Americans have a constitutional right to hold their elected officials accountable. One of the most important ways they do this is through a free and vibrant press.”

Proving the ever classy fellow he is, Proft tweeted a statement and taunted the rest of the Chicago news media:

Whether she is a journalist is up for debate (or the fact having certain “privilege” is one of the reasons why she still have a career after an ethical lapse in 2007), the entire episode is  a huge embarrassment for the Pritzker administration as the message was sent loud and clear to everyone in “blue state” Illinois – the other side lives here, too.

Is Garry Meier heading back to WGN Radio? After sitting out for six years, the Radio Hall Of Famer could get the opportunity. According to Robert Feder, the 70-year old former radio personality was contacted by Sean Compton from the Nexstar-owned radio station. The news is curious given current afternoon personality Roe Conn’s contract expires by the end of the year – and may not be renewed.

Meier has been off terrestrial radio for the last six years, after declining to renew his contract with WGN-AM, then-owned by Tribune Media. He launched his own subscription podcast in 2016, similar to what his former on-air partner Steve Dahl did a few years earlier.

The last few months have saw a huge surge in listenership for WGN-AM, posting its highest ratings in years. The move to hire veteran media personality Bob Sirott has paid off, giving the station its highest-morning ratings in nearly 15 years as his show ranked second only to WBBM Newsradio in the highly valuable daypart.

In the last PPM report, WGN tied for third – its highest rank in nearly twenty years as Conn ranks eighth in the afternoon. As listeners return to daily life as the coronavirus pandemic has eased a bit (at least in the Chicago area), it’ll be interesting to see if WGN’s numbers hold up.

Nexstar’s NewsNation is continuing to fortify its anchor lineup as it snared one from Chicago’s Very Own: Joe Donlon of sister WGN-TV has been tapped to become lead anchor of the new prime-time newscast to launch on WGN America on September 1. The news was announced on June 2.

Donlon came from Tegna-owned NBC affiliate KGW-TV in Portland, Ore. in 2018 to replace a retiring Mark Suppelsa to anchor alongside Micah Materre. Ratings for WGN-TV’s 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts remained solid, despite competition from streaming and cable TV in the hour. On NewsNation, he’ll be paired with Marni Hughes, who comes from KCPQ-TV in Seattle, a station Nexstar recently swapped (along with sister station KJZO-TV) to Fox for WJZY and WMYT in Charlotte. Other correspondents are being based in Dallas and Miami.

Other notable hires who worked in Chicago media include Tom Negovan, who’ll be a New York-based correspondent and Nancy Loo, who’ll be based in Los Angeles. Both were formerly employed at WGN-TV.

“We’re adding more than 130 ‘News Nation’ staff members to the 5,400 Nexstar journalists already reporting from local communities across the U.S.,” said Jennifer Lyons, a WGN News alum who is heading up the new effort. “We have assembled extraordinary teams both in front of and behind the cameras… I think you’re going to learn so much about our country through them.”

Nexstar boss Perry Sook pledged NewsNation would be bias-free and won’t have an agenda, hoping to attract news viewers who aren’t interested in partisanship. But it could be a tough road ahead – Fox News last week became the most-watched network in prime-time among total viewers – broadcast OR cable.

Nexstar isn’t the only station group to launch a new national venture. On Wednesday, rival Sinclair Broadcasting announced they were launching a headline news service on the company’s CW and My Network TV affiliates, many of whom don’t air news. Known for its conservative leanings, Sinclair says the new service – scheduled to run from 6 to 9 a.m. in its initial phrase, plans to be bias-free (or so they say.)

The new service also plans to have a Live Desk assigned to update stories through the day. The service is scheduled to launch early next year with Sinclair planning to hire 25 people to staff. The headline service will also stream on STIRR, Sinclair’s over-the-top platform.

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T Dog’s Think Tank: When it comes to diversity, capitalizing a letter isn’t enough

So major news organizations will now capitalize the words black and brown with a capital B. Well, here’s a thought starting with a capital “B” – Big deal. 

[Editor’s Note: An earlier draft contained some profanity, which has since been removed. – T. H.] 

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis – triggering protests and uprisings around the country, there has been a call for more diversity in every facet of the media business. And here’s what has happened so far:

Beginning immediately, the words “black” and “brown” are being capitalized in news publications.

That’s all.

The Chicago Sun-Times joined other publications Monday announcing they are capitalizing the “B” in black and brown when referring to their communities. Other publications making the moves include the Los Angeles Times, NBC News, and USA Today.

In a joint statement, Sun-Times CEO Nykia Wright and Executive Editor Chris Fusco said: 

To our readers:

On Monday, we joined the growing list of news organizations around the country that have opted to capitalize Black when using the word to describe a culture, ethnicity or community of people. We made this decision after engaging in dialogues with people inside and outside our newsroom and company, including readers and employees.

We also instructed our journalists that in the event the terms Black and Brown are used together to collectively describe a group, we will capitalize the “B” in both words, such as “Black and Brown communities.”

Our decision puts Black on the same level as Hispanic, Latino, Asian, African American and other descriptors.

We also told our journalists to continue to lowercase the “w” in white.

Our decision to capitalize Black is an acknowledgment of the long-standing inequities that have existed in our country, and the unique role that Black art and culture have played in our society. Cultural trends among white people, e.g. Italian Americans, Irish Americans, etc., are much more disparate, which was a key factor in our decision not to capitalize white.

We’re hopeful that you, our readers, will understand — and appreciate — this distinction.

The B is now capitalized when we refer to “black” and “brown” communities. And that’s supposed to address diversity?

It’s a good idea, especially referring to black people outside the United States.  But here’s the thing:

For one, use of the word “black” in U.S. publications has been declining for years, preferring to use the word African-American (I use both terms on the blog.) The idea is kind of dated – maybe this would have been big news in 1980.

Second, the move really does nothing to address the inequalities that continue to exist in newsroom across the country. For years, I’ve been calling for more diversity in journalism and to be more sensitive to minority communities.

Case in point: On June 8, the Sun-Times ran a stereotypicial piece on why an African-American family decided to leave Chicago behind long ago to escape the violence that plagues the city in a piece you’d normally find on Breitbart or The Daily Caller, proving conservative publications don’t have a monopoly on tabloid-like headlines when it comes to crime and how it relates to the African-American community.

Reacting to two of their family members getting murdered on East 95th Street on May 31 – a day where looting and violence broke out on the South and West sides of the city and set a single-day homicide record with eighteen killed. The family – using language more reserved for right-wing talk show hosts on Fox News said “third world countries were safer than Chicago“, now resides in British Columbia, Canada. The article was your typical Chicago news media piece describing African-American communities for the last decade – offering no insight or analysis, just another piece of “journalism” designed as glorified “clickbait” (of course, the Sun-Times mentioned the wrong neighborhood where the deaths took place – it tells you how much they don’t care about the South Side.)

I’ll tell you this – an African-American person didn’t write this story. Or didn’t make the decision to publish it. But hey the word “black” is being capitalized! What a triumph!

Ironically, the idea to capitalize “black” and “brown” came from former National Association of Black Journalists president Sarah Glover, who is now social strategy manager for the NBC Owned Television Stations, which includes WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV here.

“There is momentous change across America that we are bearing witness to. Don’t let change pass us by,” Glover said in a statement. “Journalism and media companies must have a reckoning with themselves, reflect upon their own practices and also shatter systemic racism that exists within the mighty bowels of the free press.

“Capitalizing the ‘B’ in Black to describe people and the community is a fitting first step.”

It is a first step – but it’s not enough.

As I said over and over and over again, there needs to be more diversity in journalism – particularly in newsrooms, where decisions are still made primarily by white men. It’s little wonder mistakes pop up in news reporting from time to time. I said this back in September, but of course I keep repeating myself and no one ever listens. Many in Chicago feel newsrooms are racist, and crap like the Sun-Times article mentioned above does not help.

A bigger goal of racially diversifying newsrooms needs to be achieved. But judging by the garbage Sun-Times article I cited and how stubborn things are in Chicago when it comes to race, I wouldn’t hold out any hope. Capitalizing a goddamn letter isn’t going to change anything.

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Chicago stations collaborate on celebrating 2020 grads

Oprah Winfrey to speak to local grads

The coronavirus pandemic has wiped out graduation ceremonies all over the Chicago area, but they get to celebrate virtually – with an assist from Chicago’s local stations.

In a very rare show of collaboration, Chicago TV stations are simulcasting a virtual celebration titled Grad 2020: For Chicago by Chicago, honoring the Chicago area’s 2020 graduates Sunday at 1 p.m. 

The special is hosted by Hamliton’s Miguel Cervantes and features local artists Common and The Voice’s Katie Kadan with a commencement speech from Oprah Winfrey, who started her successful media career in Chicago. 

The special is being simulcasted on eight commercial TV stations and PBS’ WTTW, and numerous radio stations ABC-owned WLS-TV is producing the special with Citadel Investments. 

Passing on Grad 2020 are Ion’s WCPX-TV and religious independent WJYS; Fox’s WPWR is scheduled to run infomercials but sister station WFLD is carrying the event. 

And there’s more programming celebrating Chicago area grads. At 2 p.m., ABC 7 is airing Grad 2020: The After Party with Cheryl Burton and Hosea Sanders at 2 p.m. and at 4:30 p.m., CW 26 is airing Graduate Together, Celebrate Together: Class of 2020 hosted by the Jam’s Amy Rutledge. The special is also airing earlier in the day at 12:30 p.m. on The U. 

WTTW is also airing a post-Grad 2020 special, Pomp Under the Circumstance: A Virtual Commencement at 2 p.m. 

The specials and collaboration are certainly welcome at a time when Chicago is reeling from the pandemic and most recently, the fallout from George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis by police which triggered riots here, in the Twin Cities, and other cities. 

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“Cops”, “Live PD” canceled as viewers’ taste shift after police brutality protests gain stream

Fallout from George Floyd murder key decision in cancellation

Cops ends run after 31 years; reruns pulled as well     

Two reality shows have bit the dust as police brutality protests across the globe after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have forced networks to re-examine their programming.

On Monday, the little-known Paramount Network (the former Spike TV, National Network, Nashville Network, etc.) canceled Cops, bringing the curtains down on the show after 31 years, and pulled all off-network episodes as well.  The news was followed Wednesday by the cancellation of A&E’s Live PD, which is like Cops, but airs “live” as it happens.

Since its premiere in 2016, Live PD had been one of the highest-rated series on television on Friday and Saturday nights and spawned several spin-offs, including Live PD: Police Patrol, whose reruns were sold into syndication in 2018 by Sony Pictures Television.

“This is a critical time in our nation’s history and we have made the decision to cease production on Live PD,” the network said in a press release. “Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them. And with that, we will be meeting with community and civil rights leaders as well as police departments.”

This comes as both programs have had numerous controversial incidents over the years. Cops last aired a new episode on May 11; Live PD last aired May 24 before being pulled indefinitely due to the George Floyd protests and Minneapolis riots.

Smile, you’re on camera: A sheriff’s deputy yukking it up while detaining a suspect on “Live PD”. (A&E/Reason)

Cops was originally created by Fox Television Stations group and after a test run on the station group (including WFLD here), the series was called up to the big leagues on March 11, 1989, premiering on the main Fox network. After being tested as an off-network strip in a few markets, Cops reruns went into syndication where it’s been ever since. In 2013, the show was re-branded in off-network as Cops Reloaded, with many segments re-mastered in HD with new wraparounds, but reverted to the old Cops name in 2017.

Cops inspired numerous reality first responder shows in the 1990s, including Emergency Call, Real Stories Of The Highway Patrol, Rescue 911, LAPD: Life On The Beat, and others. Cops was a Saturday night staple on Fox until 2013 when the show moved to Spike TV, who changed its name to Paramount Network in 2018.

Live PD premiered on October 28, 2016, drawing viewers on little-watched Friday and Saturday nights and created a loyal following. In addition to the aforementioned Police Patrol, Live PD also spun off several series, including Live PD: Wanted and Live Rescue.


Both series have had its share of controversies over the years.

Cops was the subject of a podcast series last year from Dan Taberski called Running From Copswhere it was revealed cops on the show coerced suspects into signing releases, while crew members have carried guns and assisted in making arrests (one Cops crew member was killed in a shootout in 2014) – and gave police departments the power to edit anything they didn’t like (a similar charge was levied at Life On The Beat.)  His crew watched and documented 846 episodes of the show.

Several studies released over the years also showed Cops had a disproportionate amount of suspects who were minorities and police officers who were white, and accused of overly targeting low-income people – the same issues Taberski discussed on his podcasts. In addition, the Chicago Police Department has never been featured on Cops, rejecting the series long ago saying police work shouldn’t be viewed as entertainment (though a few episodes did feature Cook County Sheriff Deputies.) Other departments turning down the show include Honolulu, Washington D.C., St. Louis (City), and Fairfax County, Va.

Live PD has had it share of controversies as well.

Even though “Live PD” has been canceled, spinoff “Police Patrol” still airs in broadcast syndication over The U.

After being one of the first police departments featured on the show, the city of Bridgeport, Conn. pulled the plug with many officials dissatisfied on how the city was portrayed on the show, fearing it would hurt economic recruitment. Tulsa also recently ended their association with the show as part of a larger pact on police reform, for the same reasons as many leaders felt the show was racist.

A two-year-old arm was broken in July 2017 after a Live PD police chased a subject who was holding the child in an incident just outside Columbia, S.C.

It was revealed a few days ago footage from a March 2019 show was destroyed relating to the killing of Javier Ambler by Austin, Tex. police after he was pulled over for failing to dim his headlights.

Off-network status

Even though Paramount has yanked Cops and A&E has dropped Live PD, both shows still air in off-network syndication as of this writing. Currently, there is a whole Internet channel from ViacomCBS’ Pluto TV devoted to streaming Cops, as there have been calls to delete it. WGN America also airs Cops reruns in late-night, but the deal with the network expires at the end of June and is not being renewed, as the cable network is shifting resources to its new NewsNation effort.

Off-net episodes of Cops and Live PD: Police Patrol still air in broadcast syndication on local TV stations, largely on CW and My Network TV affiliates and independents in daytime and late-night time periods. In Chicago, both shows air on Weigel’s The U (WCUU/WMEU ch.s 26.2/48.1, respectively) in a 5-7 p.m. prime access block. Since most local stations make changes only in September at the start of the new TV season, both are expected to stay on The U throughout the summer. Even though ViacomCBS held most of the cable and streaming rights to Cops, it’s Walt Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International unit who holds the syndication rights as part of the company’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox’s film assets in 2017.

In the last syndication ratings report, Police Patrol earned a 0.9 household rating, while the ratings for Cops were not available. Both shows’ status beyond September on local stations are unknown.

Outdated concept

The cancellation of both Cops and Live PD shows certainly were a longtime coming. While Cops can be credited (or blamed) for ushering in the reality TV era, the way the show and its copycats looked into policing was too controversial to continue as the issues of police brutality is now in the forefront like we’ve never seen before. The behind-the-scenes manipulation on many of the shows were clearly an issue.

The killing of George Floyd by police has shook up almost everything in media and entertainment, including the call for more diversity in front of and behind the camera. The decision to pull these shows were the right call as given current events, these programs would have a hard time attracting and/or keeping advertising no matter what the ratings were. These shows were built around a simple premise: so-called “good guys” nabbing the “bad guys”, like the old Cowboys versus Indians tropes we saw in the movies back in the 1950s. But society changed and rendered it obsolete – the same thing we’re seeing now with these reality cop shows as retiring this concept was long overdue.

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NBC 5 anchor Dick Johnson dies

Anchor/reporter for NBC5 had 38-year journalism career in Chicago

Journalists and anchors were stunned at the sudden death of NBC 5 (NBC-owned WMAQ-TV) anchor Dick Johnson, who passed away Tuesday afternoon at the age of 66. 

Johnson was forced to take a leave of absence and headed to his home in northern Michigan when the coronavirus epidemic hit as he was known to have respiratory infections as he was hospitalized in the last few days. It is believed however, that Covid-19 did not play a role in his death.

The news was announced on NBC 5’s newscast at 4 p.m

Johnson began his career at WTHR in Indianapolis and KDFW in Dallas before moving to ABC-owned WLS-TV in 1982 as an anchor and a reporter, where he spent two decades. He was there when the station rose to number one by 1986 after years in third-place. In 2002, Johnson moved to NBC 5 where he co-anchored the weekend newscasts and also did some reporting, right up until the coronavirus hit. Johnson filled in for weeknight anchor Rob Stafford when he was out with a rare blood disease. 

Many Chicago journalists chimed in on Twitter to send their condolences. Here’s a sampling: 

Reaction also came in from Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot: 

In addition to his journalism credits, Johnson also made cameo appearances in NBC’s Chicago Fire and the movie Barbershop 2, and won a duPont-Columbia Award and shared a Peabody Award with Carol Marin. Johnson is survived by wife Lauren, three children, and two grandchildren. 

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T Dog’s Think Tank: Diversity matters

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s untimely death, the world is calling for reform – and the media business must follow the lead

[Editor’s Note: This post was updated on July 1.]

As one of the few African-Americans who writes a media blog, for years I’ve been pushing for more diversity in the media business, whether it’s behind the camera, in the writers’ room, in TV and radio ownership, in the newsroom, or in talk radio. 

As you know by now, the death of George Floyd by the knee to the neck of a Minneapolis police officer – not to mention other high-profile murders by police – and many well-publicized racial incidents over the last few weeks, have boiled over into rioting and looting all over the country – Chicago included – in a manner not seen since 1968 in the days following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. 

Over the last few days, I’ve seen countless statements from media corporations, movie studios, sports teams, and others stating they stand in solidarity with African-Americans and committed to ending racism. 

But these statements are mostly empty press releases as most of them have failed to diversify their workforces. In other words, it’s not enough.

Certainly the biggest case in point is the local news media. Last September on this blog, I criticized crime reporting as stereotypical, factually inaccurate, and totally lacking. While it is great the city’s on-air personnel now features more persons of color than it did in the past, editorial decisions – the way news stories are written – are still made by mostly Caucasians. Not surprisingly, the lack of knowledge of African-American areas of the Chicago metro shows up in their news reporting. 

And it leads to the black community tuning out – especially young people. Last month as COVID-19 was raging, a party in honor of slain murder victims was thrown at a Belmont Craigin residence (not “Galewood” as the news media reported, though it is just south of the neighborhood) with no one wearing masks or social distancing from each other. Streamed on Facebook Live, the party went viral on social media and was criticized by everyone, Mayor Lightfoot included. It raised questions about young African-Americans not knowing enough about the deadly virus, as it showed a disconnect and lack of trust of the mainstream news media – maybe even more so than conservatives. 

“We have to think about what the news looks like to different people. When you turn on the news, when it’s talking about the Black community, it’s normally in a negative light.”, Chicagoan and former MTV News correspondent Domenti Pongo told The Triibe, a news website catering to the city’s African-American population and did a full story on the party. “When you look at something that doesn’t represent you, doesn’t speak to you, after a minute, you begin to disengage. This is something that happens over time as we grow up and consume content and don’t see ourselves represented,” he continued.

Dreamworks’ solidarity with African-Americans is nice, but means nothing if they don’t do hire people from diverse backgrounds.

Last year, Politco featured a story on how City Bureau was training students from diverse backgrounds on how to “re-invent journalism”, to reflect their communities instead of one covered by mainstream news organizations downtown, who use “deficit language” to describe black and Latino neighborhoods, such as “low-income” and “crime-ridden”. In the article, Andrea Hart – a former employee of the non-profit Free Spirit Media, noted local news needs “a really honest, explicit, unapologetic assessment of the problems in journalism: newsrooms are racist. They’re not equitable because they only have white people.” One case in point was the malicious editing of an African-American 4 year-old by CBS-owned WBBM’s news department in 2011. The news director was never disciplined, a bad look for a station with a history of racial insensitivity dating back to the 1960s.  

Riot coverage by local news media Sunday night was blasted by some as being too focused on the North Side and pro-police (this blog criticized their lackluster Saturday morning and afternoon coverage of the protests, or lack thereof.) They were also criticized Monday for lackluster reporting on a combustible situation in west suburban Cicero, where looters made their way into some businesses. The northern part of the formerly all-white and now majority-Latino suburb, known for racial clashes in the 1950s and 1960s, lies next to the predominately black North Lawndale neighborhood in Chicago, separated by Roosevelt Road to the north and railroad tracks to the east.  

George Floyd’s murder has also renewed calls for diversity in Hollywood – and also revealed numerous lingering racial issues. Riverdale’s Vanessa Morgan (who is married to White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech), slammed showrunners for a lack of storylines featuring African-Americans and as one, is the lowest-paid cast member on the show. Former America’s Got Talent judge Gabrielle Union is suing NBC and Simon Cowell for racial harassment. Racial stereotyping still abounds in numerous from scripted fare such as Blue Bloods and “unscripted fare” such as The Real Housewives Of Atlanta, Love And Hip-Hop, Basketball Wives, and Survivor and Big Brother has had problems dealing with racial incidents in the past.  

Others are questioning the purpose of police-based reality shows such as A&E’s Live PD and the long-running Cops (the season premiere of latter show has been postponed indefinitely.) And many people questioned the sincerity of press releases made by sports teams (such as the Chicago Cubs and Washington Redskins) and media companies (such as iHeartMedia, NBCUniversal, and others) while diversity remains elusive in those organizations. And of course, writers’ rooms for most television shows remain overwhelmingly white, despite recent efforts to diversity. 

What happened here exposed a long line of injustices in the business – many of them I’ve written about in this blog for years, from talk show hosts making racist comments on-air and not being disciplined (and if they do, they find a gig somewhere else), to what I described with local news. After all, Amy Jacobson still has a career after what she pulled and wouldn’t have one if she weren’t a white woman.

But there is hope – even from the murder of George Floyd by police officers. The issue of race relations are finally being addressed, something that needed to be done decades ago. Large crowds protesting the death of George Floyd are multi-racial, marching in the Black Lives Matter movement in the hundreds of thousands worldwide, demanding change. Also being addressed is the issue of police brutality against African-Americans and other minorities – an issue Chicagoans know all too well

Politicians need to listen – not dictate, like a certain buffoon on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.  

What the media business needs to do now is instead of releasing empty PR statements on how they support the black community, how about hiring more people of color? There are many people who are qualified and smart – nurture them and promote them. To Hollywood, there are a lot of talented writers, actors, dancers, producers, and directors available – hire them directly, instead of funneling them through from flimsy diversity program. To local TV and radio stations, hire more people from the communities you serve – I’m tired of reporters saying they’re in Chatham when they are really in Auburn Gresham. 

And the conversation won’t end here. Over the next few weeks and months, I will be devoting more time and space to issues involving race and media amid the urgent need to have a conversation. I’ve added a diversity category to all the stories I have written about media as it pertains to race, and is the category is now front and center on the T Dog Media website. 

The entertainment industry and journalism needs to change –  and it needs to start now as we want our voices heard instead of being ignored. 

Because Black Lives Matter. 

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Update: Chicago, nation remains on edge after night of rioting, looting

Looters hit stores around Chicago. (WMAQ-TV)

Riots hit downtown; spread to city neighborhoods and suburbs Sunday

National Guard called up

[Updated at 8:06 p.m.] 

The last 24 hours have been truly hellish for Chicagoans, and Americans nationwide.

Rioting and disturbances have hit cities across the country in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, and Chicago was no exception. The major cable news networks showed mayhem coast-to-coast from New York to Los Angeles, from Philadelphia to Denver, and everywhere in between. Cop cars were set on fire, and looters were seen breaking windows and taking merchandise. Curfews have been enacted in 25 cities (including Chicago) and the National Guard has been mobilized in fifteen states, including Illinois.

Saturday night, looters hit The Loop, River North, and South Loop areas. After I posted this article criticizing the media for the lack of response to the protests downtown, the major owned-and-operated stations and WGN-TV went all in on coverage at 8 p.m. as Mayor Lightfoot held a press conference. CBS 2 (WBBM-TV) was praised for their coverage last night featuring Jim Williams, with Dave Savini and Jermont Terry doing field reporting – each did an outstanding job.

Also getting positive shout-outs was ABC 7 (WLS-TV) reporter Will Jones, who interviewed four African-American young men on why they were protesting. It was indeed an honest and real conversation.

Many reporters were attacked across the country last night either from police or looters. Here in Chicago, a Tribune photojournalist was robbed of her equipment, but is okay

A WGN-TV news truck was also vandalized, but again, no injuries.

Downtown Chicago has all but been shut off, preventing any more mayhem. However, the violence and looting has spread to neighborhoods on the South and West sides of the city and several south and southwest suburbs as well, with almost every shopping mall hit. As for my neighborhood in Avalon Park, looters have struck 87th Street and Stony Island quite badly, with drugstores, banks, and convenience stores hit. I’ve heard fire and police sirens and helicopters all afternoon long.

So far, media coverage has been decent, as local stations have carried press conferences from Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker. Earlier in the day, some viewers have complained about a lack of coverage in suburbs and city neighborhoods, in favor of downtown and River North. Local stations went to live coverage at around 4 p.m. As of 8 p.m., all local news stations are in live coverage around Chicago, pre-empting network programming. 

Widespread pre-emptions is affecting primetime programming tonight on the major networks, as ABC is rolling out season premieres for its summer game shows, while CBS is airing an Indiana Jones movie. National ratings – which are already low for many of these shows – are likely to be affected. There is also competition from the cable news channels, with non-stop coverage of the mayhem coast-to-coast. 

The real test comes right now as nobody knows how all of this will play out. It’s a nervous time for all of us – can the local media deliver? We’ll know soon enough as the Chicago area remains on edge.

Be safe out there, and pray for our city. 

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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. 

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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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