Local viewers tune out Bulls, Blackhawks

Local teams tank and so does their ratings

Like the weather, winter nights turned cold for each of the United Center’s tenants.

The last-place finishes for both the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks in their respective divisions this past season not only had local sports fans looking ahead to baseball season earlier than usual, but many of them tuned out.

And bearing the brunt of the erosion was NBC Sports Chicago, who saw ratings shortfalls thanks for the team ‘ rotten seasons.

As noted by Sports Media Watch, the Bulls drew a season average 1.8 rating, down 9 percent from last year. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks did better with a 2.4 household rating, but was down 28 percent from last year and 40 percent from two years ago.

In each case, the numbers for both teams hit ratings lows for the first time in a decade. The last time both teams missed the playoffs in the same year was during the 2007-08 season.

The numbers are for NBC Sports Chicago only; ratings for WGN telecasts were not available.

In addition to the awful season for both teams, the Blackhawks also had to face competition from the Cubs’ playoff run early in the season and both teams had to face competition from the Winter Olympics in February, itself not a strong local draw. The NHL did not send their players to the games this year for the first time since 1994.

There were some good news – despite each teams’ poor performance in the ratings and in the standings, both teams led their respective leagues in attendance thanks to the size of the UC and fans’ continued willingness to see the games in person, but consider the honor a consolation prize. And the NBA had a strong regular season, with record attendance and increasing ratings, despite woes in the nation’s third-largest market.

As other cities have postseason excitement in their arenas over the weekend, at the same time, the UC hosted Kevin Hart. Fitting, given even the physcial home of the Bulls and Blackhawks felt it needed some comic relief after a sports season that provided very few laughs.

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Michael Ferro sells shares in tronc

It looks like Michael W. Ferro is heading back to his home planet.

In news which can only be construed as positive, major tronc shareholder Ferro announced Friday he was selling all his shares in the company to a newly formed trust with ties to the McCormick Family., descendants of Colonel Robert McCormick, who founded the paper in 1847.

McCormick Media, LLC is buying Ferro’s nine million shares of Tronc at $208.6 million or $23 a share. The filing was made with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The move comes as tronc may be up for play – a report in Thursday’s New York Post suggests a billionaire with ties to Apollo Global Management is interested in buying the company. Earlier, tronc sold its Los Angeles and San Diego newspapers to tronc shareholder Patrick Soon-Shiong, but the deal has yet to close. In addition to the Chicago Tribune, tronc owns the Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, and a few other newspapers.

As for Ferro, the end comes as he completely wrecked not one but TWO hometown papers. In 2011, he became a major investor in the Chicago Sun-Times through his Wrapports company, and in 2016 became the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, afterward he renamed it tronc – a name widely ridiculed.

Last month, Ferro stepped down as chairman of tronc – just hours before Fortune magazine published an expose of him with two women accusing him of sexual harassment.

Throughout his tenure at both papers, readership and circulation fell, and the content of both was criticized as Ferro come not come up with an answer to buck the industry’s ongoing woes. His presence alienated a lot of people, especially those in the newsroom of both papers. When he took control of the Sun-Times, Ferro notably wanted the paper to become “The New York Post of the Midwest”.

So six years after this blog said Ferro should go back to his home planet, we’re getting our wish.

So long and thanks for for the fish. Smelly, rotten fish.

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The Media Notepad: Big 95.5 downsizes

Over and out: Mason and Remy can now join Jamie Allman selling concessions at St. Louis Cardinals games.

Also: Jamie Allman out at St. Louis’ KDNL; Chicago Tribune unionizes; quick thought on Apu gate and “Roseanne” jokes

According to All Access Big changes are coming to Big 95.5 FM, known as WEBG-FM.

In a complete housecleaning, the iHeartMedia station fired morning personalities Mason Schreader and Zach Hoesly (“Remy”) and midday personality Steve Stewart, who was also the program director. Assistant program director Emily Bermann, who split midday duties with Stewart, is also out.

Coming in from iHeartMedia Boston is Lance Houston as the new program director and also the new midday host. For the time being, morning co-host Amber Cole (known on-air as “Alabama”, her native state) takes over the morning daypart solo.

After starting out with strong ratings and becoming the first to mount a serious challenge to WUSN-FM in years, Big 95.5 FMs has fizzled, with Mason and Remy – two former radio personalities from St. Louis as the centerpiece of the station. But the duo never caught on with Chicago audiences.

With iHeartMedia in bankruptcy, cuts to the station were expected. The country format is staying in place…but for how long?

Speaking of unemployed St. Louis media personalities, arch city native Jamie Allman just lost big at the poker table: the former KMOV reporter was cut from his radio and TV gigs after threatening someone on social media. On March 26, Allman mentioned Parkland school shooting survivor Davis Hogg in a tweet using the word “poker” as a verb, interpreted as a threat of sexual assault. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Allman “resigned” from his TV show at ABC affiliate KDNL in St. Louis Monday night and Tuesday was cut from his morning drive position at conservative talk KFTK-FM in the same market, owned by Entercom. The moves came after several clients pulled their advertising from the TV show.

Twitter locked Allman’s account after he made the comments. Despite the firing, his show page is still up on KDNL’s website as of this writing, but much of its recent content was stripped.

Allman fronted a Fox News-like half-hour news and information show called The Allman Report weeknights at 5 and 10 p.m. on KDNL, owned by Sinclair Broadcasting – a group already in the news for a “anti-fake news” statement they made anchors read and was complied by Deadspin. KDNL has aired Allman in lieu of a local newscast, absent from the schedule since crosstown rival KSDK produced one for KDNL several years ago. . Despite a large number of Illinois households in the St. Louis market (known as MetroEast), Allman rarely talked about issues pertaining to the Land of Lincoln, at least on his TV show.

The 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. editions of Allman have been replaced by syndicated reruns of Family Feud and Modern Family, respectively. The move comes as Sinclair is purchasing Tribune Media, who owns Fox affiliate KTVI and CW affiliate KPLR,where as one of the stations must be spun-off to satisfy regulators. KDNL has been an ABC affiliate since 1995 when it and KTVI switched networks, due to the Fox-New World deal in 1994 to switch most of its stations to Fox, including then-New World owned KTVI. KDNL has been a ratings doormat for years, as it is the one of the weakest ABC affiliates in the country.

For the first time in its 171-year history, the Chicago Tribune is becoming a pro-union shop – forming a group called Chicago Tribune Guild – a shock to some as founder Colonel Robert McCormick had always voiced his displeasure for unions. Workers at the paper said the move would give them better pay and benefits. 46 employees signed the letter, including four Pulitzer Prize winners.

For owner Tronc, the unionization gives the company yet another headache. After the Los Angeles Times unionized, the paper was sold.

This is the latest in changes for the paper; recently, operations moved into the Prudential -Building, away from the Tribune tower which the paper called it self home for over 100 years.

Editor and publisher Bob Dold said in a statement: “We believe in transparency, open dialogue and fairness. That’s who we are as journalists and what guides the Tribune, The letter raises concerns about compensation, the cost of healthcare benefits, development opportunities, staff diversity, job security and other issues. We take all of these to heart.”

Recently, Tronc laid off fifteen employees, including beat writers for the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago White Sox. Many blame Tronc executives for the woeful state of affairs at the paper, which has been through two rough ownership periods in the last decade under Sam Zell and Michael Ferro.

Already, the Chicago Sun-Times is owned by a union consortium led by former alderman Edwin Eisendrath and is a union shop.

Finally, a quick thought on the recent controversies regarding a joke on last week’s Roseanne and the Hindu character of Apu on The Simpsons. At one time, I wanted to become a television writer – but these days, I am so glad I never pursued the career path. I was surprised a joke about two TV shows on Roseanne generated so much negative reaction – many TV sitcoms have always done these type of “throwaway jokes”, including Family Guy.

As for the matter of Apu, the way The Simpsons addressed the controversy was absolutely pathetic. I won’t go into another rant why the show isn’t as good as it used to be; I wrote that piece ten years ago. But I’m not surprised the producers’ reaction to the Apu controversy was dismissive – Simpsons writers and producers have a reputation for being the most arrogant people in the business.

But while everyone is quick to jump on these two shows – and they have every right to do so, this blog and others have complained about racial stereotyping for YEARS in many African-American reality shows such as Love and Hip-Hop, Basketball Wives, Flavor Of Love, and The Real Housewives Of Atlanta and these same people say NOTHING. IS it because if they say something, they might be branded as “racist”? Only when VH1 aired Sorority Sisters and a proposed reality show titled All My Babies’ Mamas with rapper Shawty Lo was circulating the issue even received attention – sparse as it was.

Since this blog started, I’ve written many pieces on racism and the media business. As an African-American male, I see things a bit differently. So tell me why a man with the financial means films a documentary about some third-string Simpsons character while no one goes into why we have so many Angry Black Women characters on TV. Thankfully, progress has been made with the arrival of Luke Cage, The Chi, Black Lightning, and of course Black Panther – all well-written TV shows and movies with realistic depictions of African-Americans, but there’s still too much stereotypical programming around. We’re not there yet.

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Sinclair defends news promos – in the most asinine way possible

Attacks programming on other networks – including on its own air

In an interview with TVNewscheck Sunday at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, news director Mark Neerman of NBC affiliate KSNV in town (formerly known as KVBC) defended his station’s news content and the company’s news anchors reading the infamous promo about “fake news”, complied by Deadspin and went viral. Many believe the template statement was meant to promote the policies of President Trump.

He told Harry Jessell: “If you look at the words, there is nothing wrong with it…. It was only a promo, for god’s sake,”, but later admitted “When we do it again next time, we will probably give local stations more freedom to come up with the messaging.”

He also dismissed the overwhelmingly negative response to the piece, saying some of the people who complained used a template of their own to protest Sinclair’s purchase of Tribune, which would give the station group 72 percent of the country, including WGN-TV in Chicago. He also said the commentary pieces from Boris Epshteyn and Mark Hyman is minuscule compared to the multiple hours of news the station does each day.

But Neerman also added he feels no need to added liberal voices to counter the conservative ones on the station, noting viewers receive plenty of liberal stuff “from network programming” and preceded to criticize Jimmy Kimmel and other late-night hosts for bashing the President.

I’m not sure what Neerman meant by “network programming”, but I take it refers to those “evil people in Hollywood” who don’t respect “Middle America”, which for some strange reason does not include Chicago.

Last week, yours truly mentioned about the possibility of Sinclair potentially pre-empting shows it has odds with politically. For example, it could yank black-ish and Black Lightning because both shows deal with themes involving the African-American community, including the shootings by police of unarmed black men.

Is this the “liberal viewpoint” Neerman was referring to? Holy shit.

Local station managers have long been at odds with the networks over programming. In 1972 and 1973, numerous CBS affiliates pre-empted two episodes of Maude because they dealt with the title character getting an abortion. In 1974, the dead-in-the-ratings-water Marcus Welby, M.D. ran into problems with the gay community over an episode titled The Outing, forcing numerous ABC affiliates to drop the episode. In 2006, The Book Of Daniel was declined by several NBC affiliates due to content, including KARK in Little Rock. And Bonneville NBC affiliate KSL-TV in Salt Lake City had a history of turning down shows from the network and prior to 1995, CBS (including the referenced Maude episodes above.) Bonneville is owned by The Church Of Jesus Latter-Day Saints, a Mormon organization who once owned WTMX-FM and WDRV-FM in Chicago. At one point, KSL refused to air poker programming from NBC because of the church’s stance against gambling.

“Black Lightning” is one of the shows Sinclair could pre-empt because they don’t agree with its “liberal” point of view.

At the end of 2009, WPGA in Macon, Ga. disaffilated from ABC in part because local station managers found much of the network’s programming objectionable, including Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, and Ugly Betty. The owner – who obviously didn’t even watch his own station – famously told a Macon newspaper: “I had somebody tell me they’re running a good bit of gay and lesbian stuff on it. That’s really just in-your-face, so to speak, and I’m not sure that’s appropriate. That’s happening in prime time. I’m not really happy with it.” The odd part about this was WPGA held the syndication rights at the time to both Housewives and Grey’s.

And as yours truly also pointed out last week, many affiliates in the South in the 1950s and 1960s objected to the broadcast networks coverage on the Civil Rights Movement, with NBC affiliate WLBT in Jackson, Miss. taking the lead in blocking out news stories and pre-empting programs featuring people of color, such as The Nat King Cole Show. WLBT station manager Fred Beard said the major networks promoted “Negro propaganda“.

In recent years, pre-emptions have become rarer and rarer as the major networks have tightened the clamps on pre-emptions, whether if it is for “community reasons” or financial ones. Plus, affiliates now have to pay “reverse compensation” in order to carry network shows. Originally, affiliates received compensation for airing network programming, but was gradually eliminated in the 2000s.

Even worse for local stations, most prime-time programs are available via other means, including Hulu, CBS All-Access, and The CW App not to mention the network’s websites – eliminating the need for middlemen – the network affiliates. If I lived in Champaign and wanted to watch Grey’s, why should I do so from Sinclair-owned ABC affiliate WICD since the company who owns the station regularly insults me, the viewer?

From the above, you can see why the affiliate-network relationship is on ice.

But without network prime-time programming, the value of those stations would plummet. Stations would have to come up with other programming such as news – and it ain’t cheap. Ask KRON in San Francisco about the loss of NBC programming and their feeble attempt to replace it. Last I checked, networks still carry events that attracts a lot of viewers, including the NFL, college football, The Super Bowl, The World Series, and the Academy Awards, even if the latter has a “liberal” bent.

With Sinclair complaining about network programming from the Big Three, then maybe they should drop them when the affiliate contracts come up and start their own. They can spend their own money, fill their prime-time slots with their own programming predominately reflecting their point of view, without the need for “evil liberal Hollywood” on a platform that has the greatest reach (over-the-air TV) across the country.

Worked for PAX, right?

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Media Notepad : Cumulus to acquire WKQX after all

Also: CBS 2 names a new GM; Vivica A. Fox gets new daytime show; WGN celebrates 70th

After all of the hubbub about Cumulus and Merlin Media amid the former’s bankruptcy, the Atlanta-based company announced Tuesday night it has decided to purchase alternative rock WKQX-FM after all – but at a much lower price than agreed upon.

Cumulus agreed to buy the station for $18 million, far below the price of the original deal Cumulus had with Merlin in an option they had in a local marketing with Merlin, also including former classic rock outlet WLUP-FM. The deal was scuttled after Cumulus filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and WLUP was sold instead to Educational Media for just $21.5 million and flipped to a Christian music format.

Since Cumulus is in bankruptcy, the deal must be approved by a judge.

In addition to WKQX, Cumulus picks up all intellectual property related to WLUP, including the slogan “The Loop”, but don’t look for the classic rock station to resurface on Chicago radio anytime soon as WKQX is maintaining its alternative format and WLS-FM remains a classic hits outlet.

The deal closes the book on Merlin Media after just six years as with this sale, they have no properties left.

CBS-owned WBBM-TV announced Tuesday it has hired Derek Dalton as its new general manager.

Dalton replaces Marty Wilke, who stepped down on March 23.

The new hire comes from NBC affiliate WHEC-TV in Rochester, N.Y., an NBC affiliate owned by Minneapolis-based Hubbard Broadcasting, owners of local radio stations WDRV-FM, WSHE-FM, and WTMX-FM.

One of the first tasks Dalton faces is to hire a new news director as Jeff Kiernan is exiting as of Friday. In the meantime, assistant news director Karen Rariden will take the reins.

As noted by Robert Feder, WBBM ranks fifth in the market in both ratings and revenue, despite CBS being overall the most-watched network in primetime and has the most-watched daytime talk show (Dr. Phil) and overall top-rated show in syndication (Judge Judy).

CBS Television Stations president Peter Dunn said of Dalton: “Derek comes to us with a great reputation and track record of success everywhere he has worked. We look forward to having him lead the evolution of WBBM as it continues to deliver premium content via all of our broadcast and digital platforms.”

The move comes as CBS and Viacom are once again talking about recombining as the two companies split from each other in 2005. Viacom was originally spun off from CBS in 1971 before merging with each other in 1999.

In this very slow syndication selling season, there’s actually some news to announce: Vivica A. Fox signed a deal to co-host a new first-run daytime strip called Face The Truth from CBS Television Distribution this fall.

In this program, Fox, co-host Jon Tapper (Bar Rescue), and a panel of experts talk to people who have various challenges in their lives in order to overcome them.

The series has been sold to Weigel’s WCIU in Chicago, and could be a potential replacement for either Jerry Springer or Steve Wilkos should those two shows not return to syndication this fall. The renewals of the NBC Universal conflict talkers (including Maury) are being held up due to Sinclair’s pending deal to buy Tribune Media, who holds the rights to those shows in several markets, including New York and Los Angeles. In Chicago, only WGN holds the rights to Maury. The dilemma is unusual since the fates of syndicated shows are usually decided by January or February, and all three contracts are up.

Notably, Face The Truth was launched by getting around Tribune and Sinclair and selling to sister CBS Television Stations group. CBS holds duopolies in key large markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Dallas, but not Chicago.

Truth is produced by Jay and Dr. Phil McGraw’s Stage 29 Productions, who produces Dr. Phil, Bull, Daily Mail TV, and The Doctors, the latter renewed for next season. Truth is only the second show to go forward nationally this fall, only behind new courtroom show Caught In Providence. A proposed show featuring Jane Lynch from Warner Bros. has been officially scrapped.

While we await the boys from Chesapeake Bay for their opportunity to destroy the station, WGN-TV is celebrating its 70th anniversary Thursday night as “Chicago’s Very Own”. Signing on April 5, 1948, the one-hour retrospective looks back at the local programming WGN aired over the years, including Bozo, Ray Rayner, Garfield Goose, Cubs baseball, and more. The station was based at the Tribune Tower until 1961, when it moves to a new color studio on Bradley place where the station remains today.

WGN returned to independent status in 2016 after being affiliated with The CW and earlier, The WB. Early in its life, WGN was also affiliated with CBS part-time and DuMont.

Tom Skilling hosts the retrospective; ten years ago when it celebrated its 60th. it was hosted by Jim Belushi. The special airs Thursday at 8 p.m.


T Dog’s Think Tank: Sinclair thinks their viewers are tools

Sinclair’s plans for world domination accelerates while the rest of broadcasting industry stays silent

By now, everyone knows Sinclair Broadcasting has a right-wing bent in its newscasts, and panders to the Trump administration.

But what they’re doing may put the nail in the coffin of local television- and linear television in general.

Sinclair recently ordered its news stations to read a script from corporate headquarters in suburban Baltimore regarding “their pledge” to combat “fake news” – word-for-word:

Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that _______ produces.

(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

(B) At ______ it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to _______.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.

Sports website Deadspin complied anchors saying the template statement and it went viral.

And yes, this nonsense is soon coming to Chicago’s Very Own WGN-TV as Sinclair is trying to buy its owner, Tribune Media. I say trying, because they “refiled” paperwork with the FCC. Again.

Sinclair owns and/or operates more than 150 TV stations across the country, including in almost every Illinois market: Peoria/Bloomington (WHOI/WYZZ – the latter operated by Nexstar), Champaign-Springfield-Decatur (WICS-WICD-WRSP-WBUI-WCCU), St. Louis (KDNL, with Tribune owning KTVI and KPLR), Quincy (KHOA), and Harrisburg IL-Pacduah Ky. (KBSI-WDKA).

Only Rockford doesn’t have any Sinclair or Tribune Broadcasting stations. Lucky them, I guess.

Reaction to the controversy has been overwhelmingly negative, with many viewers vowing to boycott the stations:

Celebrities such as Alyssa Milano, Joss Whedon, Jimmy Kimmel and House Of Cards creator Beau Williamson weighed in with their criticism. And Democrat politicians are also taking notice, with one Kentucky congressional candidate pulling ads from Sinclair’s Lexington Fox affiliate WDKY, and one Cincinnati city council member stating he would no longer watch Sinclair’s Cincinnati CBS affiliate, WKRC.

Well-known former WKRC newscaster Nick Clooney, father of actor George Clooney and son of the late singer Rosemary Clooney told the Cincinnati Enquirer: “I have no idea what these folks are doing for a living, but it isn’t news.”

Notably silent are other broadcast groups and trade organizations, such as the National Association of Broadcasters. And it turns out the President has their back – in a tweet Monday morning, he ripped into those criticizing the video – praising Sinclair and slamming CNN and NBC as “fake news” outlets and did so again Tuesday morning.

You have to wonder if Sinclair is really going through with this plan to alienate audiences and risk their relationships with the Big Three networks with this move. And this may have ramifications not only for Sinclair stations but the entire broadcasting industry. For one, viewers – young ones in particular – the majority of whom are not Trump fans, may tune out of their favorite network primetime show on their Sinclair station and watch on a streaming service, taking away rating points.

And local TV news already is having trouble attracting young viewers as it is, and this may give them another reason not to tune in. The cable news networks who air this propaganda already skew old to dead.

Another red flag is Sinclair’s criticism of CBS, NBC, and ABC could come back to bite them, noting most Sinclair stations are affiliates of the three networks. Throwing shade at your business partner because of perceived “liberal bias” in their network newscasts isn’t a wise move as the network-affiliate relationship is already strained over a number of issues.

Given this stunt, you might wonder what else Sinclair has up its sleeve – for one, Sinclair could force its ABC affiliates not to air black-ish (Sinclair already instructed stations in 2004 not to air a Nightline special paying tribute to the soldiers who died during the Iraq war) or pre-empt Black Lightning on its CW affiliates because the company apparently doesn’t agree with both shows’ message regarding issues involving the black community. Already, ABC was forced to shelve an episode of black-ish dealing with NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem – guessing due to potential advertiser and affiliate concerns.

Think I’m kidding? Back in the 1950s and 1960s, many Southern affiliates chaffed at the networks’ handling of civil rights stories on their newscasts. NBC affiliate WLBT in Jackson, Miss. – then known for its intolerance of African-Americans, blacked out civil rights stories during NBC’s Today and the Huntley-Brinkley Report, largely pretending it was “cable issues” when it was really censorship because the reports ran counter to its pro-segregationist point of view. Raleigh’s WRAL jumped from NBC to ABC in 1962 for the same reason (after a 31-year stint with CBS, WRAL returned to NBC’s fold in 2016.)

And WRAL once gave time every night to future conservative North Carolina senator Jesse Helms, even pre-empting the last fifteen minutes of ABC’s evening newscast. Helms often railed against civil rights.

In 1971, WLBT’s owner lost its license after a lengthy battle with the FCC due to rampant racism the station was accused of.

Given their far-right leanings, you wonder if Sinclair would give a fair shake to Chicago’s black community, which many conservative outlets have slammed, mocked, or criticized. As everyone knows, Trump uses Chicago as a code word for “black people” whenever he complains about urban violence using Chicago’s gun violence epidemic as a backdrop. WGN has actually done a good job coverage urban issues – including the re-opening of the Carter Woodson Library in the Washington Heights neighborhood on the South Side.

But there’s no doubt this type of reporting would vanish completely with Sinclair taking over – especially now with Trump’s seal of approval. Instead of segments about local people, places, and things, we’ll have idiotic junk such as “Bottom Line With Boris”. With this scripted propaganda running concurrently, Sinclair has no respect for their viewers and thinks they’re stupid.

And in the picture above is KGBT, the CBS affiliate in the Harlingen-McAllen-Brownsville Tx. market, better known as the Rio Grande Valley. No doubt the big issue facing the market is Trump’s border wall as the area has a large Latino population and is located adjacent to the Mexican border. You can guess what side of the issue Sinclair falls on.

It’s a shame Sinclair is putting politics over public service – after all, the latter is what local television is all about. Since it is a now officially a mouthpiece for the authoritarian Trump administration, Sinclair might as well become another useless cable channel. The FCC under Ajit Pai are aiding and abetting Sinclair by relaxing the ownership rules and scamming via the UHF discount – so Sinclair can buy more stations.

As more and more stations are benefiting from retransmission consent (a term meaning cable and satellite operators pay the stations to carry their signal) and political advertising, owners now feel they are no longer dependent on ratings to sell advertising and couldn’t care less what content they put on the air, whether if it Roseanne Barr or the Boris guy.

The television business is a joke. But it just fits like a glove for Sinclair.

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The Media Notepad: B96 to reboot DreX

Also: Bible thumpers strike again – this time in Raleigh; CBS 2 news director resigns; Sun-Times has a new look. Again.

After seeing how much ABC cashed in on reboot fever with the return of Roseanne, now B96 is trying to do the same with their morning show – but it’s not Eddie & JoBo.

Instead, it’s former rival Kevin “DreX” Buchar, who is taking the reins in morning drive within the next few days. According to Robert Feder, Buchar is expected to sign on at the CHR/Top 40 station, though no start date has been set. Buchar was hired as morning personality in 2003 after WKSC unsuccessfully tried to lure Eddie & JoBo away from WBBM-FM. Buchar was dropped from WKSC in 2010, nearly two years after signing a five-year renewal deal, but his conflicts with station management obviously played a role in his departure.

As a result, B96 is parting ways with current morning show host Jamar McNeil (J Niice), who took over from Eddie & JoBo in 2009 with co-host Julian Nieh. After Nieh departed three years later, McNeil anchored the show solo, though he had “Showbiz” Shelley Manaker as a sidekick, whose tenure dates back to the Eddie & JoBo days. Manaker is also out in the shakeup.

These moves comes as both youth-oriented stations are sagging – both finished outside the top ten in Nielsen’s recent PPM report, beaten by two classic rock stations, a classic hip-hop station, and a classic hits outlet. WKSC and B96 also face competition from red hot Hot AC outlet WTMX (Mix 101.9), whose morning show is top-rated in Chicago. The lack of urban product on the pop charts right now – which was also an issue for Top 40 stations in the early 1980s – may also be to blame.

The Sun-Times unveiled a redesigned newspaper and website and new look for the 135th time in ten years on Wednesday, and it has a new font and larger block letters. Also noticeable is the removal of the “bullseye” in the Sun-Times logo, and replaced with a red star, found on Chicago’s official flag.

CEO Edwin Eisendrath said his he wants the paper to serve the hardworking men and women of the Chicago area, thus the slogan “The hardest working paper in America”. The redesign was meant to move the paper away from the disastrous Michael Ferro era, through Wrapports ownership from 2011 to 2016.

Also gone are branded USA Today stories, though some content would still appear in the paper.

Unfortunately, the new redesign looks bland and lacks color. And the paper is still smaller than it was in the past. The website also looks bland and too simple – nothing jumps out on the page. And “The hardest working paper in the America” is nothing more than a marketing slogan than anything else. So I guess we can call the Sun-Times the “James Brown Of Newspapers”?

But the biggest head-scratcher was a letter published Wednesday on the Sun-Times website, seeming to mock rival Chicago tribune for their recent woes, including the recent layoffs at the paper and cutback on sports coverage. Ask any of the hard-working people at the Tribune who were laid off recently – or those Sun-Times employees who had to suffer through the same kind of nonsense under Michael Ferro – are laughing. While it is nice to tout what you have over your rival, you don’t have to be an ass about it.

I suppose coming up next, the Sun-Times is going to drop a mixtape on the Tribune, just like Wendy’s did with McDoanld’s recently. I guess they’ll have hip-hop artists dissing the Tribune about their slow home delivery and mediocre content – something the Sun-Times was also guilty of over the years. It may be funny when fast-food chains have “beefs”, but when it comes to getting much-needed info out to people…not so much.

After nine years on the job, CBS 2 news director Jeff Kiernan is returning to where he started his career: Scripps-owned NBC affiliate WTMJ, where he was named senior director of local content. This marks the second management change at CBS-owned WBBM-TV in recent weeks; general manager Marty Wilke departed on Friday. No replacement has been named for neither position.

Arriving in 2009, Kiernan presided over a news operation never able to make it out of fourth place in the ratings during his tenure, and was best known for mishandling this incident in 2011 (sixth item), angering African-American viewers – including U.S. Representative Bobby Rush (D-1st). The incident drew comparisons to Harry Porterfield’s demotion from the station in 1985, triggering protests from Operation PUSH and Jesse Jackson.

Kierman started his career at the then-owned Journal Broadcasting station, since sold to Scripps in 2014. He was a reporter at WTMJ (AM), then switched over to the TV side, becoming news director in 1995. He joined CBS in 2003, where he served as news director for the company’s-owned stations in Minneapolis, Boston, and finally Chicago.

Even though WTMJ is in a somewhat better position in Milwaukee’s news race than CBS 2 is in Chicago’s, its glory days are long behind it. Once a dominant news station, WTMJ was beaten handily in the November 2017 sweeps, as WISN scored wins over them in every key time period – including 10 p.m., where WTMJ finished fourth – a time period they once dominated. This comes as WTMJ owner Scripps made cuts to its station groups, including eliminating positions at flagship ABC affiliate WCPO in Cincinnati.

Good luck, Mr. Kiernan…you’ll need it.

Once again, the Educational Media Foundation has taken a heritage signal and made it their own. This time, it’s Jazz outlet WSHA-FM in Raleigh, N.C. serving the Raleigh-Durham market – and one belonging to Shaw University, a historically black college.

Earlier this month, Chicago’s WLUP-FM was sold to EMF for its K-Love Christian music format, ending a 42-year run as classic rocker “The Loop”. WSHA dates back earlier – the station was launched in 1968 and was supposed to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. But beginning in the next few months, it will become another home for K-Love.

The news did not sit well with Shaw alumni.  “Once we learned of their intent to sell WSHA, a group of alumni actually offered to purchase the station. However, our efforts were blatantly ignored,” said Shaw graduate Keisha Monk, a former WVAZ-FM midday personality (then known as Keisha Keyz) who now works in Boston radio.” Our rich history is being sold for a few pieces of silver to fill budget holes left behind by past presidents.” According to the Raleigh News & Observer, she and a group of other Shaw alum tried to buy the station.

In addition to jazz, WSHA also played blues, funk, gospel, and Latin American music in addition to fare from NPR. Similar to The Loop, WSHA plans to live on as an online-only station, but it certainly won’t be the same. No date for the format change has been set, as EMF plans to wait until the FCC approves the sale instead of entering into a local marketing agreement like they did here in Chicago with WLUP. After the sale is approved, WSHA’s facilities are being transformed into a media lab.

It is sad to see a college-run station – with a wealth of music you can’t find on the dial anywhere else in the Raleigh-Durham area (as opposed to the fare you hear on the corporate-owned outlets) gets pushed off the dial, replaced by a nationally syndicated 24/7 format operated from a broom closet. WSHA goes away despite a storied history, but that doesn’t matter – ask fans of The Loop.


“Roseanne” revival hits a home run

Premiere is highest-rated of the season

A few weeks ago, a writer from Mediapost said the return of American Idol on ABC “saved” the television industry.

He might want to revise his article.

In stunning news, the revival of Roseanne won big time in the ratings for ABC – averaging a 5.2 rating in the adults 18-49 demo for ABC in the lead-off time slot Tuesday night. The revival stomped over its competition, drawing 6.6 million viewers in the 18-49 demo and 18.8 million overall. In overnight ratings, Roseanne drew a 11.7/19 in Nielsen’s 56 metered markets.

In Chicago, ABC 7 scored a whopping 16.8 household overnight rating, good enough for fifth place among metered markets and finished fourth among all markets in the adults 18-49 demo with a 8.1 rating. Tulsa’s KTUL took top honors in households with a 19.0.

Among adults 18-49, the number was the highest for any scripted series on network television since a 2015 episode of Empire and the highest for any sitcom since 2014.

Roseanne also did something American Idol couldn’t do – beat NBC’s The Voice, who had a 1.7 demo rating and nine million viewers.

The revival was generally liked by critics, with a 83 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 79 score on Metacritic. Given it’s political bent, it would be curious to see what the Conners think of Illinois’ politics and its dire financial situation, given the family lives in the state – in far suburban Chicago no less.

A “Roseanne” trade ad in an November 1990 issue of Broadcasting & Cable, prepping for a 1992 off-net syndication debut.

The original version of Roseanne was a big hit for ABC when it premiered in October 18, 1988 and was the top-rated TV show of the 1989-90 season, dethroning The Cosby Show after four seasons (both Cosby and Roseanne were produced by The Carsey-Werner Co.) The show’s final season was notoriously known for several bizarre plot twists, including the family appearing on Jerry Springer (which was a hot property at the time) and the Connors winning the lottery – revealed to be nothing more than a fictitious memoir written by the show’s title character.

In 1990, Viacom sold Roseanne into syndication for a paltry $1.5 million an episode (compared to a whopping $4 million for Cosby – also sold by Viacom and $2.5 million for Who’s The Boss?) with WNYW in New York, KCOP in Los Angeles, and WPWR in Chicago coming on board. Roseanne was a huge off-network smash, ranking as the top off-net sitcom in syndication from its debut in 1992 to 1995, when it was dethroned by Home Improvement. Roseanne was a huge hit for WPWR, with ratings for its 5:30 p.m. airing often-drawing the CBS Evening News in the Chicago market. After Viacom merged with Paramount in 1994, Carsey-Werner reacquired syndication rights to its library, including Roseanne.

Off-network episodes have aired on cable networks TBS, We, Nick at Nite, TVLand, CMT, and diginet Laff.

Roseanne’s performance Tuesday is indeed good news for broadcast network television, who continues to see year-to-year audience erosion. So if we are talking about anyone saving television, it turned out to be an aging, outspoken loudmouth rather than a bunch of karaoke signers – and the industry is probably better off. And who knows? If Roseanne hangs around long enough, she might be able to save the struggling off-network syndication business as well.

Did you know? Roseanne Barr also had a daytime first-run syndicated talk show strip from 1998 to 2000, with the NBC-owned stations as a launch group. In Chicago, The Roseanne Show replaced Springer in the 2 p.m. time slot after NBC-owned WMAQ was forced to give up the latter show, and ratings in the time slot predictably tumbled. Despite NBC dropping the show in top markets after its first season, King World continued on with The Roseanne Show until September 2000 when it ended. Of note it was the first national television series to be produced digitally.



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Chicago Tribune cuts Blackhawks, White Sox coverage

Eliminates beat coverage in cost-cutting move

This is something you’d expect in a much smaller market. But not in sports-crazy Chicago.

But this is what we have here, and as first reported by Robert Feder Thursday, the Chicago Tribune announced it has cut beat reporters for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Blackhawks, despite the recent success of the latter with three Stanley Cups won in seven years. No replacements were named, and there is no plan on how the teams would be covered by the publication going forward.

The two released were Blackhawks beat writer Chris Kuc and White Sox beat writer Paul Skrbina.

The moves comes as the Tribune’s parent (tronc) announced layoffs last week, with Chairman Michael Ferro resigning Monday, hours before an expose was published in Fortune regarding claims of sexual harassment against him.

After trying to contract management in the Tribune’s sports department, Feder received this terse statement from a tronc official: “The Chicago Tribune is fully committed to covering the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Blackhawks. We value and understand the importance of covering sports both for fans and our readers.”

The elimination of beat reporters and relying on wire services (such as AP and Reuters) could have complications down the road. White Sox fans have complained about a lack of coverage from both the local and national media over the years, especially the latter regarding its 2005 World Series Championship. And the Blackhawks had trouble getting any media coverage at all during the team’s swoon years (roughly 1998 to 2008, when made the playoffs only once), but changed when the team became a hot property.

With the Blackhawks officially eliminated from the playoffs earlier this week, the paper figured no need to invest in coverage – it’s a slap in the face to a franchise who worked hard to improve its viability in the Chicago area after years of neglect.

The sad apart about this entire episode is it sends a dangerous message – one ESPN’s SportsCenter regularly hammers down every night – only pro football and pro basketball (and in the Trib’s case, also the Cubs) matters to our readers and no other sport. Already, coverage of high school sports, golf, and tennis were either cut back or eliminated all together, and rest assured, if the Loyola Ramblers weren’t in the NCAA Tournament, college basketball would be also be cut.

Local media coverage of MLS’ Chicago Fire has also been nearly non-existent over the years, but then again, their recent decision to yank their games off linear TV doesn’t help matters much.

And if the Tribune cuts the sports beat reporters, what’s next? The arts? City Hall coverage? Already, the Sun-Times dropped arts critic Heidi Weiss position, without naming a replacement. And neither paper currently has a TV/Radio critic on staff.

It’s a shame Chicago’s two newspapers continue to cut important beat positions without regard to any consequences that might occur. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports, or arts or entertainment, but yes, a lot of people do follow these subjects. This is something that shouldn’t happen in the nation’s third-largest media market – cutting positions because management can’t manage their finances – so it’s the reader invested in these subjects who suffers.

As for this decision made the Tribune, it sends a signal the “World’s Greatest Newspaper” isn’t so great anymore. Then again, it hasn’t been so great for quite some time.

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Former Nine FM, Bus home sold

Bible thumpers strike again as 99.9 FM sold

The former home of both WBUS and Nine FM was sold Tuesday to a non-profit educational foundation specializing in religious programming – the second deal made by such an entity in the Chicago market this year.

Newsweb announced Tuesday it sold WCPQ-FM (99.9) in south suburban Park Forest to Bible Broadcasting, Inc. for $5 million. Similar to the Educational Media Foundation – the outfit who acquired WLUP-FM earlier this month, Bible Broadcasting relies on listener donations and not traditional advertising as a source of revenue.

Able to reach into Chicago’s south side and south suburbs, the 99.9 frequency was perhaps best known for “Nine FM” (WRZA-FM), the Jack-FM-like “We Play Anything” outlet from 2004 to 2008 in a format known as Variety Hits, later simulcast on Arlington Heights’ WKIE (92.7 FM, now WCPY) and DuPage County’s WDEK (92.5 FM). Yours truly documented the problems of Nine FM in the early years of the blog.

The station was also known as WBUS-FM or “The Bus” with a CHR/Top 40 format from 1987 to 1996. Based in Kankakee, it held the rights (separate from Chicago) to syndicated Casey’s Top 40 and American Top 40 countdown programs. Between 1996 and 2004, it programmed a Spanish-language format known as La Raza, changed the call letters to WRZA, and shifted the city of license (in this case, a village) to Park Forest.

After shuttering Nine FM in 2008, the trio carried a simulcast of co-owned WCPT’s (820 AM) liberal talk format and became WCPQ.

Since 2014, WCPQ and WCPY has been carrying Polish-targeted programming known as “Polski FM” during the day and Dance Factory at night – the latter a holdover from the Nine FM days. Newsweb is retaining WCPY with the dual formats intact.

No date has been set for the changeover at WCPQ.

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The Media Notepad: CBS 2’s Marty Wilke calls it a career

Marty Wilke steps down; remains in Chicago to do philanthropic work

Also: Deal or No Deal returns; iHeartMedia files for bankruptcy; local stations roll in election cash

General manager Marty Wilke of CBS-owned WBBM-TV announced last week she was retiring from her position after six years with the station. Her last day is Friday.

Wilke arrived at CBS 2 in October 2012 after a stint in the same capacity at Tribune’s WGN-TV. She replaced Bruno Cohen, who left CBS 2 to fill a similar role at sister station KPIX in San Francisco.

“My six years as a member of the CBS 2 family have been a very special time, filled with terrific experiences and great colleagues, said Wilke in a statement. CBS is a first-class company, and I am forever grateful for having the opportunity to run my hometown CBS station.”

In the six years Wilke has run CBS 2, news ratings remained stagnant with the station still in third place at 10 p.m. On the upside, the station updlgraded its news set, hired Irka Sargant to co-anchor with Rob Johnson and improved the performance of its news product. The station also acquired Hot Bench from WCIU’s secondary U Too Channel through corporate sister CBS Television Distribution to replaced the failed Queen Latifah Show, leading to a solid early fringe lineup with Dr. Phil and Judge Judy.

Wilke has hinted she is staying in Chicago supporting charitable endeavors and her alma mater DePaul University, but it is not clear if intends to take a position with one of those entities.

No replacement has been named.

Since it left the air in 2010, there was speculation whether or not Deal Or No Deal would be rebooted.

Well, we got an answer. And it’s a deal!

CNBC announced last week it was bringing back Deal Or No Deal, with original host Howie Mandel and the original production team. Scott St. John returns as executive producer and True Original – a subsidiary of original producer Endemol Shine North America – is producing the show.

This is the latest program CNBC has acquired to fill evening time slots as its weekday daytime slots are occupied by financial and business programming. In the last few years, CNBC has added American Greed, The Profit, The Job Interview, and reruns of Shark Tank onto its nighttime schedule.

Deal or No Deal premiered on NBC in December 2005 and became an instant hit with viewers. The models – who opened suitcases on the show, became stars in their own right. Among the more notable models included Claudia Jordan (who would later appear in The Real Housewives Of Atlanta) and Meagan Markle, who went on to star in USA’s Suits and of course, is engaged to Prince Harry. It took three years to give away the first million dollar prize, but was beaten to it in this regard by The Price Is Right – not once, but twice in primetime specials.) Deal was quietly canceled in 2009 without notice.

A syndicated version from NBCUniversal Television Distribution (also hosted by Mandel) debuted in September 2008 with a different variation from the primetime show: potential contestants were chosen via wheel and the top prize was $500,000. Two models from the primetime show also were in this version: Tameka Jacobs and Chicago native Patricia Kara (the network version also featured another Chicago native, Katie Cleary.) This version of Deal was canceled in 2010 after the NBC-owned stations and My Network TV both declined to renew the show due to low ratings.

Production aspects for the revival have yet to be nailed down – it’s unknown if the format would follow the original network version or the syndicated one. It’s also unknown where the new show would be produced – the final syndicated season of the show saw Deal relocate to Waterford, Conn. in order to lower production costs, though it would make sense for the CNBC version to produce the show in the state as NBCUniversal produces several programs in Stamford and NBC Sports is headquarted in the city.

Deal has aired on CNBC before – reruns of the NBC version periodically aired during the show’s original run.

Well, it’s official: as expected, iHeartMedia announced it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The large radio chain with 858 stations stretching from New York City to Los Angeles and Seattle to Miami (and other markets in between) agreed with several of its holders regarding the $10 billion of debt the company owes to creditors. iHeartMedia skipped a $106 million interest payment on February 1.

Operations at iHeartMedia – including its six radio station in Chicago, are continuing as normal. Clear Channel Outdoor is not affected.

iHeartMedia – then known as Clear Channel Communications – were in a highly leveraged buyout in 2008 by Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee partners before the financial crash. iHeartMedia now joins fellow operator Cumulus in bankruptcy. With operations “continuing as normal”, look for some big changes in the way iHeartMedia operates if what recently happened at Cumulus is any indication. Lavish shows such as the recent iHeartMedia Music Awards – could be a thing of the past. Also likely gone is those huge payday deals celebrities such as Rush Limbaugh, Steve Harvey, and Ryan Seacrest are under, though their Premiere Radio Networks subsidiary.

With the Illinois Governor’s race playing out like a bad reality TV show, it comes as no surprise the political spending has been totally bonkers. According to the Chicago Tribune, the candidates have spent millions of dollars on television and radio advertising – $65.7 million worth. Candidates running for other offices up for grabs have also spent tons of cash.

The commercials ran non-stop on almost every commercial outlet on almost every program, whether if its news or entertainment. While syndicated game shows Jeopardy!, Wheel Of Fortune, and Ellen have seen their local avails gobbled up by political ads, other series – notably prime-time’s CW’s Black Lightning, Riverdale, and Fox’s Bob’s Burgers – did not see any local political ads (Fox’s Family Guy didn’t see any adverting at all as it went commercial-free this past week.) Once again, young-skewing and easily-DVR’ed fare aren’t seeing a whole lot of political dollars.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker has spent $33.5 million on TV advertising alone, while incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner has spent $16 million on TV ads. Other candidates have spent anywhere between two and four million dollars.

Meanwhile, the third district congressional race is also attracting dollars, with incumbent Dan Lipinski and challenger Marie Newman fighting it out. Lipinski bought commercial time during the NCAA Tournament this past weekend.

Also targeted are Bulls and Blackhawks games, and spring training baseball.

But no matter who wins, we already know who the biggest winners in Illinois are: the state’s media outlets who are getting a windfall from political advertising revenue. After all, someone needs money to maintain those powerful Doppler Radars and keep those weather vans’ gas tanks filled.


Michael Ferro steps down from Tronc

He “retires” shortly before Fortune publishes a story about him sexually harassing two women

In news shocking everyone, tronc chairman Michael Ferro resigned Monday morning and ceded control of the company to CEO Justin Dearborn. But later in the day, Fortune published an expose of Ferro – with two women accusing him of sexual harassment.

The moves comes as tronc sold two of its holdings in the last few weeks: both the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune to investor Patrick Soon-Shiong for $500 million. Ferro’s resignation also comes on the heels of journalistic layoffs at the tronc-owned Chicago Tribune on Friday – while tronc executives Dearborn and CFO Terry Jimenez gave themselves raises, and awarding a $15 million contract to Merrick Ventures, a firm owned by… you guessed it, Michael Ferro.

In addition, Ferro continues to receive a $5 million consulting fee.

But the biggest bombshell out of all this is the sexual harassment allegations Ferro is accused of while he was CEO of Wrapports, the former owner of the Sun-Times. Two women came forward and told Fortune of unwanted advances, including kissing and groping. Ferro is now the latest public figure to be accused of sexual harassment in the “#MeToo” era, launched on social media after many female staffers accused Harvey Weinstein of harassing numerous female employees.

In one instance, Ferro is accused of groping a woman who was nine weeks pregnant.

According to the Fortune piece, Ferro is also accused of making sexual comments about women while at the Sun-Times. Of note is while at the Sun-Times, Ferro gave a columnist position to Jenny McCarthy in 2012, despite her lack of journalistic experience.

Shortly after Ferro bought the Sun-Times through Wrapports, the Sun-Times ran a front-page cover of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian instead of more pressing matters, prompting yours truly to call the publication “a disgrace” for the second time in five years – a reminder of an earlier era when the Sun-Times was run by similar buffoons.

Ferro wanted the Sun-Times to be “The New York Post Of The Midwest”.

Less than two years ago, he took over Tribune Publishing and renamed it the much-maligned “tronc”. During his tenure, the paper was run no better during the Zell/Michaels era. This is what “content” the company was peddling a while back, about as juvenile as it gets. Certainly, using inner-city areas of Chicago and L.A. as props for jokes tell us how “dignified” these papers were under Ferro.

With a few Mystery Science Theater 3000 references, yours truly said about Ferro after the Kanye West/Kim Kardishan cover:

“The mission is simple: Ferro acts like an evil scientist and in his bid for world domination (or at least become the region’s biggest media baron), he is experimenting to see how much celebrity fluff and irrelevant news items he can stuff into the newspaper, so he can turn readers into mindless zombies. His plan is to dumb down Chicagoans (which is incredibly easy to do), so they can only care about who Jennifer Lopez is seeing this week and which cast member of “Gossip Girl” they would like to sleep with while corrupt politicians continue to fleece our pockets and the quality of life in Chicago continues to decline. Ferro is kind of like Dr. Clayton Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000 – but with even less brains. It seems Sun-Times readers are trapped on the Satellite of Love and forced to watch bad B-movies every day- something the paper is rivaling in the quality department. This Ferro idiot needs to board the Enterprise and go back to his home planet.”

After five years, Ferro is being sent back to where he came from, hopefully never to return. But not before some hard questions needs to be asked first about how he treated women. And judging by the Fortune article, his “home planet” should be a jail cell.

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The Score unveils new lineup

Dan McNeil returns; Jason Goff , Matt Speigel on the outside looking in

In an effort to boost sagging ratings, Entercom-owned WSCR-AM – known as The Score – announced numerous lineup changes today.

As first tipped by Robert Feder on Tuesday, WSCR is bringing back Dan McNeil to the station in afternoons, pairing him with Dan Perkins from 1 to 6 p.m. The new show pushes Dan Bernstein – who was famously paired with now-retired  Terry Boers in the daypart, to middays with new partner Connor McKnight, from 9 to 1 p.m. Knight was previously sports anchor at WLS-AM and also handled pre-game and post-game duties with the White Sox.

McNeil spent fifteen months co-hosting a morning show with Pete McMurray in 2015 and 2016 at classic rock WDRV-FM (The Drive) before he left the station. McNeil has had two earlier tour of duties at WSCR.

The station’s Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley remain in their 5 to 9 a.m. morning slot. Laurence Holmes gets the 6 to 10 p.m. shift; Les Grobstein continues to do overnights. The schedule change takes effect immediately.

The moves leaves both Matt Speigel and Jason Goff without slots, but both remain under contract and are expected to do weekend/fill-in work.

Even though the Chicago Cubs give WSCR a huge boost during the spring and summer months, the station is looking to shore up weak spots on the schedule. One of those happens to be the late afternoon shift with Goff and Bernstein, whose ratings took a nosedive after Boers left. An item in Feder’s column Tuesday noted the show finished tied for nineteenth overall in the afternoon daypart.

Reaction to Goff’s demotion was mixed. While some listeners criticized the decision to bench Goff, others were happy with the change as some accuse Goff of forcing political issues into the show, notably race (Goff is African-American) – something a lot of listeners didn’t appreciate (yours truly never found time to listen to said show, so I can’t really comment.) Others found him arrogant and quite unlikable.

As ESPN’s failed SC6 experiment illustrated with African-American anchors Michael Smith and Jemele Hill – the latter suspended for critical comments against President Trump, there seems to be a growing backlash against mixing political commentary and sports – particularly on a station whose audience is majority white. But give all three credit for trying something different in a business where racial diversity is nearly non-existent, whether if it is in Hollywood or in Chicago media. It was a risky move in one of the country’s most racially segregated media markets.  Unfortunately, ratings talk, money walks, and a change had to be made.



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Chicago Fire strikes exclusive deal with ESPN Plus

Three-year pact means no linear TV – for now

If you want to watch Chicago Fire, you can still watch it on NBC.

But if you want to watch the soccer team of the same name…well, you are out of luck – for now.

The Major League Soccer team announced Friday it has struck a deal with the new over-the-top service ESPN Plus for all games not nationally-televised. In the process, the Fire declined to renew its deal with NBC Sports Chicago (formerly Comcast SportsNet Chicago and CSN Chicago). The deal means for the first time, most Chicago Fire games would no longer be available to linear TV viewers in the Chicago area.

And yes, viewers will have to pay $4.99 a month to access the service. Fire games are part of the Major League Soccer Live package, which is available exclusively on ESPN Plus’ service.

With the new over-the-air service not launched yet, Fire fans can only watch their team via MLS’ website as ESPN Plus is scheduled to debut later this spring. The service is being made available on all platforms, including iOs, Roku, Chromecast, Android, and others. ESPN Plus plans to air more than 500 live events a year, including MLB and NFL games, boxing, golf, college sports, and more. Recently, the Sun Belt conference signed a deal to air almost all its events – basketball included – on the ESPN Plus platform.

The Fire becomes the second MLS team to sell its television package to an over-the-top service as Los Angeles FC (not to be confused with the Los Angeles Galaxy) struck a deal with Google’s YouTubeTV.

This is the latest in a number of deals between sports leagues and big tech. Last week, Facebook announced it will stream 20 weekday afternoon MLB games paying $30 to $35 million for the privilege to do so, with the games are being produced by MLB Network. Earlier, the NFL struck deals with Twitter and Amazon to live-stream selected Thursday Night Football games.

As expected, the Fire deal came under criticism. A sampling of them are below:

For the last two years, the Fire has grown in popularity, signing key players (such as German sensation Bastian Schweinsteiger) among other moves. But the team remains a blip on the Chicago sports radar, thanks in part to the team playing in the middle of nowhere (Toyota Park in southwest suburban Bridgeview near 71st and Harlem is not easy to get to – especially on public transportation, only served by shitty Pace bus service.) By comparison, all other sports teams’ games are easily accessible via transit within the city. The new “television” deal does not help matters.

As many people pointed out, the scenario is similar to what the Chicago White Sox did in 1982 and took a lot of games off of “free TV” and put them on subscription television services (STV) ONTV and Sportsvision, airing on over-the-air broadcast TV but with their screens scrambled – meaning you needed a box to decode the signal. Though no effects on attendance were felt immediately at Comiskey (the White Sox won the AL West Pennant in 1983 and had a strong 1984), moving the team to pay TV hurt the team’s viability in the long run and is still being felt today.

The growing popularity of premium cable and home video killed off STV services, with ONTV closing its doors in 1985. In terms of cost, STV was more expensive than today’s streaming services, even with inflation factored in.

Another example: the Chicago Blackhawks were a low-profile, struggling franchise until a decades-old policy on not televising home games was reversed in 2008. Since then, Blackhawks games at the United Center have continuously sold out (putting a winning team on the ice also helped.)

But this deal could be positive down the road for the Fire. Currently, the Chicago Cubs are looking to start their own regional sports network in 2020 as they are likely to exit their deal and their ownership stake in NBC Sports Chicago. With 21st Century Fox in the process of selling its entertainment and its regional sports network assets to The Walt Disney Company, there is a possibility the Cubs could strike a deal with Disney-owned ESPN to launch a RSN – and if they choose to, the Fire could continue their relationship with ESPN by airing games on the new Cubs network. But this could be a tall order.

But in the meantime, if you watch to see a Fire game, good luck. In an era where thanks to its tremendous reach, television is an important tool in promoting your product – the Fire just threw theirs away. It’s about selling the experience to a wide audience. But the experience is now behind an additional paywall.

These type of decisions usually get people fired, no pun intended. At least the OTT deal isn’t about “protecting the season-ticket holders” as former Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz stupidly said years ago. But it’s just as aggravating.

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The end: WLUP goes out with a bang

Classic rocker WLUP-FM (The Loop) signed off Friday evening at approximately 11:59 p.m. and went out with a blast.

As you know by now, WLUP was sold on Tuesday to the Educational Media Foundation, who are buying up stations across the country to air their Christian Contemporary music format known as K-Love with a switch set for Saturday. On Friday, former Looper Steve Dahl’s WLS-AM afternoon show was simulcast on WLUP as he paid tribute to the rocker with special guests and a trip down memory lane.

Among the guests who appeared on Friday’s show include Loop alumni Jonathan Brandmeier, Buzz Killman, Kevin Matthews, Danny Bonaduce, Sky Daniels, and Bruce Wolf (you can listen to the final hour of Dahl’s show here.)

The Loop was also toasted by other radio stations around Chicago, including WGN-AM and former competitor The Drive (WDRV), who did a “10 at 10” tribute and one from WILL-FM in Kenosha:






When the final 11 p.m. hour came, this is what was played, according to Radio Insight. Notice a trend here:

  • Led Zeppelin – Stairway To Heaven
  • Europe – The Final Countdown
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird
  • REM – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
  • Metallica – For Whom The Bell Tolls
  • Rush – Limelight
  • Mötley Crüe – Shout At The Devil
  • Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast
  • AC/DC – Highway To Hell

The last song Dahl suggested in a Robert Feder column a few days ago, and indeed, it was a brilliant choice.

After a few seconds of dead air, WLUP switched to K-Love, dropping in right in the middle of Whom Shall I Fear by Chris Tomlin (you can hear the format change here.)

On Twitter, many toasted the station:

And their were more out-of-town toasts: This one, from former Chicago area resident and now L.A.-based IndieWire columnist Michael Schneider:

And even Dr. Demento – whose show aired on WLUP until 2010, paid tribute to the station on his long-running show:

The events of the last few days reminds us how much radio played an important role in our lives. In an era before social media and the Internet, there were generations of people who connected with these stations and the personalities who were on them. They spoke to their audience without looking down on them, and that’s what made people like Steve Dahl and others legends. Even though what made The Loop an iconic radio brand in Chicago has been absent from the station the last twenty years, the outpouring of reaction from fans and non-fans alike about The Loop tells us how much radio still connects with listeners – even with a wealth of alternatives. Terrestrial radio doesn’t have the same human touch it once had, but it can still move people.

Rest in rockin’ peace, The Loop.

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