The Media Notepad: WBEZ hires Sasha Anne-Simons as new midday host

Also: Charlie Brown returns; Fox renews syndicated shows; Sinclair to rebrand RSNs after Bally’s

Chicago Public Media’s WBEZ-FM has filled its open midday position. 

Her name is Sasha Anne-Simons and she’ll take over from the since-departed Jenn White on December 14 as host of Reset, which aired weekdays  from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For the last few months, the spot was filled by Justin Kaufmann on an interim basis. 

Simons hails from WAMU-FM, American University’s public radio station in Washington, D.C. Oddly, WAMU is the place where Jenn White went after she left WBEZ last summer, so I guess you can call this a trade. White now hosts NPR’s 1A from D.C. 

“It is a great honor to host Reset and a huge responsibility I don’t take lightly. I’m excited to make Chicago my new home and to explore the region with curiosity and affection,” said Simons. “I look forward to merging the national conversation with the big stories of the Midwest, while holding those in power accountable. I will meet this remarkable moment in history with empathy, new energy, and the solid journalism that WBEZ has brought to its listeners for decades.”

Simons hails originally from Jamaica and grew up in Toronto and has worked in public media in Rochester before heading to WAMU in 2017. 

Good Grief, Round-Headed Kid it’s a Christmas miracle – in a surprise move, Apple TV Plus announced Wednesday the Peanuts holiday specials that were acquired by the tech giant for their streaming service on an exclusive basis is now being made available to PBS member stations for airing on linear television.

This Sunday, the 1973 classic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving will air on WTTW and digital subchannel PBS Kids (Channel 11.4) at 6:30 p.m. and both will also play A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 13 in the same time slot. For the first time, both specials will air commercial-free as stations with non-commercial licenses, can’t accept standard TV advertising (but can accept underwriting commercials between shows.)

The specials were standard holiday fare for decades, first at CBS, and later at ABC. But in a shocking move, Apple TV bought the exclusive rights not only to stream but also the linear TV rights resulting in a backlash from viewers, even though the specials were made available on every available home video platform over the years.

Details of this deal weren’t revealed, though this is PBS, so I’m guessing the member stations aren’t paying anything for the specials. There is also no word if this is a one-time airing, as the 1966 Great Pumpkin special did not air on linear this year. Both specials are still slated to stream on Apple TV, and is being made free for viewers for in a three-day window. 

The reversal of Apple’s decision just goes to show you the power of over-the-air broadcast television – even in an era where a wealth of alternatives abound.

Fox has renewed its three syndicated shows through the 2022-23 season: 25 Words Or Less, Divorce Court, and Dish Nation

“We at Fox First Run are so pleased to produce reliably strong, feel good programming for FTS and syndication”, said Stephen Brown, executive vice president of Fox Television Stations. “With shows helmed by Meredith Vieira, Judge Faith Jenkins, Sherri Shepherd and the amazing cast of Dish Nation, plus the upcoming You Bet Your Life with Jay Leno, we anticipate nothing but growth ahead.”

All three shows air locally on the Fox-owned duopoly of WFLD and WPWR and other Fox-owned stations, although a few shows don’t appear on all of them. For example in Detroit, Divorce Court airs on CBS-owned WKBD-TV instead of Fox-owned WJBK. Fox retained the three shows after selling the rest of their syndication portfolio to Disney. 

Ratings for 25 Words have inched upward over last year with a 0.8 national rating in the last Nielsen syndication report, while Divorce Court whose new judge Faith Jenkins replaced Judge Lynn Toler earlier this season earned a 0.6 rating, and Dish Nation has a 0.3. While ratings remain low, these programs fill slots on Fox-owned stations in key daytime and late-night time periods.

Of note regarding Dish Nation, the program now bares little resemblance to when it premiered in 2012 (remember Scott Shannon appearing in the first season?) In addition to adding Sherri Shepherd, Dish now features Chicago native and 90’s female rap icon Da Brat and the Real Housewives‘ Porsha Williams, among others. The radio personalities record their segments for Dish exclusively for the show.

In a long overdue move, Sinclair Broadcasting finally announced they were re-branding their 21 regional sports networks – as Bally’s?

Sinclair announced the move as part of a larger deal Wednesday night with the Rhode Island casino conglomerate as sports betting has become the biggest thing since sliced bread if anyone who’ve watched live TV over the last few months have been bombarded with DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetRivers ads. The deal is worth $85 million over a decade, and also gives Sinclair’s Tennis Channel, Stadium, and 191 television stations gambling content as the vast majority of them are affiliated with the Big Four networks who have sports rights. 

Sports gambling is now legal in 25 states, including Illinois and Indiana. 

Both the Marquee Sports Network and Yes are not part of the re-branding deal, but Bally’s gaming content could air on those channels as RSNs to be re-named include Fox Sports Wisconsin, Fox Sports Midwest, and Fox Sports Southwest. There is no word on what the branding would look like, but the Bally name is expected to replace Fox, who once owned the RSNs. So in the future, you may see something like a “Bally’s Sports Midwest” logo when you see St. Louis Cardinals highlights, for example.

The MLB, NBA, and NHL must sign off, as these leagues already have deals with rival sports betting companies.

Bally recently purchased and its betting software for $125 million and plans to develop a gambling tool it can use to advertise during game telecasts. Sinclair was already looking for sports gaming companies to partnership with.

Sinclair purchased the 21 RSNs from the Walt Disney Company for $9.6 billion last year but the acquisition hasn’t paid off for Sinclair thus far as the pandemic wiped out sports events last spring and hurt the broadcast company’s bottom line as it was forced to take a $4.2 billion writedown.

Earlier Wednesday, Sinclair announced it named its soon-to-launch three-hour morning headline news show the ever-generic The National Desk, available on the company’s CW and My Network TV affiliates, and its online Stirr platform. The show is being co-anchored by former WFLD news anchor Jan Jeffcoat and is slated for a January premiere.

The original Bally Corp. once had a diversified portfolio filled with properties including casinos, Great America theme parks, pinball and video game manufacturing, and a now-defunct chain of total fitness centers as they spun those properties off over the years to focus on their casino businesses, acquired by Hilton Hotels in 1996 and later spun off to Caesars Entertainment. The Bally name was resurrected this year as casino operator Twin River Holdings bought the rights to use the name from Caesars. 


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