The Media Notepad: WGN Radio surges in ratings

Also: NBC 5/Telemundo to award nonprofits; Sherri Shepard to succeed Wendy Williams; Introducing Ion Mystery 

Is WGN-AM staging a return to the top? 

The first PPM numbers released for 2022 shows the Nexstar-owned station placing fourth overall, up 49 percent from the last survey – marking their highest ranking since October 2008 at the dawn of the PPM era. Leading the way was Bob Sirott’s second-place finish in morning drive – the highest in at least fifteen years when Spike O’Dell was in the position. Taking first in middays was John Williams while newcomer Lisa Dent finished seventh in afternoon drive. This comes as the radio station is celebrating its 100th 98th anniversary this year, hence the classic “globe” logo. 

Throughout a period from the 1970s to the end of the 2000s, WGN Radio was the dominant radio station in Chicago, if not the country, with personalities ranging from Wally Phillips to Bob Collins and Roy Leonard to keep listeners tuned in all day long. It was so dominant, during this period (excluding ratings books impacted by Christmas music), only two FM music stations have reached the top – Urban Contemporary WGCI and Top 40 WBBM-FM, who did so in 2000. Fueling the dominance was Cubs baseball during the spring and summer months, despite how they played on the field. 

The PPM era hasn’t been kind to WGN as the station fell out of first place and saw ratings drop further after losing Cubs baseball in 2014. But the upswing is indeed impressive.

As for the current occupants of the top spot, all-news WBBM-AM and Adult R&B V103 (WVAZ) tied for first overall while WLIT fell from its Christmas music-fueled first place perch to fifth as listening patterns returned to normal last month. New WBBM morning anchor Cisco Cotto took first in morning drive, as WBEZ programming did in afternoon drive. In the key 25-54 demo, TelevisaUnivision’s Spanish-language WOJO-FM topped all competitors taking wins in the morning and midday dayparts.

After thirteen seasons, the curtains have come down on Debmar-Mercury’s The Wendy Williams Show due to her continuing health issues, a problem since 2017. Starting this fall, Sherri Shepherd will take over her time periods on Fox-owned stations generally leading out of mid-morning newscasts including here in Chicago, where Wendy aired weekdays at 10 a.m., on Fox 32 (WFLD) after Good Day Chicago with a second run an hour later on sister station My50 (WPWR). The rechristened Sherri would likely take over for Wendy on stations where her show is airing now. 

Williams had been out for the last few months due to complications from Covid and Graves’ disease with guest hosts stepping in. Of them, Sherri Sheppard was the one Debmar-Mercury liked the most. 

“Sherri is a natural who proved her hosting skills for many years as a panelist on The View, on Fox’s [syndicated] Dish Nation and again this season as a popular guest host of Wendy,” Debmar-Mercury Co-Presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein said in a statement. “Like our viewers, we have been impressed by the unique comedic twist Sherri puts on our daily live ‘Hot Topics’ segment, her creativity and interactions with our guests. Her love for the content and daytime fans is obvious, and we are excited to partner with her to create another long-term talk franchise.”

In a recent ratings report, Wendy scored a 0.7 household rating, right around the same number before she departed. 

A Radio Hall Of Famer, Wendy Williams made the leap from New York radio to TV with a show tested on several Fox-owned stations and went nationally shortly thereafter. Wendy was known for its bouncy 1970s-like atmosphere and its cheering-in-unison predominately female audience. Williams would start the show sitting in her famed purple chair dissecting the world of celebrity gossip in her Hot Topics segment, a monologue that usually ran as long as twenty minutes. 

But off-screen issues would be a problem, with a divorce and a fainting incident on live TV during a Halloween-themed show 2017 while in a Statue Of Liberty costume. Two years ago, the pandemic shut down production all over the place, forcing Williams to do her show from her home – with a lot of cats. 

A week ago, Debmar-Mercury announced Williams would not return for the rest of the season, leading up to the hire of Shepherd. Debmar-Mercury has left the door open to work with Williams again in another capacity should she decide to return to the spotlight. 

NBCUniversal duopoly of NBC 5 (WMAQ) and Telemundo Chicago (WSNS) are seeking eligible non-profits to participate in their fifth annual Project Innovation grant challenge with an window now open until March 25. 

Though the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation Project, the Chicago duopoly is seeking non-profits who are looking to solve problems in their communities on a daily basis. in four grant categories: Community Engagement, Culture of Inclusion, Next Generation Storytellers, and Youth Education and Empowerment. In the last five years, the grant challenge has awarded nearly a million dollars in grants to non-profits. 

“Giving back to the community we serve is at the heart of who we are at NBC 5, Telemundo Chicago, and NBC Sports Chicago,” said Kevin Cross, who is president and GM of the three outlets. “We are grateful to the tens of thousands of nonprofits in the Chicago area who are heroically making a difference every day.”

The winners will be announced this summer. For more information and to see if your non-profit is eligible, click here for the English-language Project Innovation site or click here for the Spanish-language one. 

Maybe the third time’s the charm: On Thursday, Court TV Mystery, a diginet running on the dot-two tier of  TelevisaUnivision’s WXFT, is being rebranded again – this time to Ion Mystery, reflecting the name of its sister network Ion. 

But you won’t find real mystery shows such as Columbo or Murder, She Wrote – instead, it’s the same off-network procedurals that generally run on Ion, including three CSI series, Leverage, and the original Law & Order, who returned to NBC this week with new episodes after twelve years away. There’s programming that doesn’t even fit the format including reruns of Swift Justice With Nancy Grace, a syndicated court show the host walked out on after one season. 

Originally launched in 2014 as Escape, a diginet featuring true crime programming aimed at a female audience, the channel was rebranded Court TV Mystery in 2019, after the relaunched cable network. Original owner Katz was acquired by Scripps in 2017 and purchased Ion two years ago, and thus the rebrand. In addition to terrestrial television, Ion Mystery can be found as a streaming channel on streaming platforms such as Samsung TV Plus, Pluto TV, Xumo, and Redbox.  

“Mystery has added popular procedural dramas to its schedule and with the network’s programming now more connected with the hall of fame line-up of hit dramas on Ion, aligning the two networks creates increased consumer recognition, expands brand affinity and cross-promotional strength, and facilitates the ability to naturally share content and more,” said Lisa Knutson, president of Scripps Networks.

Maybe they should rename it Ion Procedural then. 


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