The Media Notepad: Cumulus Chicago’s Troy Hanson exits

Also: New Illinois member of Congress supports Standard General-Tegna; Toledo’s WNWO ends “local” newscasts; Phoenix’s basketball teams bail on Bally

In what you can call a “weekend news dump”, Cumulus Chicago last Friday let Troy Hanson go from his positions at the cluster. During his time there, he wore several hats including PD of Q101 (WKQX), and VP of programming for rock formats. This came just a few days after Kenzie Kramer was hired at the alternative rock station’s morning show and the simultaneous exit of Justin Nettlebeck from the same morning show.

“What a fun ride my radio experience was. It was inspiring to meet so many talented people along the way,” Hanson told Inside Radio. “Wrapping up the last ten years with the great programmers of the Rock/Classic Rock & Alternative Platform at Cumulus was the chef’s kiss.”

However, there may be more to the story than what’s being told. A poster named Jeremy Andrews on a local radio message board happened to be listening to the station April 22 as Hanson and Nettlebeck exchanged words live on the air after announcing the addition of Kenzie Kramer, who recently left Audacy’s Top 40 B96 (WBBM-FM). Andrews reported Q101 listeners were calling the station voicing their displeasure on how Hanson was treating Nettlebeck, who officially departed April 25.

During the last ratings period, Q101 finished in a tie for 17th place with iHeartMedia rock rival Rock 95.5 (WCHI-FM.) 

Hanson now plans to return to Nashville to do some things outside of radio. “With a full career of relationships and living in Nashville, I have no doubt there may be music industry related things that may present themselves to me while continuing to build our real estate portfolio of houses and restaurants.“

Make of it for what you will, but if you’ve read this space over the years regarding Chicago radio, then this really isn’t out of the ordinary (remember when WLS-AM’s Larry Lujack confronted Steve Dahl on the air during a 1985 broadcast?) Even though this confrontation didn’t reach the heights of that bizarre moment, maybe Cumulus did Q101 and their listeners a favor by firing him. Best wishes to Hanson on his new career of flipping houses or flipping burgers at Jack In The Box or whatever he wants to do. 

WNWO. (Toledo Blade)

While local news has expanded in most markets, there is a subtraction going on in others.

Take in case Toledo, where Sinclair NBC affiliate WNWO is dropping all “local” newscasts effective May 12 and replacing them with The National Desk, a national news show produced for Sinclair stations out of the company’s headquarters in suburban Baltimore. It is one of five markets where Sinclair – who is infamously known for this stunt – and decided to cut it for their often-criticized national news show, which I assume gets about as much ratings as an informercial for Raid roach repellent.

The reason “local” is in quotation marks is since 2017, the station’s newscasts were produced out of Sinclair sister station WSBT in South Bend, Ind. as Sinclair shutters WNWO’s news operation shortly after the FCC eliminated the local studio rule (I’m certain Sinclair sent former FCC chair Ajit Pai a gift basket for doing so), though they did maintain a skeleton staff, including a full weather department.

WNWO had newscasts at 6:30 a.m., 6 p.m., and at 11 p.m. All were half-hours, so it is not known how the hour-long National Desk would fit into those slots. The station long trailed its two rivals, market-leader CBS affiliate WTOL and ABC affiliate WTVG, whose network bought the then-NBC affiliate in October 1995 ending a near 26-year relationship with WNWO, who was once known as WDHO-TV on UHF channel 24 (WTVG is now owned by Gray Television.)

WNWO has long produced less news than WTOL and WTVG; in late 1990, they canceled their 11 p.m. newscast and replaced it with the original version of The Arsenio Hall Show. The station’s news department grew again after it switched from ABC to NBC; but was cut again a few years after Sinclair took over. By contrast, CBS recently re-introduced local news in nearby Detroit, years after being out of the game.

With the elimination of news in Toledo; Medford, Ore.; Flint, Mich.; Gainesville, Fla.; Omaha; and another market, it is unlikely Sinclair would return to doing newscasts at ABC affiliate KDNL in St. Louis, the only network station in a top 50 market who does not do so.

While the Standard General-Tegna merger mess doesn’t impact Chicagoans, a newly-elected member of Congress from the area has weighed-in: Jonathan Jackson, who succeeded Bobby Rush as Congressman for Illinois 1st district and is the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, says he supports the deal.

In a letter to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenwarcel, Congressman Jackson stated: “If the merger is approved, the deal will create the largest minority-owned and woman-led TV broadcasting company in U.S. history. It would also triple the number of commercial TV stations with minority ownership. I am encouraging the FCC to move forward with a vote, as this deal deserves a fair process and aligns with their goal of increasing diversity in media.”

Standard General’s and Tegna’s merger was recently endorsed by several civil rights leaders. More support came from Democrat New Jersey congressman Sen. Bob Menendez, who spoke on the Senate floor urging the FCC to approve.

However, the deal is likely to fall apart as funding ends abruptly May 22 as the FCC has punted the merger to an administrative law judge, basically killing the deal. Standard General and Tegna went to court to force a vote at the FCC (which would have likely ended in a tie anyway given the lack of a fifth member of the agency) but were denied. Tegna, who owns several top-ten market stations, is now faced with an uncertain future – especially at a time when the economy is softening and is impacting broadcast groups (see above.)

In news likely to bring legal action from the bankrupt Diamond Sports Group, the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury announced all non-network games would appear on over-the-air broadcast television next season on Gray’s TV stations in the Phoenix area and other stations in Arizona.

Starting next October, regular-season games will appear on independent KTVK, CBS affiliate KPHO, and another independent, KPHE – all owned by Atlanta-based Gray Television. Both KTVK and KPHO were once owned by Meredith, whose TV stations were swallowed by Gray a few years ago. Before the Fox-New World deal shook up the market in 1994, KTVK was a longtime ABC affiliate and KPHO was an independent. The last time the Suns had a broadcast TV deal was with Fox My Network TV affiliate KUTP, the former Chris-Craft/United station who carried the team for 23 years, ending in 2011.

“I am incredibly excited to let you know that we have finalized and signed a deal that is an absolute game changer for our organization, our fans and the future of how we grow the game,” Suns and Mercury owner Mat Ishbia said in an email to executives. “In addition to being the first modern deal to go to exclusively over the air statewide, we are also building our own DTC product in partnership with Kiswe.”, a technology company who’ll handle streaming for all games. The deal is five years for the Suns; two for the Mercury, whose star attraction is Brittney Griner, who was jailed in a Russian prison for months. 

This comes as current rights holder Bally Sports through parent Diamond, is in bankruptcy court. Diamond, is consisting the move violates their contract and bankruptcy law.

“The Phoenix Suns breached our contract and violated bankruptcy law, and Diamond Sports Group will pursue all remedies against any parties that attempt to exercise control over our property interests while we reorganize. This is an improper effort by the Suns to change their broadcasting partner without permitting Diamond to exercise our contractual rights,” a Diamond Sports spokesperson said in a statement last Friday.

The Suns organization claim this is inaccurate.

With viewers cancelling their cable subscriptions due to high costs and Bally/Diamond refusing to strike deal with streamers outside of DirecTV, the team’s reach was reduced and the Suns and Mercury hope to restore it by going the over-the-air and streaming route.

Will this spread nationwide? It’s too early to tell, given Bally and Diamond do have a lot of clout left, despite the company being in bankruptcy court. But something has to change, and going the Bill Wirtz blackout policy 2.0 route is something team owners have to realize isn’t working anymore for anyone whose initials are not the NFL.


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