Florida radio station becomes “Trump Country 93.7”

Sitting President gets his own country station in southwest Florida

Over two weeks ago, Chicago lost a country radio station with the end of Big 95.5 (the former WEBG-FM, now rock outlet WCHI-FM) but a market in Florida gained one with a controversial concept whose future may depend on the election November 3.

Last Wednesday, Sanibel, Fla.’s WXNX-FM – which serves the Fort Myers-Naples media market, abruptly dropped Active Rock at noon and flipped to Contemporary Country with the branding as “Trump Country 93.7” with the slogan “Make Country Great Again”.

That’s right, you heard me.

While unusual branding isn’t new (a few years ago, a Champaign radio station located near the University of Illinois was branded “92.5 The Chief” in reference to the Fighting Illini’s former controversial mascot; a Birmingham station had Y’all FM; and Denver station had Smokin’ 94.1, centered around the marijuana lifestyle), what makes this different is for the first time, a local music station has branded itself after a sitting President.

The liners and station sweepers feature an impersonation of President Donald Trump, but comes nowhere close to how he actually sounds. Ironically, one of the liners stated “Look, my whole life is about winning. Now I’m winning in radio” (back in 2011, the call letters of the short-lived News FM 101 were WWWN-FM which this blog proclaimed “winning radio“, at a time Charlie Sheen often used the phrase “winning”.)

The move raises numerous questions, including if a radio station can basically endorse a candidate for re-election and many say it’s totally unprecedented. The station went commercial-free until Monday, and there’s been no further comment from station owner Sun Broadcasting or its management.

From 2005 to 2015, Champaign’s WCFF had a gimmick brand, with the tagline “The Chief Plays What The Chief Wants” a play on Jack FM’s “We Play Want We Want”, with the station located near the University of Illinois. WCFF has since become WREE Rewind 92.5.

Some experts are wondering if the controversial branding runs afoul of the FCC’s equal-time rule or campaign laws. According to the Florida political blog FloPol, the use of an impersonator can be labeled as a parody, protected under the First Amendment. But the parody could run afoul of the Trump campaign, who could issue a cease-and-desist. Another problem is President Trump is such a polarizing figure, it’ll chase away listeners who don’t like him and has the potential to turnoff advertisers. Moreover, if he loses in November, the branding would be absolutely useless. Either way, many radio observers believe this is just a short-term stunt as the Birmingham and Denver re-branding were clearly gimmicks and didn’t last long.

Trump Country 93.7 is in an area where Southwest Florida is indeed Trump Country, with Lee, Collier, and Charlotte counties delivering a significant victory for Trump over Hilary Clinton in 2016. Moreover, Fort Myers-Naples is one of the oldest-skewing media markets in the country, with 42 percent of the population 55-plus with the market’s top-rated television being CBS affiliate WINK, whose older-skewing network programming fits well in the market (to be sure, other radio formats are served here, including young-skewing Hip-Hop and Mexican Regional.) The market is overwhelmingly white at 86 percent with 8 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic.

But the country format has struggled in numerous markets and Fort Myers is already served by two other stations: Renda’s WWGR-FM (101.9 Gator Country) and iHeartMedia’s WCKT-FM (Cat Country 107.1). WXNX recently ranked sixteenth with active rock, known as 93X since 2013. Beforehand, it was an Adult Contemporary station, similar to Chicago’s WLIT.

This branding is a very risky endeavor for Sun Broadcasting as other radio companies wouldn’t dare touch this idea. Whether this would improve numbers or advertising remains to be seen. Given the complaints I’ve seen about country music these days, Trump Country 93.7 would have a hard time “Making Country Great Again”.

Sample Playlist

Here’s what was played on Trump Country 93.7 between 4 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. ET Monday. Of course, there are a lot of songs about bars, dirt roads, and beer. 


Sam Hunt – Kinfolks

Jon Pardi – Dirt On My Boots

Sam Hunt – Hard To Forget

Luke Combs – Beautiful Crazy

Kane Brown – Heaven (not Bryan Adams song)

Travis Denning – After a Few (beers…I suppose)

Keith Urban – Somebody Like You

Gabby Barrett – I Hope

Dustin Lynch – Ridin’ Roads

Chase Rice – Eyes On You

Kip Moore – Something Bout A Track

Old Dominion – One Man Band

Blake Shelton – Boys Round Here

Chris Janson – Good Vibes

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Mountain Movers: CBS All Access rebrands as Paramount Plus

A mountain of entertainment awaits the home viewer

As the streaming wars continue to heat up, ViacomCBS announced Tuesday it was ditching the CBS All Access name and rebranding as Paramount Plus, or Paramount + beginning in early 2021, with a dedicated website already launched.

The move to freshen up the streaming service comes as other big conglomerates have jumped into the game including HBO Max (AT&T/Warner Bros.), Peacock (NBCUniversal) and Disney in recent months. CBS All Access launched in 2014 with access to CBS shows, news (including CBSN and its local spinoffs), and classic TV from its large television library and later added a few originals including Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, The Good Fight, another new version of The Twilight Zone, and Tooning In The News, a (direct) rip-off of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.

But the launch came at a time when CBS split from Viacom a decade earlier as the network originally spun-off the company in 1971 due to the then-fin-syn rules being implemented. A few years after the rules expired, CBS and Viacom reunited in a balloyhooed September 1999 merger, only to split at the end of 2005 with CBS taking the broadcast TV and library properties leaving Viacom with everything else, including the cable networks and the Paramount film studio.

But after Les Moonves was booted off the CBS board, the wheels started in motion for a second CBS-Viacom reunion, thanks to CEO Shari Redstone as they watched Disney acquire 21st Century Fox and Comcast devoting more resources to NBCUniversal as viewers shifted more and more to streaming. With Viacom and CBS once again hooking up, CBS All Access now have access (no pun intended) to the Paramount film library, and programming from MTV’s networks.

A variation of the Paramount + service is already available in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.

Also standing out from other streamers is the ability to stream your local CBS affiliate in most markets and live CBS programming, such as the NFL. NBC’s new Peacock streamer does not offer those options as the lack of affiliate streaming (and the shared revenue that goes with it) and may be one of the reasons why most NBC affiliates refused to air the 30 Rock reunion special as it was nothing more than a glorified infomercial for the streaming service.

The decision to rebrand realigns ViacomCBS with streaming services with the Paramount Plus name in other countries such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. CBS All Access meanwhile, is available in Canada and Australia. More countries are expected to come on board.

The name change wasn’t exactly greeted with a lot of positive vibes. The Verge criticized the rebrand, saying it wasn’t original (Paramount Plus was also recently used as a movie package sold by Trifecta Entertainment to TV stations, since renamed Paramount Platinum.) Others noted the Paramount brand doesn’t connect with a whole lot of young consumers given since the 2005 split, the name was more or less buried under the Viacom umbrella as virtually all of the broadcast television content went to the CBS side with the network preferring to use its own brand. This was evident when the longtime Paramount Domestic Television name was dropped from its syndication arm in 2006 in favor of “CBS Paramount Television” and in 2007 became CBS Television Distribution while its production unit was renamed CBS Television Studios.

However, others pointed it was the CBS brand name that didn’t resonate with viewers given CBS programming tends to skew older.

As for new programming with the rebrand, five new shows were trotted out: The Offer, about the making of The Godfather; a new version of VH1’s Behind The Music; a true crime docuseries tied to CBS’ long running crime drama Criminal Minds; a spy drama from Yellowstone producer Taylor Sheridan called Lionness; and another reboot of The Game, a former CW sitcom revived on BET in 2011 (Ironically, The CW episodes wound up on Netflix.)

Pricing remains the same at $6 a month with ads and $10 without (both tiers does have ads for live programming.)

One of the quirks is not all CBS or Viacom programming is going to appear on the service – for example, Paramount Network sold the streaming rights to hit Yellowstone to Peacock while HBO Max wound up with South Park – Comedy Central’s highest-rated and long-running show. Meanwhile, CBS Television Distribution’s Cheers, the classic 1982-93 NBC sitcom produced by Paramount Television not only appears on CBS All Access but also on Peacock. And of course, the aforementioned Game and several Black-oriented sitcoms’ deal with Netflix.

In addition, ViacomCBS owns free internet TV streamer Pluto and among tons of channels devoted to CBS and Viacom content, one includes carries a Paramount Movie Channel.

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Dan McNeil fired from The Score after controversial tweet

Action comes after he questions ESPN’s reporter’s attire in the mostasinine way possible

Once again, Dan McNeil is out of a job in Chicago radio because of an idiotic thing he said or did or both.

On Monday, the WSCR-AM/The Score personality sent a tweet questioning ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor’s outfit while she was working at the first Monday Night Football game of the season between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants. During the game, McNeil wrote a tweet about Taylor sarcastically criticizing her wardrobe, deleted a half-hour later.

Here’s a screenshot of said tweet:

The AVN reference refers to Adult Video News, who presents an annual pornography awards show.

Even though the tweet was deleted, screenshots of it were posted all over social media, like you see above. Awful Announcing then posted a story about it, then Taylor – a seven year veteran at the network who works on ESPN’s College GameDay crew and also anchors NBA coverage, fired back at McNeil:

On Tuesday, Entercom Chicago officials decided to cut ties with McNeil.

In a memo sent to staffers at WSCR as reported by the Chicago Tribune, Entercom Chicago regional president Rachel Williamson stated in a brief memo, screenshotted from Radio Insight:

The firing did catch some off guard, given WSCR host Dan Bernstein made similar comments on social media in 2015 about an African-American female reporter on Comcast SportsNet. Bernstein was disciplined, but wasn’t fired.

The latest career flame-out for McNeil came four years after he was forced out from Hubbard’s WDRV-FM. He co-hosted a morning show with Pete McMurray on The Drive starting in February 2015 but had his role drastically reduced after an argument with senior management over the departure of a Hubbard executive. Struggling in the ratings, McNeil was cut from the show. Beforehand, McNeil was suspended twice at WMVP-AM and fired in January 2009. McNeil returned to the Score several months later but quit in 2014 after making unrealistic contract demands.

Since 2018, McNeil has been teamed up with Danny Parkins to host afternoons. Parkins, who addressed the matter with listeners Tuesday afternoon, will host solo in the interim.

This was McNeil’s third stint at WSCR, who helped launch the station in 1992.

The real question here is why is McNeil getting so many chances given his horrible employment record? Given the need for diversity in radio in Chicago – more minorities and women for instance, the continued reliance on shock jocks like it’s still 1994 is galling, and proves radio isn’t ready to move on, even in an era where there is more awareness of these issues.

The firing of McNeil is only a positive step forward, given he keeps getting second chances and of course, keeps screwing it up. Being employed by the same station three times in 28 years and being fired four times during that span should tell you McNeil perhaps needs to start looking for a new career and hopefully not one where he has to speak into a microphone.

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Fall syndication preview: It’s all Drew

Drew Barrymore show set to debut Monday – on TWO local stations

[Editor’s Note: An earlier draft listed incomplete time period information for Law & Crime Daily and The First 48. This post was updated on September 19.] 

With Nick Cannon’s new syndicated talk show on the shelf for another year, it’s just Drew Barrymore as the lone new syndicated talk show strip this fall.

Last year, the show was pre-sold by CBS Television Distribution to the CBS-owned stations. In Chicago, this site reported the show would wind up either on CBS 2 (WBBM-TV) – or somewhere else given Tamron Hall’s new show was sold to the ABC-owned stations but instead of ABC 7 (WLS-TV) here, it wound up at CW 26 (WCIU) as the station stuck with top-rated Windy City Live.

Well, Drew is going somewhere else – to CW 26 weekdays at 5 p.m. But in an unique twist, Drew is also airing on CBS 2 at 2 p.m., replacing Hot Bench which is moving to CW 26 at 8 a.m. starting Monday. In Chicago, the 2 p.m. airing is on opposite The Kelly Clarkson Show as both programs have similar, multi-topic formats (and thankfully, steer clear of politics.) Shot in New York City, Barrymore’s premiere features a reunion of her fellow Charlie’s Angels co-stars Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz.

With the new syndication season starting Monday, a lot of shows are heading back to the studio, sans audiences of course due to coronavirus with extra safety precautions in place. Both Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy return Monday with new episodes with re-designed sets to promote social distancing, while Ellen returns September 21.

Outside of Drew, there isn’t much new premiering in weekday syndication this fall with only one other new strip: Law & Crime Daily, the first non-E/I show Litton has syndicated in years. The series focuses on current court cases and true-crime events, similar to what the syndicated Court TV: Inside America’s Courts did during the 1995-96 season. The show is being produced by Dan Abrams’ Law & Crime Network, which like the newly relaunched Court TV, features live trials and legal news. Law & Crime Daily premieres Monday at 11 p.m. on The U and a 3 a.m. the next day on CW 26. 

The lone off-network sitcom – it you can call it that – comes from Canada’s CBC as the Emmy-nominated Schitt’s Creek from Debmar-Mercury premieres September 28 with a 10 p.m.-11 p.m. double run on WPWR. The Fox-owned sister station to WFLD also has off-Weather Channel episodes of Storm of Suspicion and Weather Gone Viral on Saturday nights. Both are from Entertainment Studios.

Here are other debuts and programming changes you should look out for:

— After being canceled as a weekday show in 2019, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire returns in rerun form in syndication this season thanks in part to the series’ successful prime-time revival on ABC this season hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and to fill the time periods vacated in some markets by Cops when Disney decided to pull the series from off-network syndication. Since Sept. 7, Millionaire has aired on The U (WCUU/WMEU) at 11.a.m. Similar to Drew Barrymore’s show, the show final first-run season was split between The U and ABC 7, who aired the show at 1:35 a.m. Chris Harrison is the host.

— The U also plans to features reruns of off-A&E The First 48. From Trifecta Entertainment, the series airs weekdays at 4 and 5 p.m. starting Monday.

— The syndicated The Doctors begins it 13th season Monday with a new host and format: Dr. Ian Smith and is now being taped from New York City instead of Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. Maybe they should rename it The Doctor

— This past week, ABC 7 started airing same-day repeats of Live With Kelly & Ryan at 1:40 a.m. as Disney-ABC is letting stations double-run the show in early morning time slots while retaining its 9 a.m. slot locally. It’s back to the future, basically – from 1999 to 2001, ABC 7 ran predecessor Live With Regis & Kathie Lee (later re-titled Live With Regis) in the same time slot. The move shifts repeats of Jeopardy and Inside Edition to 3:07 am. and 3:37 a.m., respectively.

— Shifting to weekends, CBS Television Distribution is replacing Madam Secretary off-network repeats with those of the original NCIS, marking the first time the Mark Harmon drama has been made available to air in broadcast syndication (reruns have been stripped on USA Network since 2009.) NCIS is being paired with spinoff NCIS: New Orleans on CBS 2 Saturdays from 11:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m. and Sunday/Mondays from midnight-2 a.m.

— What’s Out: In addition to the early cancellation of The Mel Robbins Show (which went off the air Friday) and the removal of Cops and Live PD: Police Patrol last June, also gone are Discovery’s True Crime Files, Dembar-Mercury’s Caught In Providence, and off-network reruns of Chicago P.D. (reruns continue on MyNetworkTV), The Game (who’ll continue on Bounce and streaming on Netflix) while How I Met Your Mother recently moved to diginet Laff and continues to stream on Hulu.

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Jay Leno tapped for “You Bet Your Life” revival

Former tonight show host to host first-run syndicated strip for fall 2021

Nearly thirty years after Bill Cosby quickly came and went with a revival of You Bet Your Life, the classic Groucho Marx game show is back with a new host: Jay Leno.

Starting in September 2021, Leno will host a new weeknight strip syndicated by Fox First Run, the syndication division of Fox Corporation formed after much of 21st Century Fox – including the Twentieth Television syndicated division was sold to The Walt Disney Company for $71.3 billion in 2017. This is the biggest project yet for Fox First Run, who distributes only three shows thus far: 25 Words Or Less, Divorce Court, and Dish Nation

“We need a familiar face to make us laugh and we are incredibly proud and excited to reinvent this renowned franchise with the enormously talented Jay,” said Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy in a statement.

Naturally, the program has already been cleared on Fox’s 29 local stations, including WFLD-TV and WPWR-TV. With a name like Leno attached, expect You Bet to air in early fringe (afternoon) and/or access (6-8 p.m.), paired with either Family Feud or The Big Bang Theory in markets where Fox has rights (Fox’s Chicago duopoly has rights to both shows.) Fox also has expiring Judge Judy contracts next year in some markets and could windup being an ideal replacement as the top-rated courtroom show in its current form ends its run.

The executive producers of the project are David Hurwitz and Tom Werner, whose Carsey-Werner production company was also behind the Bill Cosby revival effort. 

“I’m thrilled to be hosting the latest version of You Bet Your Life. One of my favorite things to do is talk to regular people and draw humor out of them. This is a comedy show wrapped in a game show that allows me to do just that,” said Leno in a statement.  

Leno is currently host of Jay Leno’s Garage, which is continuing on CNBC. Leno succeeded Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show in 1992 and continued until 2009 when he relinquished the role to Conan O’Brien. But after having second thoughts about stepping down, NBC gave Leno a weeknight 10 p.m. ET strip, a first in prime-time which turned into a ratings and critical disaster. Several months later in a highly controversial move, NBC disposed of O’Brien and re-installed Leno as Tonight Show host, until 2014 when he stepped aside for Jimmy Fallon

You Bet Your Life last aired as a syndicated strip during the 1992-93 season in a much ballyhooed attempt with Cosby as host, whose main station group partner were the CBS-owned stations, including WBBM-TV here. Even though the show did decently well opposite Jeopardy in its 3:30 p.m. weekday time slot in Chicago, it was completely hammered by it and Wheel of Fortune in access slots (7 or 7:30 p.m. ET/PT) at WCBS-TV in New York and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, the latter using You Bet and a failed weekday version of Star Search to replace both veteran game shows who defected to rival KABC-TV. 

You Bet was produced in Cosby’s hometown of Philadelphia at PBS member station WHYY-TV. Sold in upfronts at a 10 rating – which it came nowhere close to, You Bet was canceled in December 1992 but didn’t leave the airwaves until September 1993.

Another short-lived effort was attempted by Buddy Hackett during the 1980-81 season, from MCA TV (now NBCUniversal Television Distribution.) Groucho Marx hosted the classic game show first on radio and then transitioned to television where it ran on NBC from 1950 to 1961 while also maintaining its radio home, also on NBC (until 1960.) The show was so popular, reruns of You Bet Your Life were sold into syndication by NBC Films during the 1960s under the title Best of Groucho.

This new attempt from Fox makes sense as the group is looking for something to pair with their existing stable of game shows on their schedules as local stations are exiting the off-network sitcom business in the streaming era. The real question is, can Leno still be a draw in 2021 and moreover, can the show avoid getting pummeled by the still potent Wheel and Jeopardy like it was the last time?

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WGN Radio changes: Conn out, Landecker in

Latest shakeup continues overhaul of iconic station

In the ultimate Friday evening news dump – coming before the start of a long holiday weekend, Nexstar-owned WGN-AM announced huge changes to its weekday lineup.

As first reported by Robert Feder, gone was longtime radio host Roe Conn and in is Radio Hall Of Famer John Records Landecker, who’ll take over evenings from 7-10 p.m. Conn’s last show was Friday.

Also out is longtime WGN personality Nick Diglio, a 35-year veteran of the station. He was upped to evening host last spring to replace Justin Kaufmann, who has since returned to WBEZ-FM.

In place of Conn’s afternoon show, is a new program called Chicago’s Afternoon News hosted by longtime station anchor Steve Bertrand. It is positioned as a daily newsmagazine show, tackling issues such as the current coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest, and of course, the upcoming election. The new program is scheduled to run from 4 to 7 p.m. and as a result, Anna Dalavantes’ current early afternoon radio program is being extended an hour.

Coming in evenings in Landecker, a move hinted by Feder a few weeks ago and he’ll take over the 7 to 10 p.m. slot. Landecker is a longtime veteran of Chicago radio, arriving at WLS-AM in 1972 and spent nine years before departing for Toronto. He returned to Chicago in the mid-1980s as morning personality at the short-lived WAGO-FM (now WCFS/WBBM Newsradio) and later held down gigs at WLUP-FM, WJMK-FM (where he spent ten years as morning personality), WCKG-FM, and more recently, evening personality at WLS-FM. He talked about his career in a best-selling book titled Records Truly Is My Middle Name.

The changes are effective September 28.

The firing of Conn isn’t surprising given his contract with WGN-AM was expiring at the end of the year as low ratings for his show in afternoon drive were cited as one of the reasons for the change. Conn was a longtime radio host at WLS-AM and was paired with Garry Meier for several years. He shifted to WGN in January 2015 after he contract was not renewed at WLS.

This is the second major change at a Chicago radio in two days. A day earlier, iHeartMedia pulled the plug on Big 95.5 and its country format, replacing it with a Mainstream Rock format.

These recent moves at WGN Radio is a continuing makeover of the storied news/talk outlet, once home to Wally Phillips, Bob Collins, and Spike O’Dell. Earlier this year, Bob Sirott replaced Steve Cochran in morning drive and Dalvantes took over early afternoons. WGN-AM and its sister TV station were part of the $4.1 billion deal Nexstar made to acquire Tribune Media last year.

It is interesting to see if WGN’s gambit with a newsmagazine show with an awfully generic-sounding title will work as they are trying the same approach Nexstar is with NewsNation – straight down the middle with no bias, putting them head-to-head with top-rated WBBM-AM’s hard news format.

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WEBG dumps Country music for Rock

[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated Sept. 6 with more information.]

In a surprise move Thursday morning, iHeartMedia-owned WEBG-FM – known as Big 95.5 pulled the plug on its country format after five underperforming years.

The change came at 11 a.m., followed by hours of stunting, including numerous rock songs – which basically pointed to the next direction the station would take. By 5 p.m., it was official: WEBG became a mainstream rock station and re-branded itself as “Rock 95 Five” as the first song played on the station was Metallica’s Enter Sandman. For a lot of listeners, it brought back memories of Metromedia’s former rocker WMET-FM, which was on the frequency from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s with an album-oriented rock (AOR) format, who mainstream rock is a direct decedent of.

“I am thrilled to bring Rock music back to Chicago,” iHeartMedia Chicago President Matt Scarano said in a press release. “These songs haven’t been played on the air for years. I am looking forward to hearing the soundtrack of our lives on Rock 95 Five.”

This is the first major format flip in Chicago since March 2018 when WLUP-FM The Loop closed up shop as it was sold to the Educational Media Foundation and went to Christian music. In fact, the arrival of Rock 95 Five fills a void left by the demise of the longtime station. 

No on-air personnel has been named as of yet as the fate of the personnel of the previous format has also not been revealed, though now-former Big 95.5 personality Lisa Dent said Friday she won’t be part of the new station.

Of note is Bobby Bones’ syndicated morning show now no longer has a terrestrial home in radio’s third-largest market as it was dumped with the country music format.

The radio trade website All Access classified WEBG as mainstream rock, but unlike sub-genres Alternative and Active Rock, there is no chart or a panel of stations to report as the format heavily relies on classic rock songs from the 1970s to the 1990s, with very few currents. In addition to Metallica, heard on Rock 95 Five in the last two days were Alanis Morrisette, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses, and Pearl Jam.

Saturday afternoon, Rock 95 Five played at least two ’80s rock tracks: The Authority Song from John Mellancamp and Panama from Van Halen.

This marks the fourth format change at the 95.5 frequency since 2009, when the former WNUA ended its long 22-year run as a smooth jazz station and flipped to Spanish Pop as Mega 95.5. In 2012, WNUA became ElPatron 95.5 and flipped to Regional Mexican and in 2015, became country with the Big 95.5 branding and changed the call letters to WEBG. In those five years, Big 95.5 was unable to compete with Entercom’s WUSN (US 99). Ratings for both have slid in recent years.

In addition to WMET, the 95.5 frequency has been home to WDHF under a variety of formats from 1959 to 1976 and the short-lived WRXR from 1986 to 1987.

Sample Playlist

From 8:40p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Thursday evening, here’s a sampling of what was played on Rock 95 Five:

Alanis Morrisette – You Ought To Know

Bon Jovi – You Give Love A Bad Name

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under The Bridge

Aerosmith – Rag Doll

Staind – Right Here

Pearl Jam – Black

Guns N Roses – Live And Let Die

Metallica – The Unforgiven

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NewsNation, Shepard Smith hope to bring news viewers back to the middle

 

 

Two new efforts launching on opposite ends of September hopes to appeal to news viewers tired of partisan news

Starting today, a revolution is taking place and it’s happening right here in Chicago. And it is…presenting a neutral newscast.

Yes, really.

The arrival of the much-anticipated NewsNation today and of CNBC’s The News With Shepard Smith later this month will test the theory of whether or not viewers can accept news down the middle, without left or right slant. The three major cable news networks – CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News are driving journalism with partisan reporting and is now the go-to place for news, whether people admit it or not. And even though ABC, CBS, and NBC produce national newscasts, they are often accused of bias. 

“Neutral news” isn’t a new concept. Walter Cronkite and the Brinkley-Huntley Report did news stories without bias as did the early days of CNN and Headline News. But national newscasts have become more personality-driven in the last 20 years ,as they bring big ratings. “Neutral” news targeted to mainstream audiences are a novelty now, and it’s a void NewsNation and Shepard Smith hope to fill.

The roots for NewsNation came about with Nexstar – a company formed in 1996 in Pennsylvania with one TV station – purchased Tribune Broadcasting in 2019 for $4.1 billion with Chicago’s WGN-TV and cable network WGN America as part of the deal. The acquisition made Nexstar the nation’s largest station group with more than 190 stations in over 100 markets. 

NewsNation was an idea Sean Compton pitched to Nexstar CEO Perry Sook as he was looking to produce a product different from its competitors and to provide programming for a flagging WGN America, whose life began in 1978 as a satellite feed from WGN-TV, providing exposure for Bozo, the Cubs, and local Chicago newscasts as much of the station’s appeal was taken out by the 1990 syndex rules, which forced WGN to black out much of its entertainment programming. In the last few years, WGN America was forced to reinvent itself numerous times, which included converting into a national cable network from a superstation (by dropping local Chicago news and sports) and adding original scripted programming. 

WGN’s Bradley Place headquarters is home to Nexstar’s NewsNation starting tonight.

In January, NewsNation was unveiled with plans for three hours of news in prime-time seven nights a week with a dedicated 24/7 website and news app. Unlike other news shows based in New York or Washington D.C., Nexstar decided to originate it in Chicago at WGN – in the Heartland. They tapped WGN news director Jennifer Lyons to head the project and hire about 150 people.

Then, the pandemic hit in March making the launch of the project harder. But Nexstar pressed on and the project – building the studios and hiring the talent, were finished on time. Instead of poaching talent from the major cable news networks, NewsNation hired anchors directly from local news stations: Joe Donalan from right down the hall at WGN; Rob Nelson from WABC-TV in New York; Marni Hughes; and meteorologist Albert Ramon. Stationed as correspondents are two former Chicago news reporters: Tom Negovan, who is based in New York, and Nancy Loo, based out of Nexstar CW affiliate KTLA in Los Angeles. 

Nexstar is relying on its network of 110 stations and their anchors and reporters to provide material for NewsNation – and without landing a big name. 

But landing a big name is exactly what CNBC did when they announced the hire of Shepard Smith, the former Fox News personality who’ll join the network with the launch of The News With Shepard Smith premieres on September 30 (a Wednesday) at 6 p.m. Central Time. 

Smith spent twenty years at Fox News as a non-partisan journalist and had a successful late afternoon news show. But Smith departed the channel last year after he had problems with opinion hosts at the network, especially when it came to President Trump. 

“I am honored to continue to pursue the truth, both for CNBC’s loyal viewers and for those who have been following my reporting for decades in good times and in bad,” Smith said back in July.

CNBC executives hope the hire of Smith would drive viewers to its prime-time lineup of programming, featuring off-network episodes of Shark Tank and original programming such as Jay Leno’s Garage. Launched in April 1989, CNBC mainly focuses on financial news during the day while its prime-time programming has historically floundered. At one point, they gave actors Charles Grodin and Dennis Miller their own nightly talk shows. 

Is there an audience for such fare as NewsNation? We’ll soon find out, but you can expect partisan cable news fans to roll their eyes at efforts like this. But they’re not the target audience as they’ll be watching Tucker Carlson, Don Lemon, and Rachel Maddow anyway, so the void can be filled. But it won’t be easy, with hot-topic button issues such as racial unrest and Covid-19 – and of course, the upcoming presidential election. And keep in mind Fox News is already established, drawing five million a night on average and performs strongly in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos. 

With non-partisan newscasts, WGN America and CNBC should be able to attract lots of advertising – a huge advantage over Fox News in prime-time as marketers are deserting Tucker Carlson due to his often-controversial comments. Expect lots of car, pharmaceutical, and insurance ads with Flo and Jamie and yes, that ostrich. 

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FCC Chairman to lawmaker on racist TV show: Not our problem, ma’am

“Madame’s Place” this is not: Meet La Comey, a puppet who stars in an actual TV show. Really.

FCC punts on racism allegations

In a marked departure from the last time the FCC dealt with this issue, the agency has rejected a complaint regarding racial and homophobic content on a TV show.

The content in question comes from a Puerto Rico TV show called La Comay, where as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai rejected a complaint from New York City representative Nydia Velazquez regarding racist and homophobic material, whose district is majority Puerto Rican and stretches through the three boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.

The show airs in Spanish on the Mega TV network in Puerto Rico, in which she described the program as an attack on immigrants and made racist comments. La Comay is a gossip/celebrity news show featuring a large puppet named after the show.

But in a statement, Pai said there’s nothing the agency could do, citing the protection of the First Amendment and Section 326 of the Communications Act. He said broadcasters have “discretion to determine what content to air on their stations, even if that programming could be objectionable to some viewers”, with the exception of obscene, indecent, or profane programming of course. Pai said the FCC is “generally prohibited from censoring content or dictating to licensees what the stations can or cannot air.”

Even though Puerto Rico is not a state, it is a U.S. territory and local broadcast radio and TV stations are bound to rules and regulations set by the FCC, as in the 50 states.

The show in question is a more crude version of Paramount’s Madame’s Place, a failed sitcom/talk show hybrid first-run strip from 1982, puppetered by Wayland Flowers. While Madame was a “outrageous old broad” lobbing double entrees and witty comebacks, La Comay often mocks blacks and LGBTQ people. In a recent show, the puppet (voiced by Kobbo Santarrosa) mocked a prominent Black Puerto Rican woman’s accent in a servant tone as she is running for office in Puerto Rico.

With numerous activists demanding La Comay’s cancellation, several clients have pulled their advertising from the show since June, when Latino Rebels first reported this story. These incidents come at a time when racial equity is being questioned in the media industry, from Hollywood to local newsrooms in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

Mega TV is owned by Spanish Broadcasting System – the same corporate parent of Spanish-language WLEY-FM here in Chicago and other radio stations nationwide. Launched in 2006, Mega was also available stateside on some low-power stations, including WOCK-CD in Chicago. In recent years, Mega has been distributed mainly in Puerto Rico. 

Santarrosa had a similar show (SuperXclusivo) on independent WAPA-TV but was canceled in 2013 after he resigned from the station over controversial comments he made through the La Comay puppet regarding the murder of a local public relations agent. La Comay returned to the airwaves last year through Mega, and took a brief hiatus this year due to the pandemic.

The FCC deciding to pass on this complaint is a marked departure on how the Obama Administration has dealt with this issue. Despite what Pai said about what the FCC can and cannot do, in 2013 Liberman Broadcasting entered into a decree with the agency and agreed to pay $110,000 in fines regarding a now-defunct Spanish-language Jerry Springer clone Jose Luis Sin Censura, which featured fighting, sexual content, pixelated nudity, and anti-homophobic remarks. The trash talker was canceled eight years ago.

However, there are numerous differences – while Censura did have bleeped and unbleeped profanity and violent content, Comay does not.

But the decision to pass tells you the stark differences between how Pai handles these type of issues as opposed to predecessors Julius Genachowski and Tom Wheeler. While Pai is technically correct, dismissing the complaints out-of-hand was expected given how Pai gave the shaft to minority communities when the lifeline program was cut back and accusing the courts on stymieing racial diversity in media ownership.

So while Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl and gets nailed while a foul-mouthed racist puppet get a pass, of course it’s the latest absurdity from an agency who has a questionable history of selectively enforcing policy.

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Everybody Loves Ray: Indy anchor comes home to Chicago

Dolton native heads to WGN-TV to anchor evening newscasts

For the second time in two days, a local TV Chicago station has announced a new anchor taking on a key position.

Current WXIN Indianapolis anchor Ray Cortopassi will take over as anchor for WGN-TV’s signature weeknight newscasts beginning September 28 at 5, 6, 9, and 10 p.m. alongside Micha Materre. Cortopassi has ties to the Chicago area as he is a native of south suburban Dolton, a place where other Chicago media personalities have called home, including Richard Roeper and Susan Carlson, not to mention former Glee star Jane Lynch and Mt. Carmel standout and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

A Columbia College graduate, Cortopassi began his career as at the City News Bureau as a reporter. From there, he transitioned into television broadcasting with anchor gigd in Traverse City, Mich. and in Las Vegas before shifting to WXIN a little over twenty years ago. Like many kids who grew up in the 1970s in Chicago, Cortopassi tuned in to WGN-TV’s Ray Rayner every morning and Bozo’s Circus for lunch (both traditions ended in 1980 as Rayner retired and Bozo moved to mornings.) 

On Wednesday, another Chicago native (Stephan Holt) announced he was returning to the Chicago area to anchor the 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts for NBC-owned WMAQ-TV. The son of NBC Nightly News Lester Holt, Stephan Holt grew up in Chicago’s Lincoln Park community.

Cortopassi fills the seat vacated by Joe Donlan, who moved down the hall to be one of the new anchors for the new NewsNation launching on WGN America Sept. 1 and produced at WGN’s Bradley Place studios. 

WGN-TV, WGN America, and WXIN are owned by Nexstar. The company owns two stations in Indianapolis: Fox affiliate WXIN and CBS affiliate WTTV, but both have separate news teams.

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Stefan Holt returns to Chicago with a new anchor position at NBC 5

Comes from sister O&O WNBC New York

A former Chicago news anchor is coming home.

Beginning October 12, Stefan Holt is returning to NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in Chicago after a four-year stint at WNBC in New York. Holt will take over the 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. news anchor position. In the early time slot, he’ll pair up with Marion Brooks while at 10 p.m., pair with Allison Rosati, replacing Rob Stafford but continues to anchor with Rosati at 5 and 6 p.m. In addition, Stafford joins the station’s investigative team – he has experience as a consumer reporter for CBS-owned WBBM-TV starting in 1992 before ascending to a similar role with Dateline NBC in 1996. Stafford’s been with WMAQ since 2007. 

Patrick Fazio, who anchors the 4 p.m. newscast with Brooks, shifts to 11 a.m.

The 33-year old Holt is the son of Lester Holt, who anchored WBBM-TV’s newscasts from 1986 to 2000, as during the time the younger Holt grew up in the North Side’s Lincoln Park community. Lester Holt of course, now anchors NBC Nightly News which airs locally at 5:30 p.m.

Stefan Holt anchored WMAQ’s early-morning newscasts from 2011 until 2016 before moving over to sister station WNBC to succeed Chuck Scarborough at 11 p.m. in addition to 4 p.m. anchoring duties. Both WNBC and WMAQ are owned by NBCUniversal.

In a statement, Holt said: “I grew up in Chicago. I was born there, and I moved to New York when I was 13. It’s an amazing place. It’s a great city. It certainly has held a very special place in my heart even during our time here in New York. This is a decision my wife and I made that coming back to Chicago was the right move for us as a family, right move for our [two] kids.” His comment certainly runs counter to popular belief these days regarding Chicago.

WMAQ’s newscasts have historically ranked second in the market, behind market leader WLS-TV, including at 10 p.m. in households and in the key 25-54 news demo. Nexstar’s WGN-TV however, has become a bigger factor at 10 in recent months.

Holt’s move comes at a time when the local news media is under increasing scrutiny from Black viewers and others after looting and vandalism tore up much of The Loop, Mag Mile, Gold Coast, and Streeterville neighborhoods on the morning of August 10.

As for Stafford, the reduction of airtime is fine with him. The last few years, Stafford had been battling some health problems due to being exposed from toxins from the Stergenics plant near his home in the western suburbs and was forced to take a six-month leave of absence for treatment. As he sued the company, Stafford recused himself from reporting on any future stories related to the story or the case.

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Chicago media criticized for looting, vandalism coverage

A woman screams at a officer after a police-involved shooting in Englewood August 9. (WGN-TV)

Chicago’s news media under fire for coverage of African-American communities

Even though a Tribune article published Friday fell short in describing the tense relationship between the local news media and the Black community, it did bring up valid points needing to be addressed. 

In a sub-headline titled “Black Chicagoans, white media at odds”, writer Christen Johnson reported on the frail relationship after looters vandalized and destroyed stores in the mostly white neighborhoods north of the Loop early Monday morning, including the Mag Mile, Gold Coast, Streeterville, and River North areas – not to mention the South Loop and Near North Side community areas.

This came after police shot an offender last Sunday in Englewood as misinformation spread about who was involved and what circumstances occurred – although news reports Friday evening revealed there may be no connection to the looting downtown. 

This is the second time looting has hit the Mag Mile and the Loop in a little over two months: unrest also occurred in the area last spring in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder – one the local news media failed miserably to cover, ignoring the mayhem much of the day on May 30. 

Several social media posts spurred looting and vandalism downtown, as footage of the mayhem was caught on live TV and shown worldwide, already hurting an already image-scarred city as politicians and television commentators were hurling around the usual “we’re on our way to becoming Detroit” hot-takes. 

Johnson interviewed community organizers and journalism professors, and all came to one conclusion – Monday’s news coverage of the mayhem gave the shaft to Chicago’s African-American community. Here’s what Travis Dixon, a professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign told the Tribune: 

“My research has found consistently that traditional media and traditional media sites, for instance like newspapers, television, often tend to depict African Americans in unfavorable ways, usually as criminals, or as poor, or what have you. Local news, particularly television news, has a pretty bad track record when it comes to this, mostly in terms of the portrayals. They tend to just further stereotype the community, with few exceptions.”

Eva Maria Lewis, a college student who works for a non-profit agency to combat gun violence, put it more bluntly: “Distrust would be an understatement. They don’t work for us; they actually work against us. Distrust means that trust can be found or created. Anti-Blackness is violent. It’s not distrust; it’s you are also the problem. You are the cops.”

Aftermath of looting: Chicago cops stand guard outside looted Best Buy store.

It’s odd to see this criticism in a publication known for being part of the problem (which they stuck in the “lifestyle” section) – and this is perhaps the reason why the piece didn’t go far enough in detailing why the relationship between the “white” media and the Black community isn’t good. And if you’ve read this blog for years, you already know why.

For one, media has never really covered racial issues fairly or accurately, going back to the Civil Rights Movement. Ironically, many local stations – particularly in the South, were not happy with the “biased” way CBS and NBC covered the movement. For example, NBC affiliate WLBT in Jackson, Miss. with a pro-segregationist past, would routinely black out civil rights news stories, pretending it was largely “cable trouble” as then-station GM Fred Beard called the coverage “Negro Propaganda“. Then-ABC affiliate WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C. went even further and gave future Senator and known pro-segregationist Jesse Helms a commentary slot every night. 

In 1985, CBS-owned WBBM-TV was the subject of a boycott by Operation PUSH and the Rev. Jesse Jackson after African-American anchor Harry Porterfield lost his main anchor spot to a returning Bill Kurtis. Ratings plummeted and never recovered as viewership remains low to this day. And of course, the station did not learn its lesson: In 2011, the same station aired maliciously edited footage of a 4-year old stating he wanted to be a “gang member” when he really wanted to fight the bad guys. The move was criticized by Rep. Bobby Rush and the NAACP, among others (a similar instance took place at Sinclair-owned Baltimore Fox affiliate WBFF in 2014, resulting in the dismissal of a few staffers.)

Over the years, local news stations in the top six media markets became part of bigger media conglomerates. Network-owned stations in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Dallas (excluding ABC affiliate WFAA), are now part of  either Disney, NBCUniversal, or ViacomCBS, whose stations aren’t exactly a priority as their parent companies chase streaming dollars.

Outside of the network-owned stations, media consolidation has drastically reduced the number of broadcast companies as the FCC has deregulated the industry, removing caps on how many radio or TV stations one can buy and relieving them of numerous public-service requirements, such as axing the local studio rule

Sinclair (who nearly bought WGN-TV and WGN Radio owner Tribune) took advantage of deregulation to foster their right-wing ideology to local news viewers. As Vulture columnist Josef Adalian notes, local stations across the country (including here) are becoming an arm of the Trump White House, carrying his daily news conferences of which contain very little substance. 

Scenes like this were repeated on local TV stations ad nauseam on August 10 and 11. (Network Video Productions)

Chicago’s two main newspapers have made cutbacks over the last decade due to inconsistent ownership (Michael Ferro, Sam Zell, etc.) and management, leading to a loss of subscribers and focusing more on crime-blotter stories with a lack of depth. 

Then, there’s the Fox News angle I pointed out in a recent article about the cable news network’s prime-time coverage of Chicago mayhem. The focus on dysfunction in the city’s African-American community and non-stop bashing of Chicago leaders such as Mayor Lightfoot has become a prime-time ratings hit, as Johnson missed this point in her article completely. 

And perhaps more tragically, there’s the elimination of legacy Black media, from the demise of Johnson Publishing (home of Ebony and Jet) to the print edition of the Chicago Defender.

Back in September 2019, I wrote about how the local news media generally does a poor job of covering crime and issues involving African-Americans in general. Thus, the reaction from the Black community regarding coverage of Monday’s mayhem wasn’t surprising. Back in May, local community news website The Triibe documented on how there is a disconnect between the news media and young people in the African-American community, after a party was thrown at a Belmont Craigin residence with hundreds of people in attendance at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The disconnect is perhaps even greater than it is with conservatives. While news generates nearly half a station’s revenues, it generally skews older – but it hasn’t stopped news expansion as it attracts tons of advertising – especially political, retail, and automotive. 

As I pointed out for years in this space, there is little racial diversity in local newsrooms nationwide and in the media business in general from Hollywood writers’ rooms to the executive suites as I discussed these issues in a deep-dive on diversity in the media business – or the lack thereof back in June. For example, Chicago television stations have had only two African-American general managers in its entire history – Jonathan Rodgers of WBBM and Lyle Banks of NBC-owned WMAQ, who left twenty years ago.

The relationship between minority communities and the media have never been great, and it has only gotten worse in these highly politicized times. With the Black Lives Matter movement in full swing, stations need to reach out more to minority communities. And I mean smart, intelligent people who have a stake in the community, not ratings-grabbing, click-baiting nonsense from crackpots, which I saw a LOT of this past week (including some who endorsed the looting as a form of “reparations”.) 

But steps are being made in the right direction. ABC 7 announced an open position looking for a journalist devoted to race and culture issues, while WTTW’s Chicago Tonight devotes significant time to issues involving the African-American community, including producing an entire web series devoted to gun violence and the coronavirus pandemic, but more needs to be done – including more in-depth reporting on these issues, which I hardly see on the network-owned stations. 

And as I also noted in June, capitalizing a letter doesn’t solve the long-standing problems between communities of color and the media. 

An interesting side note to this, on Monday morning – minutes before I learned of what was going on downtown, I read and contributed to a thread from Adalian (who lives in Las Vegas) discussing how local news has failed our communities as Las Vegas stations whiffed on informing viewers on coronavirus. 

No doubt Chicago’s African-American community would agree.  

 

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ESPN 1000 to launch new morning show with David Kaplan and Jonathan Hood

Two longtime sports talk veterans get together for new 7-10 a.m. program

In a sweeping schedule realignment, ESPN 1000 (WMVP-AM) is adding a new local morning show. 

David Kaplan and Jonathan Hood will take over the 7-to-10 a.m. slot starting on Monday, giving ESPN 1000 its first morning drive-time show in recent memory as the station has mostly stuck with national programming from ESPN Radio.

“We are really excited to give our fans a chance to have a local interactive show starting at 7 a.m. every weekday,” Mike Thomas, ESPN Chicago market manager, told Robert Feder, who first broke the story Tuesday. “From a local standpoint, it’s going to put us in a strong competitive position.” The first two hours of the new Kap & J. Hood show will go head-to-head with the last two hours of The Score’s (WSCR-AM) Mulley and Haugh. (Mike Mulligan and David Haugh.)

Previously, Kaplan hosted Kap & Co. from 9 a.m.-noon, while Hood hosted a evening baseball show from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by his regular show.

The opportunity to launch a local show came after ESPN pulled the plug on nearly the three-year old morning chatfest hosted by Trey Wingo and Mike Golic, who departed the network at the end of July. ESPN launched a new national morning show with Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti on August 3.

In a bit of a compromise, the national ESPN morning show will now air only from 5 to 7 a.m., allowing ESPN 1000 to air their new morning show with Kaplan and Hood.

In addition, ESPN 1000 is airing two hours of Mike Greenberg’s nationally syndicated show from noon-to-2 p.m., on an one-hour delay. Greenberg was a former on-air personality at the Score and later teamed with Golic for ESPN’s longtime morning show Mike And Mike In The Morning

Here’s the revised schedule, effective Monday:

The move by ESPN 1000 is a smart one, given the station has long lacked a local morning show. Despite the 7 a.m. start, it also gives WSCR some strong local competition as sporting events have returned from the pandemic. The move is also wonderful for Chicago sports talk veteran Hood, who spent a decade at WSCR and hosted programs for Sirius/XM and weekend programming for ESPN Radio. Hood also had an earlier stint at ESPN 1000 in the mid-2000s.

Even though ESPN owns WMVP, it is managed and operated in a local marketing agreement by suburban Milwaukee-based GoodKarma Brands.

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Chicagoans stunned by a new round of looting, vandalism (updated)

Per CBS 2, Best Buy looted on North Side after a night of looting and vandalism.

Local stations right in the thick of it

[Editor’s Note: This is a new version of a story posted earlier Monday.]

Just like on Survivor when an unsuspecting contestant is blindsided at Tribal Council, Chicagoans were caught off-guard after a night of looting and vandalism in downtown Chicago and River North areas early Monday morning, and some of the mayhem was even caught live on camera. 

This is the second time looting happened downtown and River North in a little over two months. On May 30 and May 31, looters struck those same areas after protests over the killing of George Floyd  devolved into violence.

The mayhem started just after midnight as packs of looters ravaged areas of high-end shops on Michigan Avenue and stores on State Street, breaking glass and causing millions of dollars worth of damage. Walgreens and CVS drug stores were also hard hit. The looting and vandalism seems to be coordinated on social media, possibly in response to misinformation about a police-involved shooting in Englewood Sunday afternoon where a 20-year old man was shot by police.  

Looting and vandalism also were reported in Lincoln Park and Near North areas. Scattered looting took place on the West and South Sides, though not to the extent it took place on May 31 and June 1.  

By the time ABC 7 (WLS-TV), WGN-TV, and Fox 32 (WFLD) signed on to do their regular newscasts at 4 a.m. Monday, looting and vandalism continued – in some cases, even taking place live on the air. ABC 7’s Jessica D’Onforio and a camera crew caught looters breaking into a Potbelly’s next door to the station, a Macy’s store on State Street, and also captured the sounds of gunfire taking place a block away as Chicago Police and a looting suspect exchanged gunfire at Michigan and Lake, near Fox 32’s station headquarters. 

Stations also had to deal with people crashing live shots and swearing, which occurred numerous times. 

Local TV stations stayed in coverage until about 1 p.m. , pre-empting several network and syndicated shows. Local radio stations such as WBBM-AM and WGN Radio also had non-stop coverage. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave a truncated update on the unrest a little after 8 a.m. – with just one press pool reporter. Mayor Lightfoot berated him after asking a question, saying it was “bait”. For a person who hates President Trump so much, she seems to take after him. The best part of the television coverage was when NBC 5’s (WMAQ) Mary Ann Ahern called out city leaders for their lack of leadership, which everyone seems to agree on. 

There wasn’t much national coverage on CNN or MSNBC as they stuck with politics and Covid, although ABC did had a Nightline segment on the looting. But coverage is all over Fox News had the Fraternal Order of Police union head appearing on one of their prime-time shows and a local alderman appearing on Fox & Friends morning show Tuesday. During coverage of a Chicago funeral shooting last month, the network drew 4.1 million viewers in prime-time. 

There was also some questionable judgement by the local news media on why they aired (and/or printed) a really idiotic sound bite of a woman from the Black Lives Matter moment at a rally calling for the looters’ release, condoning what happened earlier in the day, basically encouraging more looting and vandalism. It was completely irresponsible and news directors and editors should’ve known better. 

Even though reports of looting dropped considerably from 24 hours ago, the downtown area is still under curfew until further notice from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. A huge storm swept through the city Monday afternoon, leaving plenty of damage as a confirmed tornado touched down on the North Side’s Rogers Park neighborhood. 

Given what’s going on in Lebanon, the term “Beirut on The Lake” – an old slogan referring to Council Wars in the 1980s, is more truer now than it has ever been.  

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Chicago “City So Real” documentary heads to NatGeo

From left: Suzanna Medoza, Lori Lightoot, Toni Preckwinkle, and Paul Vallas at a forum during the 2019 mayoral campaign.

Sundance favorite on 2019 Chicago Mayoral race to be featured

Six years after CNN’s inane Chicagoland documentary premiered and turned out to be a colossal flop, another made-in-Chicago documentary – this time about the most recent mayoral race, will soon have a linear TV premiere.

Earlier this week, the National Geographic Channel – better known as NatGeo, bought the rights to a documentary to City So Real, about the wild contest that lead to Lori Lightfoot becoming the first Black and lesbian woman to become mayor of the nation’s third-largest city.

City So Real plans to air sometime this fall on NatGeo, with four of the five hours devoted to the mayoral race, with an extra hour devoted to the fallout from COVID-19 and social uprising in Chicago following George Floyd’s death. Launched in January 2001, NatGeo and sister channel NatGeo Wild is a partnership between National Geographic and The Walt Disney Company, who acquired the 73 percent stake in the channel as part of the $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2017. NatGeo is one of the portals on Disney’s new streaming service, though City So Real isn’t going to stream there, at least for now.

According to a press release from NatGeo, “City So Real” “begins in the haze of mid-summer 2018, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, embroiled in accusations of a cover-up related to the police shooting of an African-American teenager, Laquan McDonald, shocks the city by announcing he won’t seek reelection. An unprecedented 21 candidates emerge in a diverse and crowded field as they engage in a no-holds-barred battle for a chance to shape the city’s uncertain future.”

Poster for “City So Real”.

The miniseries is from filmmaker Steve James, who produced the Award-winning filmed-in-Chicago documentary Hoop Dreams in 1994, and from his son, Jackson.

“From the summer of 2018 through the spring of 2019, James, [collaborator Zak] Piper, as well as James’ son, filmmaker Jackson James, and a diverse team followed the historic, often contentious mayoral election. Scenes from the streets, luxury high-rises, barbershops, campaign offices and nightclubs are skillfully juxtaposed by editors David E. Simpson (America to Me) and James to create a mosaic of life in the Midwest’s most racially, culturally and economically diverse city.”

The four-hour documentary was a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival’s “Indie Episodic” slate in January. The miniseries has already achieved a 100 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.9 out of 10.0 rating from iMDB – in vast contrast to the frosty reception Chicagoland received, who many painted as an infomercial for Emanuel and was revealed he had a hand in the show’s production, coming out smelling like hotel-room bathroom soap. 

City So Real comes at a time when Chicago’s image continues to suffer on the worldwide stage due to relentless gun violence with the dysfunction showcased nightly on Fox News amid increased scrutiny of the Lightfoot Administration, especially from conservatives (and even from far-left groups.) This summer, Fox News has outdrawn almost all of the broadcast and competing cable networks in total viewers and in the 18-49 demo in the first two hours of prime-time. 

When the last two women were in the race left standing – Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle were in the runoff, this space blasted the “debate” format the two agreed on, treating them like a concert tour with stops at at least ten different media outlets. The “forums” didn’t do anything in terms of informing voters and on election night, and only a third of registered voters bothered to show up to vote as Lightfoot won in a “historic” context that really meant nothing.

It’s unlikely City So Real is going to get the same kind of buzz from Chicago media types Chicagoland did given NatGeo doesn’t have the same high-profile CNN has, but it’s actually a plus, as this docuseries won’t be under the same spotlight and we get a chance to watch without any hot takes attached.

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