Former WTMX co-host Melissa McGurren heads to US 99

Former WTMX personality to co-host morning show with former sports producer and podcaster

Audacy-owned country music station WUSN-FM – better known as US 99, announced Thursday they were hiring former WTMX personality Melissa McGurren as their new morning host, starting Monday. The news was first reported by Robert Feder.

Born in Portage, Ind. and residing in west suburban Riverside, McGurren is being paired with podcaster and Nashville native Austin Huff, whose last gig was producer for sports radio station WXOS in St. Louis. Together, they will host The Melissa and Austin Show weekday mornings from 6 to 9 a.m.

As you recall, McGurren was a longtime contributor and co-host on WTMX’s morning program, on Eric & Kathy and Eric In The Morning until her disappearance and subsequent departure last year under a cloud of circumstances. After her Hubbard bosses released a statement on her departure, McGurren took to social media to tell her side of the story, disputing their take.

This marks the third morning show in nearly five years at the country station. In 2016, the then-CBS Radio bosses transferred Stylz & Roman from sister station B96 (WBBM-FM) to morning drive at WUSN, lasting until 2019. They were replaced by Jason Pullman and Katie Bright, who lasted all of ten months. Interim morning host Drew Walker shifts to a late morning slot, from 9 a.m. to noon, replacing two hours of syndicated content.

In the latest total-day PPM numbers, WUSN finished thirteenth in total-day PPM numbers and fifteenth in mornings. The station hasn’t benefited much from the elimination of former rival WEBG-FM (now WCHI-FM/Rock 95.5) as one-half of their former morning duo made headlines recently for getting a tattoo of the station he worked for on his arm – and then getting fired by the same station days later.

A tip for McGuren and Huff – don’t get any US 99 tattoos.

 

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Weigel bounces in MeTV Plus to replace Bounce

Replaces Bounce as digital network heads to Ion’s WCPX 

It’s not just an expansion – it’s now a boom.

Yet another new multicast network was announced with the launch of MeTVPlus from Weigel Broadcasting, scheduled to debut May 15.

As first reported by Robert Feder Monday, MeTV Plus features off-network dramas and sitcoms that hasn’t aired on MeTV in years, including the original versions of Mission: Impossible and Hawaii Five-O, and some new titles including Vega$, the 1978-81 drama featuring Robert Urich and Phyllis Davis.

MeTV Plus is also planning to run MeTV’s successful Toon In With Me at 11 p.m. weeknights, for those who are not able to watch every morning at 6 a.m. where it usually airs.

The new channel replaces Bounce, who is moving to a digital tier of Ion Media’s WCPX-TV.  MeTV Plus is being slotted on over-the-air 26.5 and channel positions on Comcast, Mediacom, RCN, Spectrum, and Wow, positions Bounce currently occupies (MeTV is available on Dish and DirecTV, but it’s carrying the signal of low-power WWWE-CA, as both typically don’t carry digital subchannels.) Unless WCPX can secure cable carriage, Bounce would be off these systems entirely.

The change was expected as Ion parent Scripps is moving Katz’s multicast networks to channels it owns in order to reduce distribution costs as this was the main purpose of acquiring Ion last year for $2.65 billion. WCIU was a charter member of Bounce, who launched in 2011.

This isn’t the first time Weigel has launched a companion channel to MeTV. In 2008, Weigel launched a local spin-off channel called MeToo (over WMEU-CA), featuring off-network programming and briefly split the channels between dramas and comedies until MeTV went national in 2010. After losing the rights to several programming libraries, MeToo shuttered in 2014 when it became an affiliate of Heroes & Icons, an action-drama digital network Weigel launched.

The decision to brand the channel MeTV Plus and not MeToo is very obvious since the name has a completely different meaning now than it did in 2008.

Like the original national launch of MeTV, Me TV Plus is operating only in Chicago and in another market (Phoenix) for now. Weigel plans to add MeTV Plus to the digital tier of its owned stations in Milwaukee, St. Louis, and South Bend, among others in the months to come.

MeTV Plus is the latest in a flood of new digital network launches in the last year. Among those announced or have already launched include Fave TV (CBS); The Grio.TV (Allen Media Group); Defy (Scripps); TrueReal (Scripps, formerly Doozy); Twist (Tegna); and just last week Rewind TV (Nexstar.) Like MeTV Plus in some cases, these new multicast networks are replacing those on stations who lost a Katz/Scripps network to their local Ion affiliate.

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Rewind this: Another new multicast network to launch filled with reruns

Nexstar spin-offs a network from Antenna TV 

Usually in TV land, we have spin-offs of shows, some of the most successful being Gomer Pyle, USMC; Facts Of Life; Maude; Good Times; and Laverne & Shirley. 

Now for the first time, we have a spin-off of an entire channel. On September 1, Nexstar is launching Rewind TV, featuring 1980s and 1990s sitcoms currently airing on Antenna TV, the multicast network it acquired in the Tribune Media acquisition in 2019. 

The split leaves Antenna TV focusing on 1960s and 1970s programming, making the network more of a competitor against Weigel’s MeTV and Decades channels, though both also air dramas and variety fare as opposed to Antenna’s predominately sitcom fare and Johnny Carson Tonight Show reruns. 

“This year marks Antenna TV’s 10-year anniversary, and it continues growing and finding new audiences,” said Sean Compton, president of Nexstar Media’s Networks Division. “To complement Antenna TV’s strong following with baby boomers, we created Rewind TV to give Gen X viewers a network dedicated to their own nostalgic comedy classics.”

The lineup of programs on Rewind includes The Drew Carey Show, Wings, Family Ties, 227, and others. Coming in 2022 is The John Laraquette Show and Suddenly Susan in 2022.

Rewind TV is expected to replace Court TV on Nexstar stations. Just three years ago, Tribune struck a deal with Scripps’ Katz Communications to carry the reboot for the former cable network, but that was before owner Scripps purchased Ion Networks, as they recently decided to move all of their digital subchannels in-house with Ion to reduce distribution costs. Six months after launching, Court TV replaced This TV on Tribune stations, a channel the company once had a stake in. This has since replaced another Katz/Scripps channel (Laff) on the ABC-owned stations. 

In the last year, we’ve seen the debut of several new multichannel networks as competition in the space is heating up as the revenue generated have enticed even initial holdouts Nexstar and CBS hop on board. And more are on the way.

The selection of programming Rewind TV is offering is hugely disappointing. One of the worst sitcoms of the 1990s, the inane Drew Carey Show (which previously ran on Laff) is the centerpiece, and I can’t possibly explain the inclusion of the even more head-in-the-toilet vomit known as Suddenly Susan, which you shouldn’t confuse with the equally inane She’s The Sheriff (whose pilot was once known as Suddenly Sheriff.) The rest of the lineup isn’t so bad, but like ’80s music, these titles are quite burned out. 

Even more disappointing is outside of 227 and perhaps Designing Women and Diff’rent Strokes is the lack of shows featuring mostly minority casts on Rewind TV – a common theme popping up when it comes to streaming services and other channels. Missing are sitcoms such as Martin, Living Single, The Jamie Foxx Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Roc, and a few more. But of course, they have room for Carey, and Brooke Shield’s dumb show. Hopefully, Rewind TV adds more shows in the future because their initial list is not impressive.  

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NHL rights: NBC’s out, Turner’s in

Surprise bid from WarnerMedia subsidiary ends NBC’s 16-year run

In a surprise no one saw coming, WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports skated away with the remaining NHL package in a deal officially announced Tuesday by outbidding NBCUniversal and Fox Sports, one of two put up for bids recently by the league with ESPN and ABC acquiring the other portion several weeks ago. 

Starting this fall, Turner – owners of TBS, TNT, and TruTV is going to air up to 72 games per season, along with the other half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and three Stanley Cup Finals matchups in odd-numbered years. 

Also included is streaming rights through HBO Max – though how this would happen is still under discussion, marking the first sports property acquired for the fledging streamer. Turner would reportedly pay $225 million yearly for the entire length of the contract, spanning seven years. Also in the deal is the yearly Winter Classic and digital rights for Turner-owned Bleacher Report. 

Turner has had experience airing hockey, but in a limited fashion. In the days when Ted Turner owned the station, Atlanta’s WTCG (later known as WTBS and now known as WPCH-TV) aired Flames games in the 1970s until the team moved to Calgary in 1980. The former Turner South aired Atlanta Thrashers games and continued to do so when the network was sold became a secondary channel for Fox Sports South (now Bally’s Sports Southeast.) The team left Atlanta after the 2011 season for Winnipeg and became the Jets, a reboot of the former NHL franchise in the Manitoba city. 

Turner’s TNT also aired Olympic hockey when they shared rights to the Winter Games with CBS in the 1990s. 

The addition of the NHL fortifies an already busting sports roster for Turner with rights to the NBA and MLB (including playoffs for each), PGA Golf, and NCAA Tournament Basketball with the Final Four in even-numbered years. 

“Our strategy at Turner has been to be involved with the most premium sports content, and I think we’ve put together a portfolio that reflects that,” WarnerMedia News & Sports chairman Jeff Zucker said in a press release. “And adding the NHL to that portfolio only enhances Turner Sports.”

The deal marks the end of the line for NBC as rightsholder after sixteen years. After a brief stint in the mid-1970’s, the network returned to the hockey business in 2004 after ESPN cut the league loose in a unique deal whereas NBC didn’t pay a rights fee. The network later was acquired by Comcast and struck a ten-year deal with the NHL for games on NBC and NBCSN (formerly Versus/OLN, owned by Comcast before the merger.) The pending closure of NBCSN may have played a role in NBCUniversal pulling out of the bidding with nowhere to put the games.

During the second NBC era of the NHL, the league saw the rise of superstars of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin, and the creation of the outdoor Winter Classic (the second was at Wrigley Field.) The NBC era also saw the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks, winning three Stanley Cup championships (with the first one breaking a 49-year drought) and giving NBC-owned WMAQ its highest ratings since the Bears won Super Bowl XX in 1986 and the Bulls’ six championships in the 1990s when NBC had the rights to the NBA. 

Other notable achievements in the NBC era included the Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Washington Capitals, and St. Louis Blues each winning their first Stanley Cup championships. 

But there were some downside moments too, including controversial off-screen comments made by Mike Milbury and former Hawks star Jeremy Roenick resulting in their firing and way too many games with 11 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. Central time starts, not to mention a recently botched Lake Tahoe outdoor game between Las Vegas and Colorado.  

You have to question why the NHL decided to move some of the Stanley Cup Final entirely to cable in an era where viewers are cutting the cord and especially a league who has the smallest fanbase of all four major sports in the United States – not to mention past complaints from viewers when two Stanley Cup Final games were exclusive to Versus/NBC SN. But the allure of over-the-air broadcasting isn’t as great or prestigious as it once was, and they’ll have roughly the same number of regular-season and playoff games they had on NBC. Maybe they’ll stream the Stanley Cup Final on HBO Max, but if they don’t then that’s a problem. 

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Tracy Brown to take over as WBEZ Chief Content Officer

Steve Edwards (l.) and Tracy Brown. (WBEZ)

Steve Edwards departs for a non-media role

In a major realignment at one of Chicago’s major radio stations, WBEZ-FM (91.5 FM) named Tracy Brown as Chief Content Officer of the public radio station last Friday, who is replacing Steve Edwards (no relation to the former WLS-AM and KTTV Los Angeles personality) in the role as he departs for an executive search firm. His last day is May 14. 

Edwards was instrumental into bringing WBEZ its’ highest ratings in its history in recent years, peaking as high as second in February and setting an all-time ratings record for the station in January. Edwards started at WBEZ in 1999, and returned to the station in 2017 after serving a five-year stint at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. 

“[Edwards’] character, his integrity and his passion are woven in and out of who we are at WBEZ. In that way, it’s a really difficult transition,” Chicago Public Media Interim CEO Matt Moog said in a statement. “On the other hand, it’s such a meaningful passing of the baton to Tracy, somebody who’s been here, who’s gotten to know everybody, who understands the city and knows the newsroom. She so identifies with the core mission and purpose of public media.”

Brown arrived at WBEZ two years ago with a newspaper/print background, serving in numerous positions including Atlanta, where she was editor of the Journal-Constitution. During her tenure overseeing WBEZ’s newsroom, she put a spotlight on how Chicago’s minority communities were coping with Covid-19, and scooping other media outlets with stories on scandals involving ComEd and racism in mortgage lending throughout the Chicago area. Under Edwards and Brown’s watch, WBEZ won three Edward R. Murrow awards, being the only local station – TV or radio – to achieve such a feat. 

“Both Steve and I deeply believe in the importance of local journalism and being of essential service to our community,” Brown said in the same release. “I’m looking forward to a new chapter ahead for WBEZ with the entire team. It’s been incredibly rewarding to work for and with Steve, and I’m delighted knowing he will continue to have a huge impact on Chicago in his new role.”

This marked the second time in a week an African-American was named in a key position at a Chicago media outlet. A few days earlier, NBCUniversal named Kevin Cross general manager of WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV in addition to his current duties at NBC Sports Chicago. While we’re not there quite yet when it comes to diversity in Chicago’s media core, the appointment of Brown and Cross are clearly steps in the right direction. 

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Kevin Cross named NBC 5, Telemundo Chicago GM

Takes over role June 1

In a masterful stroke of corporate synergy, current NBC Sports Chicago senior vice president and general manager Kevin Cross will assume the same responsibilities (as president and GM) for NBC 5 (WMAQ-TV) and Spanish-language Telemundo Chicago (WSNS-TV) effective June 1, succeeding a retiring David Doebler, who is exiting after eight years.

The news was first reported by Robert Feder Tuesday morning. All three share a corporate parent in NBCUniversal, owned by Comcast Corp.

“Kevin is an effective and empathetic leader. A native of Chicago’s southside, he has more than 25 years of experience working in the region and is the perfect person to take the helm of NBCUniversal’s local businesses in Chicago, said NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations President Valari Staab, whom Cross would be reporting to. “I look forward to seeing the new milestones that our teams at NBC 5, Telemundo Chicago and NBC Sports Chicago will reach together as they build upon their already successful work in delivering the best in local news and sports for Chicago’s English and Spanish-speaking audiences.”

Cross has an extensive background in sports programming. He began his career at the former SportsChannel Chicago in 1993 and became a senior producer in 1998, a year after SportsChannel transitioned into Fox Sports Chicago, and was responsible for Bulls and White Sox pre- and post-game shows. In 2000, he went to Timeline Productions when he produced and syndicated sports programming, and moved to the former CLTV in 2003 as an executive producer where he helped create Sports Page and other sports-related programs.

Cross later joined CSN Chicago (now NBC Sports Chicago) as assistant news director and was producer for several studio shows. In 2012, he became news and original content director and was promoted to his current position two years ago. The regional sports network weathered the loss of the Chicago Cubs and re-positioned itself as the exclusive local home for Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, and Chicago White Sox games. 

NBC 5 is looking to capitalize on the turmoil surrounding ABC 7 (WLS-TV) after the controversial departure of sports anchor Mark Giangreco. An item in Feder’s column recently noted the NBC-owned station has tied ABC 7 this month for first place at 10 p.m. in the key 25-54 adult demo, a feat NBC 5 has done often in the last few years.

Cross’s addition of GM duties at NBC 5 also marks the first time an African-American has led a local TV station in the Chicago market in about 20 years. Lyle Banks led NBC 5 in the late 1990s, a period marked by turmoil when he and then-news director Joel Cheatwood hired then-trash TV talk show host Jerry Springer to deliver commentaries during the station’s 10 p.m. newscast, leading to the resignations of lead anchors Carol Marin and Ron Magers.

Chicago’s first African-American GM at a local TV station was Jonathan Rodgers, a position he held at CBS-owned WBBM-TV from 1986 to 1990 before being promoted to president of CBS’ owned-and-operated television stations group and later became president of Discovery Networks.

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Hitting the “Streetz” – 95.1 FM rebrands

Station returns to the air with new format

Like a store at a strip mall, once one business leaves another one comes along and takes its place. And in the giant strip mall known as FM radio, a vacancy has been filled. 

Two weeks ago, the former Clubsteppin’ 95.1 FM – later rebranded as “95.1 Chicago” when the station was sold (heard on Windy City Broadcasting’s rim-shotters in Chicago and Bolingbrook originating from WOJO-HD2’s signal) closed its terrestrial radio doors and moved online, leaving the frequency dark. Now a new radio station has filled the space – the new Streetz 95.1. 

Billed as a Hip-Hop/R&B station, core artists include Cardi B, Drake, Future, Lil’ Baby, Chicago native Lil’ Durk, H.E.R., Megan Thee Stallion, among others. The format launched Thursday. 

Streetz is operated by Core Communicators, owned by CEO Steve Hegewood. 

“I was born and raised in Milwaukee Wisconsin 90 miles away, Chicago has always had a special place in my heart! “, says Hegewood. “We feel our Streetz brand is more than just music is a true lifestyle on air, through social media and in the community, we are excited to bring it to Chicago.”  The Streetz branding is also used by Core in other markets, including Atlanta and Norfolk, Va. 

The station’s morning show is the syndicated Streetz Morning Takeover featuring Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta star Yung Joc, a VH1 show highly-rated among African-Americans in the 18-34 demo. Co-hosted by Mz Shyneka and Shawty The Comedian, the program debuts locally April 26 after stunting with 5,000 songs in a row. 

Streetz enters an already-crowded Black music marketplace in Chicago with iHeartMedia’s WGCI-FM and Crawford’s WPWX-FM (Power 92) as main competitors. During the last PPM survey, WGCI ranked 21st while Power 92 was 25th – hardly impressive as younger listeners are streaming Hip-Hop music (uncensored, of course) as opposed to listening on terrestrial radio and in a metro area whose Black population has been declining for years. 

Meanwhile, Lamont Watts – the original brains behind the Clubsteppin’ format, has relaunched the station on Hubbard’s WTMX-FM second HD channel (101.9-HD2.). Of course, you can listen to the station online here. 

 

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Televisa, Univision combine to form Spanish-language giant

Merger brings together two brands in two different countries to form one big global Spanish-language powerhouse 

Two of the world’s biggest names in Spanish-language broadcasting are forming a union.

Announced Tuesday night, Mexico’s Grupo Televisa S.A.B. – simply known as Televisa, and privately-held U.S. broadcaster Univision announced a merger agreement bringing together each company’s media assets and content, forming a new company called Televisa-Univision. Historically, Televisa has provided Univision with tons of programming and produced 86,000 hours of it in 2020 alone. The merger would create the world’s biggest Spanish-language company.

The deal marries Mexico’s biggest broadcaster and the U.S. Spanish-language giant in a $4.8 billion transaction. Here’s how the financials would work – the merger would be partly financed by $1 billion of new Series C preferred equity investment from SoftBank’s Latin American Fund, with current Univision investor ForgeLight, Google, and The Raine Group; and $2.1 billion of debt commitments arranged by J.P. Morgan. Univision plans to pay $3 billion for Televisa; $750 million in Univision shares; and another $750 million for Univision preferred shares, promising an equal dividend of 5.5 percent. Televisa plans to have a 45 percent stake in the new Televisa-Univision, up from the current 36 percent in Univision.

“This strategic combination generates significant value for shareholders of both companies and will allow us to more efficiently reach all Spanish-language audiences with more of our programming,” said Emilio Azcárraga, executive chairman of the Televisa board of directors. “Together, Televisa-Univision can more aggressively pursue innovation and growth through digital platforms as the industry continues to evolve. Our new investors at the SoftBank Latin America Fund, Google and The Raine Group are just as excited about the opportunities presented by this combination.”

Univision CEO Wade Davis would retain his title in the new company, while Televisa’s Alfonso de Angoitia becomes executive chairman, and SoftBank’s Marcelo Claure is being named vice chairman. 

Founded in 1955 by the Azcarraga family, Televisa is Mexico’s dominant broadcaster, with four over-the-air networks (Canal 5, FOROtv, Las Estrellas, and Nueve) covering 253 affiliates; 27 cable networks; SVOD service Blim; film studio Videocine; and Izzi telecom (formerly Cablevision.) Televisa was also involved in English-language television as it ran Tijuana-based XETV through a San Diego-based company called Bay City Television, serving the San Diego area when it ran through various stages as an ABC, Fox, CW, and independent station. Bay City closed in 2017 after XETV lost its CW affiliation and became an affiliate of Canal 5. Televisa also owns another cross-broder Tijuana station, XEWT. 

Univision owns 61 local television stations, 58 radio outlets, and broadcast network Unimas. In Chicago, Univision owns WXFT-Ch.60 and WGBO-Ch.66; and radio stations WOJO-FM, WVIV-FM, WPPN-FM, and WRTO-AM. Univision is one of the very few broadcasters left who simultaneously owns numerous TV and radio stations.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval in both countries, given TV and radio licenses are involved. In Mexico, Televisa plans to outsource its news operations to a privately-held company owned by the Azcarraga family; Televisa maintains the broadcast licenses, buildings, Izzi, and transmission infrastructure separate from the new company. 

Meanwhile, the FCC has a rule limiting foreign investment in media properties to 25 percent, as a petition to increase the foreign ownership of iHeartMedia from 25 percent to 100 percent is now in front of the agency. 

The main reason for this union is simple – both companies are banding together to launch a streaming service in the United States and Mexico targeting Spanish-language consumers as viewers in the 18-49 demo are quickly shifting away from linear TV. Another reason is both companies – despite being based in different countries, want to build scale in an increasingly global economy. It’s an issue countries around the world need to face, especially north of the border as streaming is breaking down geographical walls. 

In addition, Televisa and Univision are feeling heat in their respective countries from competitors, who each have scored big-ticket items: TV Azteca’s Azteca 7 in Mexico, who owns rights to Liga MX soccer and NFL football; and NBCUniversal’s Telemundo in the States, who currently has rights to World Cup Soccer and the Olympics and whose fare is already streaming on Peacock. 

While Televisa and Univision has had a working relationship for decades, there has been tension – in 2006, both wound up in court regarding a breach-of-contract suit over programming rights, settled in 2009

 

 
 
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Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune under fire for controversial column on Adam Toledo shooting

Eric Zorn’s column on police shooting highlights latest clash between the local media and minority communities

In the latest example of how the Chicago media often bump heads with minority communities, Chicago Tribune opinion writer Eric Zorn published an article last Tuesday that generated a lot of heat.

The subject matter was the fatal police shooting of thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo on March 29 at 2:30 a.m. in the predominately Latino Little Village (South Lawndale) neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side. On Tuesday, Zorn wrote an article headlined “Let’s wait before turning 13-year Adam Toledo into a martyr”, urging the public to withhold judgement before all the facts were known. But a sentence in particular set a lot of readers off: “It’s not too early to stop romancing and infantilizing thirteen-year-olds”

Needless to say, all hell broke loose on social media – especially on Twitter – once the article was posted, with many accusing the liberal-minded Zorn of racism. Some colleagues at the paper weren’t happy with the piece but others in Chicago’s journalistic community defended Zorn, including Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, the Sun-Times’ Neil Steinberg, and the Daily Southtown’s Ted Sloiak.

Zorn wrote a follow-up article on Thursday night, regretting the choice of words he used in your basic “non-apology” apology, regretting the tone he wrote in.

While Zorn is known as one of the more progressive columnists at the Tribune, many far-left Twitter users were angry at him, calling for his resignation, retirement, or firing.

Including a few colleagues of Zorn, a few had some thoughts on how the Chicago news media covers minority communities:

But it was these two tweets that hit the nail right on the head:

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen questionable columns from the Tribune’s opinion writers: back in 2015, Kristen McQueary wrote a piece calling for a “Hurricane Katrina-like event” to hit Chicago. More recently, John Kass was criticized for a piece he wrote about crime in “Democratic-run cities” (basically every city), forcing the Tribune to move his column to the opinion pages. Kass and McQueary are considered far more conservative than Zorn.

Zorn’s piece further highlights the ongoing tensions between the local news media and residents from Black and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago, an issue going back decades but has been in the spotlight more since the murder of George Floyd. Last year, the local news media was criticized by many in the black community for their coverage of the looting that took place last summer in a half-assed article written in the Tribune. While conservatives’ mistrust of mainstream media outlets is always reported on, nothing is ever said of the same with minority communities and when it does, they often miss the point.

The George Floyd tragedy has shed light on the lack of diversity in the media business from local newsrooms all the way to Hollywood studios. Last week, ViacomCBS fired two CBS Television executives after a Los Angeles Times investigation found they participated in bullying female managers and blocking efforts to hiring and promoting Black journalists, including one making racist comments about a Philadelphia news anchor at KYW-TV (the duo also forced WBBM-TV’s GM Marty Wilke out and several female managers at the station.) And allegations of racism have been levied at several Tegna-owned stations, notably NBC affiliate KUSA in Denver.

Of course, it should also be noted Tribune Publishing is in a middle of a bidding war between a hedge fund and a team featuring a Swiss billionaire and a Maryland hotel magnate but as we all know, Wall Street is ignorant of what’s going on in the streets of Chicago and in other major cities and could care less.

Echoing a similar refrain from 2015 when LaQuan McDonald was killed by a Chicago cop, the city once again is waiting…and waiting on bodycam footage of the Adam Toledo shooting to be released publicly. While you can agree with Zorn on waiting for all the facts to be presented, you have to question him using wording that confuses anyone with even a 500 IQ. It’s no wonder “the mob” turned on Zorn and it came off as racist to many readers.

But Zorn was right about something: “It’s impossible to have anything like productive dialogue in the performative, rock-throwing environment of Twitter. I value the medium for many things, but it’s a lousy forum for debate,” as he told Newsweek. If there is one thing Twitter – and media has taught us, is it’s easier to argue than to have a meaningful productive conservation. And with Twitter, you can’t produce one in under 240 characters.

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The U’s “Jam” comes to an end

Low ratings, pandemic forces The U to pull plug

As first reported by Robert Feder Thursday, The U’s local show The Jam is shutting down production, effective Friday.

Originally launched in August 2017 as a replacement for previous morning show You And Me, The Jam featured hosts Felicia Lawrence, Jordan Cornette, and Danielle Robay. But Cornettte and Robay left the show early in its run and were replaced by You and Me holdover Jon Hansen and former WGN-TV personality Amy Rutledge.

From the beginning, the show had trouble finding an audience opposite WGN’s powerhouse morning news program, airing originally on CW 26. The Jam was temporarily put on production hiatus in March 2020 during the onset of the pandemic but resumed production last fall on The U and moved to prime access where it had an even tougher time finding an audience, being reduced an hour and had to be done remotely, scrapping the in-studio format. Still, The Jam was the only local non-news program on the airwaves between 6 and 7 p.m. every weeknight.

The U is not available to DirecTV subscribers but is available over-the-air on Channels 26.2 (WCUU) and 48.1 (WMEU) and other cable systems, including Xfinity.

Syndicated programming is replacing The Jam though the name of the shows weren’t yet specified. The show’s cancellation is expected to result in layoffs, including local programming and creative head Steve Bailey, who developed The Jam.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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WLS-TV, ABC-owned stations add “This”

Replaces Laff on O&Os; New “Twist” launches on WGBO 66.5

The long journey of the This TV digital subchannel has added another chapter thanks to a deal with the ABC-owned stations, including WLS-TV in Chicago. The move took place April 1. 

“Allen Media Group’s over-the-air broadcast television network This TV is now well-positioned for greater success with the addition of these eight phenomenal ABC owned and operated broadcast television stations,” said Byron Allen, founder/chairman/CEO of Allen Media Group/Entertainment Studios. “As we continue to invest substantial amounts of capital into the programming, marketing, and distribution of THIS TV and our portfolio of eleven networks, we remain strong believers in over-the-air broadcasting and free-streaming direct-to-consumer platforms.”

Headed by Allen, the company purchased This TV and Light TV last year from MGM. Light TV was rebranded as TheGrio.TV on January 15 targeting black audiences, putting the channel in direct competition with Katz’s Bounce. 

For the ABC-owned stations, This TV replaces Laff on their dot-three channels as Katz – now owned by Scripps – moved the channel to their company’s recently-purchased Ion station subchannels. In Chicago, Laff was dropped by WLS-TV in 2017 and moved to Univision’s WGBO-TV as the station entered a spectrum-sharing agreement with WGBO sister station WXFT, clearing the 7.3 space. But with This TV now taking the position, some technical adjustments may have been made to make room for the channel. Laff remains on WGBO-Channel 66.2 for the time being while a delayed feed airs on WCPX-Channel 38.4. 

This TV started as a financial partnership between MGM and WCIU owner Weigel Broadcasting in 2008 but exited in 2013 and was replaced by Tribune Media, shifting the channel to WGN 9.3. When Tribune made a deal with Katz to replace This with the reboot of Court TV, This moved to low-power WRJK Channel 22. MGM assumed full ownership shortly after Nexstar took over Tribune.

Even though it’s owned and operated by Allen, This TV is still “powered by MGM” as the channel continues to run the studio’s movies and TV shows not to mention programming from other distributors. 

Meanwhile, broadcast station group Tegna launched a new multicast network Monday over WGBO on channel 66.5 called Twist, as reported here recently. While at first glance you’d think it’s a channel devoted to Chubby Checker, it’s actually a lineup of mostly cable reality TV show reruns from the 2000s and 2010s featuring titles such as Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Clean House (with Niecy Nash!), Top Chef Masters, and Dance Moms with women 25-54 as the target audience.

Tegna and Univision are the launch pad for the new channel. Let’s do the Twist? Unless you were a fan of these programs way back when, this is one record you might not want to dance to. 

 

 
 
 
 
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The Media Notepad: Supreme Court rules in favor of FCC in ownership case

Also: Bless The Harts canceled; Boost 97.5 arrives while Clubsteppin’ closes; Bally Sports Net debuts to mixed reviews

[Editor’s Note: This post was updated on April 15 to remove some incorrect information regarding Clubsteppin’ 95.1 FM. T Dog Media apologizes for the errors. -T.H.] 

As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court voted Thursday to uphold the FCC’s 2017 ownership rules, eliminating basically all cross-ownership restrictions. But what was not expected was the unanimous nature of the vote and an earlier than expected ruling. This now gives traditional media – who has been losing ground to emerging media (podcasts, streaming, etc.) the power to buy one another as the media landscape has changed drastically since the 1970s when the rules were first put in place and even more so in the last ten years.

This was much-needed great news for broadcasters – particularly television station groups. Wall Street was equally as enthusiastic as stocks for Sinclair and Nexstar surged on Thursday.

But there’s a catch. Given the FCC is currently deadlocked in a 2-2 tie since Chairman Ajit Pai departed three months ago, don’t look for the agency to act on the issue anytime soon. If President Biden nominates someone to the FCC, it’ll likely be a Democrat who’ll give the agency an advantage as the party opposed media consolidation. But there’s no doubt Senate Republicans would try to hold up any kind of nomination. With the agency deadlocked, don’t look for any wheeling-and-dealing right away.

And any changes the FCC makes in the ownership rules will likely wind up back in court, despite the SCOTUS ruling. In other words, this decision doesn’t really mean much since President Trump is no longer in office but would have a significant impact if a Republican reclaims the White House in 2024.

Also keep in mind most newspaper-TV-radio combos grandfathered in the 1975 ruling have since broken up – notably The Tribune Co., who split their TV group and WGN-AM from the Chicago Tribune in 2014 as they are now owned by different companies.

Interesting to note, the biggest story in the last few weeks did not come from a TV station, radio, or newspaper – but from non-profit website Block Club Chicago, who broke the story of a Covid vaccine scandal at a West Side Hospital. Basically, what this columnist said in Mediapost on Friday about the ruling does ring true, to a degree.


Getting a boost: Chicago’s new Boost 97.5 FM debuted earlier this week, and it’s a format that you wouldn’t think was possible – marrying Hip-Hop with…Christan music.

The new station on 97.5 is owned by Educational Media Foundation – the same non-profit who bought the former WLUP-FM in 2018 and flipped the classic rocker to Christian Music. Technically known as W248BB, the station previously ran EMF’s Air 1 format. Prior to launch, 97.5 stunted with 1990s Dance and House Music.

Known as CHR Rhythmic Christian, the Boost Radio format was created in St. Louis by Gateway City Broadcasting, who bought the station from Urban One (formerly Radio One) in a multi-market swap deal with Entercom (now Audacy.) Boost Radio’s tagline is ” Pop, Hip-Hop, and Hope” (not Pop, Hip-Hop and The Pope.)

“EMF is excited to partner with Sandi [Brown, Boost Radio President] and her team on this BOOST expansion. Christian radio is a powerful tool we are passionate about. We’re excited to partner here and to expand to serve more audiences with programming tailored just for them.”, said CEO Bill Reaves in a statement.

If you can’t get 97.5, you can stream the station on their website. The station is also available on WCKL-FM HD-3 channel.

At the same time Boost Radio launched, a fellow rimshot radio station closed down. The owners of 95.1 Chicago left the frequency on Wednesday and moved their entire station online. Originally known as Clubsteppin’, the station was originally launched in August 2018 by Lamont Watts’ Windy City Broadcasting in an already crowded black music landscape and later sold the station to Integrated Brand Marketing, a company headed by Tracey V. Bell, who once ran Johnson Publishing Company’s radio division (owners of the former WJPC-AM/FM) from 1991 to 1994. Clubsteppin’/95.1 Chicago was broadcast on translators of WLEY’s HD-2 station.

Clubsteppin’ made headlines for banning R. Kelly’s music after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.


It’s over and out for Bless The Harts after two seasons as Fox canceled the animated series Thursday. The program premiered in September 2019 out of The Simpsons with a thirteen-episode order and recently returned to the Sunday schedule after a long layoff. Harts drew around 3.4 million viewers, streaming and DVR numbers included. While these numbers were respectable, it wasn’t enough to save the show as it posted very dismal live Nielsen ratings (0.46 among adults 18-49, season-to-date.)

Created by Emily Spivey and set in her home state of North Carolina, the series voice cast included Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jillian Bell, Ike Barinholtz, and Kumail Nanjiani. Harts concludes in May with a total of 26 episodes. The show was a joint production of Fox Entertainment and Disney-owned 20th Television.

Despite the cancellation, Fox’s other animated comedies are in good shape with two-year deals inked for veterans Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob’s Burgers while The Great North and Duncanville were recently renewed. Keep in mind most viewers seek animated programs on other platforms as opposed to live viewing, as is the case for most young-skewing shows – especially The CW, who generally renews almost 100 percent of its schedule.

Meanwhile, NBC’s new Law & Order: Organized Crime scored tremendous numbers Thursday night with a 1.5 demo rating, while CBS’ new The United States Of Al also performed decently out of Young Sheldon. And before you ask… no, The United States Of Al is not a Married…With Children reboot as the character name is Awalmar, or “Al”, not Al Bundy.


 

The reviews for the new Bally Sports are in, and they are mixed.

As you recall, the former Fox Sports RSNs were sold to Disney as part of the $71.3 billion deal. But the Justice Department forced Disney to divest the cable networks and were sold to Sinclair for less than what they were worth. Sinclair then stuck a deal with casino and sportsbook magnate Bally to rebrand the RSNs in their name.

The rebrand took place Wednesday, just in time for baseball season. Changes included moving the scorebug to the bottom half on the screen and on the same line and had an out-of-town scoreboard on the same line, annoying some viewers.

The graphics were bland and used the same font seen on Marquee Sports Network’s Cubs telecasts. Sinclair operates Marquee but is owned in conjunction with the Cubs (and their new scorebug – in the traditional upper-left hand corner of the screen isn’t great either.)

Notably, the “B” in the Bally logo was noticeable in game telecasts, but it reminded some viewers of the now-defunct predatory health club chain the company ran under different ownership (and one that ripped-off the person writing this article for three years.)

Finally, on Bally Great Lakes (in the Cleveland area, formerly known as SportsTime Ohio), they had a local host – who’s a convicted felon – yell at a caller on-air.

We still have call-in television shows in the year of our Lord 2021?

The new Bally Sports has the feel of a low-rent public access TV channel instead of a major network-quality sports network and it’s not a great first impression.

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Entercom becomes Audacy

The country’s second-biggest radio owner rebrands 

It’s not exactly atrocious as Tegna or Tronc, but Entercom’s name change to Audacy is meant to reflect radio’s future. 

Or something like that. 

On Tuesday, Entercom disposed of its corporate name after 53 years and became Audacy, whatever it means. Also gone is the Radio.com name. 

“We have transformed into a fundamentally different and dramatically enhanced organization and so it is time to embrace a new name and brand identity which better reflects who we have become and our vision for the future,” said David Field, Chairman, President and CEO. “‘Audacy’ captures our dynamic creativity, outstanding content and innovative spirit as we aspire to build the country’s best audio content and entertainment platform.” 

Based in Philadelphia, Entercom started in 1968 and purchased CBS Radio in 2017, local owners of WBBM-AM/FM, WSCR-AM, WUSN-FM and others. Today, the company owns 200-plus stations in 47 markets in mostly larger cities in addition to Chicago including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and home market Philadelphia.

The company also launched Radio.com at the dawn of the Internet, and migrated all of the former CBS stations into the platform after purchase. 

The name rebrand basically says it is more than radio – it is an “audio content creator” – getting heavily into podcasting, also announcing deals with Demi Lovato, Boomer Easison, Big Tigger, and a distributor deal with Rich Eisen’s show. Audacy also plans to launch an app featuring podcasts and radio stations, similar to what iHeartMedia does. 

This marks the latest media company to rebrand in recent years to reflect the changing media landscape. In 2014, Clear Channel became iHeartMedia after the tremendous success of its iHeartRadio app. A year later, Gannett’s television stations spun-off from the company and rebranded as Tegna. But some rebrands weren’t successful – case in point was Tribune Publishing’s widely mocked rebrand to Tronc in 2016, lasting only two years.

Earlier this year, CBS Television Distribution rebranded as CBS Media Ventures to better reflect the company as more than a traditional syndicator but being active in other businesses. 

The name Audacy was used as a space Communitions company building inter-relay networks before going out of business last year. The name should not be confused with Audacity, an open-source, free-to-download digital audio editor and recorder. 

A note about tags...With the name change, all tags with the Entercom name will soon be updated to Audacy effective immediately. However, all tags with CBS Radio will remain as is since it was a separate company purchased by Entercom in 2017 and is being kept for historical purposes. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Derek Chavin murder trial to be streamed, televised

Minneapolis stations, cable networks to carry proceedings in the death of George Floyd

The landmark Derek Chavin murder trial began Monday and viewers can get a front row seat to one of the biggest legal proceedings in a generation. 

It’s a historic trial to begin with: it marks the first time a Minnesota criminal trial has been televised gavel-to-gavel from a courtroom in the state’s history. 

Chavin is being tried for murdering George Floyd after kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds on a south Minneapolis street last May 25, killing him. The action outraged people across the country and around the world, further propelling the Black Lives Matter movement and triggered several nights of rioting in Minneapolis and in neighboring St. Paul, and later spread to other cities across the country, including Chicago. 

Starting yesterday, Fox-owned KMSP in Minneapolis is providing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Chavin trial from start to finish, lasting a few weeks. “All of us as a team agree [with the telecast decision] even if there are some sacrifices that need to be made,” KMSP GM Sheila Oliver told TVNewsCheck. “This is just such an important trial that we feel it is a public service of utmost importance to make sure we carry it gavel to gavel.”

Much of KMSP’s daytime lineup is being rerouted to co-owned sister station WFTC (My29). 

Also providing gavel-to-gavel coverage is CBSN Minnesota, run out of CBS-owned WCCO-TV. Other media outlets in the Twin Cities plan to stream the trial online and on social media, including MPR

The live courtroom coverage of the Chavin trial almost didn’t happen – the state did not want it televised but a judge decided to grant permission anyway. Cameras in the courtroom have been a hot topic for years, with many calling for their banishment after the O.J. Simpson trial, which dragged on for over a year. But states now allow them (except federal trials) with Illinois (not surprisingly) being one of the last holdouts before jumping on board. 

In 2018, now-defunct local cable news channel CLTV carried live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Jason Van Dyke trial, though it wasn’t the first criminal trial in Illinois to receive such treatment. In 1989, Miami PBS station WLRN carried the William Lozano trial gavel-to-gavel in order to defuse the city’s sky-high racial tensions. In both cases, each policeman was on trial for murdering an unarmed black man.

Outside of the Twin Cities, CNN and MSNBC plan to carry some of the trial, while Court TV plans to carry gavel-to-gavel coverage, on linear TV (over WGN-DT 9.3) and online. You can also access CBSN Minnesota’s coverage online and on CBSN and Pluto TV channel 1028. 

Even though KMSP plans to go all in on coverage, the same cannot be said for sister cable network Fox News – they have no plans to cover any of the trial at all. 

 
 
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Buffalo radio station fires person for “toast” comment

 

Co-host fired, show suspended after comment go viral 

On Wednesday, a Buffalo radio personality compared two Black female celebrities skin to “toast”.

Now he’s “toast”.

Classic Rock WGRF-FM (97 Rock) Morning Bull co-host Rob Lederman was fired Wednesday for those comments, for comparing how he likes toast to black women’s skin including tennis star Serena Williams and actress Halle Berry. 

A tweet surfaced of the comment with audio on social media and as you can imagine, it didn’t take long for this to go viral: 

After an advertiser client promptly pulled out from the station, it didn’t take long for WGRF owner Cumulus Media to take action by not only firing Lederman – but shutting down the entire Morning Bull morning show, including co-host Rich “Bull” Gaenzler and Chris Klein. And the comment had implications beyond WGRF – Gaenzler also lost his job as the in-arena announcer for the Buffalo Sabres. Stating the Morning Bull was suspended, Cumulus also wiped the show from the station’s website, likely meaning the show is gone – probably for good. 

The now deposed-of duo of Rich and Rob from 97 Rock in Buffalo.

“CUMULUS MEDIA operates from a clearly-defined set of programming principles and there is no question that Rob Lederman’s comments made on The Morning Bull Show are in direct violation of those principles.” the company said in a statement. “We swiftly terminated him and suspended the remainder of the show’s on-air talent. We apologize, and deeply regret the incident.” 

Cumulus owns conservative talk WLS-AM, classic hits WLS-FM and alternative rock WKQX-FM in Chicago. 

The comment drew swift condemnation Wednesday, including from former WKBW-TV investigative Madison Carter and the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists. By Wednesday evening, elected officials were weighing in, including Buffalo mayor Byron Brown. 

In a Buffalo News interview Thursday, Lederman regretted using the language he used the day before. “I could easily see how someone could be offended by that. I get that…It sounds terrible, and it is terrible.”

On Friday, Halle Berry responded to Lederman’s comment as reported by CBS affiliate WIVB

This is the latest incident in a long line of radio misconduct involving race and/or gender in the industry, even before the death of George Floyd forced the industry into dealing with these issues. 

In 1993, radio personalities Steve Shannon and D.C. Chymes were fired from WKBQ-FM in St. Louis two days after using a racial slur toward a black caller live on the air. In 2005, New York City’s WQHT (Hot 97) fired several on-air personalities after mocking tsunami victims in Indonesia and using slurs against Asian-Americans. 

In 2016, suburban Coal City rocker WRXQ-FM fired evening host and small business owner Ray Odom after appearing on CNBC’s The Profit, declaring to host and Chicago-area resident Marcus Lemonis “I’m a sexist, egotistical, racist pig on the radio.” (Lemonis obviously passed on the partnership.) 

Lederman was a long time personality at WGRF, dating back to 1991 and is a comedy club owner. WGRF was formerly part of the WGR-AM-FM-TV combo dating back to the 1960s (long separated from each other, the TV station is now known as NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV.)

It shows you how a dumb comment by one person – just one – can bring down an entire franchise, affecting anything and everyone. As a longtime radio veteran, Lederman should have known better and when you say “I know I’ll get in trouble for this”, you’re basically saying “I want to end my career” – not to mention others. 

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