The Media Notepad: WGN Radio exits Tribune Tower

Also: Kathy Brock calls it a career; a Sinclair station’s May ratings survives controversy; CW 50 viewers to re-scan their sets

It’s an end of an era for WGN Radio.

The Tribune Media-owned radio station’s on-air operations moved out of its longtime Tribune Tower digs and into a building at 303 North Wacker Drive as its former home is being renovated into retail space and apartments. The first newscast signed on from the new WGN-AM Studios around 2 a.m. Monday morning. The move is expected to be completed on June 15.

Former tenant the Chicago Tribune moved out of the Tower weeks ago.

WGN occupied a window-side studio for years along Michigan Avenue, and also had The Walk Of Fame alongside. But as of today, WGN is now broadcasting from new skyline studios from the eighteenth floor. New amenities include two skyline studios, six new podcasting stations, and a live performance and music area and seating up to 25 people. In addition, there is a 24/7 “WGN Newsroom Hub”, with updated news gathering resources and video production facilities (for the web, obviously.)

The move comes as Tribune Media is being sold to Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcasting, ending over 90 years of local ownership. Sinclair has no plans to sell the news/talk outlet as it owns four radio stations in Seattle bought from Fisher Broadcasting, owners of KOMO-TV-AM-FM.

WGN’s move to 303 East Wacker creates a bit of a “radio row” in the area: Both Entercom and Hubbard’s stations are based in the nearby Prudential Building while iHeartMEdia’s stations are located at the 225 North Michigan Avenue Building – all within walking distance.

Speaking of Sinclair, you’re probably wondering how its stations did in the May sweeps after the controversy created by the company’s mandated message across its TV station group last March. At least in one market, it didn’t really have an impact on ratings.

Former Cincinnati Enquirer TV/radio critic and now WVXU/WMUB-FM blogger John Kiesewetter reported Sinclair’s WKRC-TV in Cincinnati remained on top of the local news race. The CBS affiliate swept all news races, and even reported ratings increases at 5 p.m. However, the 11 p.m. newscast fell fifteen percent from the year-ago time period and its 6 a.m. newscast also lost ground, but remained on top.

Numbers used are households, not demos as Cincinnati is not a Top 25 local people meter market where overnight demos are available. Cincinnati is the country’s 35th-ranked TV market, according to Nielsen.

The declines could be attributed to the controversy in which anchors Rob Braun and Cammy Dierking read the statement about “fake news” from Sinclair, which led to Braun receiving death threats. Even longtime Cincinnati news anchor Nick Clooney weighed in, telling the Enquirer back in March: “I have no idea what these folks are doing for a living, but it isn’t news.” Other factors could be in play as well: ratings for live TV are down across the board as viewers head for streaming services and other alternatives and May was a light news month, aside from the Santa Fe High School shooting on May 18.

Plus, Cincinnati tends to be a more politically conservative market than Chicago, New York, or San Francisco is, as part of the DMA includes heavily red-state counties of Indiana and Kentucky.

WKRC has been the local market leader for years, dating back to the turn of the century. If you recall, NBC affiliate WLWT was the market leader in the 1980s and 1990s in part due to former anchor Jerry Springer, who left in 1993 to focus more on his then-Chicago based talk show. A 1996 affiliation switch from ABC to CBS also helped WKRC, where CBS programming is very popular in this part of the country. WKRC was founded in 1949 a CBS affiliate, but switched networks with ABC affiliate WCPO in 1961. Sinclair has owned WKRC since 2012.

Keep in mind this is just one market and does not represent a nationwide trend. But from this vantage point, the controversy did little to dent local news numbers.

Another anchor change is coming to ABC 7’s newscast: this time is 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. co-anchor Kathy Brock, who announced her retirement last week. Brock came to WLS-TV from Salt Lake City’s KUTV in 1990 and was the first anchor of the newly-launched Eyewitness News This Morning with current 6 and 10 Alan Krashesky way back in early 1991 at a time when most local morning news were only a half-hour in length.

“WLS represents the best of local television news.” Brock said in a statement. “I firmly believe there is no equal and recognize what a gift it has been to be part of this team. There is poetry for me in closing out this career sharing the 6 and 10 p.m. desk with my original partner, Alan Krashesky, who has also become a dear friend. The time just seems right for change; I want to explore other passions and see what life’s like off the night shift.”

“Kathy Brock has been an essential part of our news team for close to three decades”, said WLS-TV general manager John Idler. “Her intelligence, integrity and commitment to journalism are unrivaled. We will miss her leadership in the newsroom and wish her all the best.”

Among Brock’s achievements at ABC 7 include nearly a dozen Chicago and Regional Emmy awards, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the IRIS award from the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE).

This marks the latest ABC 7 news personality to retire recently – Brock’s former news partner Ron Magers retired in 2016. Despite the changes, WLS continues to dominate Chicago’s evening local news ratings in households and key demos.

For those who watch TV via your over-the-air antenna, a reminder: Fox-owned CW affiliate WPWR is moving to a new frequency at noon on June 11 and viewers must re-scan their sets in order to continue receiving the station. This is a result of the FCC auction held last year where WPWR agreed to give up its airspace and move to the frequency of sister station WFLD-TV.

“We’ve been a part of this community for sixteen years, and we know that our viewers rely on us for the very best in entertainment and local sports. That’s not going to change,” said WFLD/WPWR General Manager Dennis Welsh. “Our goal is to make this transition as easy as possible on our viewers to ensure they can keep watching the programs they love.”

Also on the move are digital networks Movies! (50.2), Buzzr (50.3), and Light TV (50.4).

Once owned by Fred Eischenyer’s Newsweb Corp., WPWR shifted from Channel 60 to Channel 50 in early 1987 during the analog era, separating from the old WBBS-TV (now WXFT.) Once one of Chicago’s leading independent stations, WPWR was sold by Newsweb to Fox in 2002 for $425 million. WPWR became a CW affiliate in 2016 after WGN-TV gave up the affiliation. WPWR has also been affiliated with UPN and My Network TV.

Due to “PSIP”, WPWR and its subchannels will continue to show up as 50 on your set.