The Media Notepad: WTTW technicians’ strike continues

Also: WBEZ ties for 1st in PPMs; WTMX has a new afternoon show; Black News Channel update

It looks like the technician strike at Chicago’s WTTW isn’t going to end anytime soon.

IBEW 1220, who represents technicians and electricians at the North Side public television station, went on strike on March 16 demanding better pay, working conditions, and against shifting technical duties to non-union personnel as it seems both sides are at an impasse as no new talks have been held since. On Tuesday, WTTW decided to terminate the union’s health coverage – marking yet another setback as no new talks are scheduled. It’s the first strike in the station’s 67-year history. 

The standoff became political last week when Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, several aldermen, and Rep. Marie Newman of the 3rd Congressional District joined picketers outside the station. The Illinois Democratic Party has asked its members not to cross the picket lines, i.e. appearing on the station’s crown jewel, Chicago Tonight as guests either in-person or virtually. Also among those who won’t be making appearances on the show is anyone from the Chicago Teachers Union, whose Jesse Sharkey made an appearance on the picket line the same week

As a result of the strike, Chicago Tonight – generally an hour-long show Monday through Thursday, has been cut to an half-hour as the program is heavily relying on repeat segments. 

If the strike drags on, it could have an affect on viewer donations to the non-profit station, if it hasn’t already since they make up a significant amount of the station’s budget. A recent letter to the Chicago Tribune slammed WTTW for failing to reach an agreement with union workers, saying the station “has abandoned its commitment to us viewers”.

Hubbard’s Hot AC outlet WTMX announced a new afternoon show beginning April 18 hosted by Casey McCabe and Jenny Valliere, filling the spot left by Lisa Allen and Chris Petlak, the latter who was promoted to mornings nearly three months ago. The new afternoon show is being presented as The Afternoon MIX with McCabe & Jenny! 

Allen was hosting afternoons solo after Petlak was shifted to morning drive to fill the void left by Eric Ferguson. On April 18, Allen returns to her midday slot, a position she held for seven years until 2020. 

The position is a bit of a promotion for Valliere, who arrived at WTMX a year ago from Cedar Rapids’ Top 40 outlet KZIA-FM as midday host and music director, a job title she’ll retain in the move (Valliere is also a former Miss Iowa USA, winning the title in 2018.) McCabe is a veteran of Alternative KROQ-FM Los Angeles, one of the most respected heritage stations in the country. He last worked nights at former CHR station KAMP-FM, now known as all-news KNX-FM, who simulcasts with its AM counterpart of the same name. Both are owned by Audacy.

“Adding a great new talent like Casey compliments our entire MIX daytime lineup, with Jenny as Casey’s Afternoon cohost and Lisa Allen now in Middays”, said Hubbard Chicago Vice President Market manager Jeff England in a statement.

The recent PPM report shows a stunning, historic tidbit – for the first time in its history, Chicago Public Media non-profit news/talk WBEZ-FM finished in first place, in a tie with Adult R&B station V103 (WVAZ-FM).

The achievement follows a similar trend in San Francisco where sister NPR station KQED-FM finished in sole possession of first place.

Even more stunning, WBEZ topped the morning drive race for the first time ever, topping WBBM-AM’s morning news show with Cisco Cotto, who added former CBS 2 anchor Mai Martinez as an co-anchor Monday. WBEZ’s morning lineup consists of NPR’s Morning Edition, BBC News, and local news anchored by Mary Dixon.

WBBM-AM finished third in mornings, falling behind Bob Sirott’s morning show on Nexstar’s WGN-AM.

It was a strong period for WBEZ, who also finished fifth in middays, third in afternoons, and tied for fourth with classical music WFMT. After finishing third last month, WGN-AM fell, but remained in the top five, tied with Hubbard’s WDRV-FM/The Drive for fifth.

As reported here last Friday, the Black News Channel closed its doors after just two years in operation. Now the cable network has officially filed for bankruptcy, listing $50 million in debt and a ton of creditors who are owed money, including CNN, Comcast, the Associated Press, and others. 230 staffers were laid off when the network announced its closure.

Former employees at the network said their last three weeks of pay were being delayed, when it became obvious the channel’s financial troubles were starting to affect payroll. Many employees are reporting they received only two weeks of pay, and owed another week.

With live programming ceasing Friday, the network has been running taped, repeat material for the time being in order to fill advertising commitments. It is not known what will happen to the channel after this week.

There is a call for Black News Channel to be bought out of bankruptcy by someone with deep pockets, but doing so is easier than done. Many journalism advocates were lobbying philanthropists to buy the Chicago Tribune, but no one came forward and the paper was sold to hedge fund Alden Global Capital, figuring the investment was not worth it given newspapers’ years-long decline. 

This is looking like the same situation, given linear TV is on the downside as customers shed their cable and satellite subscriptions for cheaper alternatives, notably streaming – a trend that’s been developing for the last few years. Black News Channel would’ve been better off launching as a streaming entity, though lacking the deep pockets of Scripps and CBS (who each launched all-news channels in recent years.) One can look to NewsNation as an example of how launching an all-news channel in a traditional model is difficult. But unlike Black News Channel, NewsNation – despite horrid ratings – is sticking around for the long haul, thanks to owner Nexstar’s deep financial pockets – something BNC never really had. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *