Departures marked 2022 in local, national media
If anything marked 2022, it was an exit sign.
The media industry was rocked by retirements, departures, and goodbyes this year with numerous people leaving as the business was being redefined by the decline of linear TV and terrestrial radio; the increasing indication 2023 is going to be a rough year financially if the possibility of a recession and a reduction in ad spending was any indication; and while we have gotten used to Covid, the pandemic has made many re-think their role in life and whether working in a business known for being brutal was worth it anymore.
The number of exiting Chicago media figures was amazing – even up to who was writing about the business. On July 1, longtime media columnist Robert Feder announced he was stepping aside from the daily beat he called home for 42 years as he left the Daily Herald, stunning longtime readers such as myself. His departure left a void in Chicago media reporting – one that’s unlikely to be matched ever again.
Several Chicago TV figures also decided to call it a career. Those retiring were NBC 5 (WMAQ) anchor Rob Stafford, ABC 7 (WLS-TV) anchors Stacey Baca and Alan Krashesky, longtime WGN-TV sports reporter Dan Roan and Blackhawks play-by-play announcer Pat Foley. The retirements took place behind the scenes too, with NBC 5 station manager and VP Frank Whittaker, and Audacy’s Ron Gleason exiting. Former ABC 7 boss Emily Barr also retired this year, stepping down from Graham Media.
Radio also saw its fair share of departures with The Drive’s Bob Stroud and WXRT’s Richard Mline stepping down, as did as did former WMAQ-AM star Nancy Turner, who left Moody Institute’s WMBI-FM last spring. WXRT’s Lin Brehmer also stepped down due to health issues but recently returned in a limited role. Also departing was Q101’s Ali Mattacola and 104.3 Jams’ Ed Lover, who is now doing a nightly syndicated show for the station he works for. WLS-AM’s Bruce St. James was dropped from morning drive at the station last April for Steve Cochran.
We even saw a local television station depart as WTTW quietly shut down WYCC-TV June 1. A former PBS member station run by the City Colleges of Chicago, WYCC was a digital subchannel of WTTW, carrying FNX programming.
A few local personalities decided to reduce their work load or change their scenery. David Kaplan is leaving NBC Sports Chicago this week, but continues with his ESPN 1000 morning show with Jonathan Hood, while Blackhawks commentator Eddie Olczyk departed for the same role in the Seattle Kraken’s organization.
The national scene saw network programmers Kelly Kahl (CBS) and Mark Pedowitz (The CW) exit as well, as did daytime talk show hosts Ellen DeGeneres, Wendy Williams, and Maury Povich. Meanwhile, Jeff Zucker left CNN after a rocky and controversial run and the NATPE organization filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as their trade shows were canceled for 2023 amid an uncertain future.
You thought that was long? We’re just getting started. Here’s our annual review of what happened in media:
Aside from all the retirements and departures, there were other notable moves happening in Chicago. The Drive went to the top of Chicago’s radio ratings for the first time while Q101 and its namesake call letters (WKQX) were reunited after eleven years. Laurence Holmes became Dan Bernstein’s new midday co-host at the Score replacing Leila Remini, who accepted a full-time sports anchor position at NBC 5. The only format change in radio this year – if you can call it that – is Hubbard’s WSHE adding more 1990s and 2000s to their playlist and rebranded themselves.
In addition to Remini joining NBC 5, other big local TV news moves included former WGN-TV and NewsNation news anchor Joe Donlon assuming the same role at CBS 2 as they also added a 9 a.m. newscast in September while in the same month, hometown superstar Jennifer Hudson debuted with her new daytime talk show at 11 a.m. on Fox 32 (WFLD). ABC 7 (WLS-TV) continued to roll on as Chicago’s most-watched news station, with the exception of mornings when WGN-TV dominates.
Local stations were involved in controversy this year as several controversial political ads produced by Dan Proft’s PAC on behalf of Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey and other candidates featured violent and racist images as a few stations rejected an ad featuring a woman screaming off-camera as she was being attacked. Needless to say, the angle didn’t work as Bailey lost to incumbent J.B. Pritzker by a wide margin.
MeTV’s Svengoolie was a rousing success in 2022, with the program expanding its national footprint and even adding a companion Saturday night show, Sventoonie, which features Toony the Tuna from Wake Up With Me, a continuing success in its own right.
WTTW had to endure a technician’s strike – hurting its ability to produce its signature news program Chicago Tonight, whose set underwent a massive makeover in October while WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times finally finalized their long-awaited non-profit merger.
The fifth estate had a mixed 2022 as newspapers continued to suffer from cost cutting, leading some to fold. One beneficiary was Dan Proft, who published right-wing propaganda disguised as newspapers to push Republican candidates such as Bailey, clogging up mailboxes statewide.
Non-partisan journalism took a huge hit this year as CNBC canceled The News With Shepard Smith after two years of low viewership while NewsNation hired CNN castoff Chris Cuomo to anchor an evening hour, pulling itself away even more from what its original mission was.
Local media outlets were the first on the scene and reporting within minutes after a gunman opened fire at a Highland Park 4th Of July parade in one of the biggest Chicago area tragedies in years. However, they were dealt a blow after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pressed ahead with encrypting the city’s police scanners, shutting out media and the public in the process.
Black News Channel shuttered in March but was saved by Byron Allen’s AMG, but there was no savior for CNN Plus, as the streaming service lasted all of five weeks. Other journalism notes include non-profit Block Club Chicago continuing to grow their footprint by launching a weekly show over Weigel’s CW 26 (WCIU) and the Black Information Network adding Peotone’s WFMN as an affiliate, expanding its reach in the south suburbs.
National TV scene
Lots were said about linear television in 2022 and basically none of it was positive as the platform continues to lose ground to streaming as Days Of Our Lives and Dancing With The Stars left their respective broadcast networks and joined the darkside. But there were some bright spots for linear if the continued success of ABC’s Abbott Elementary and CBS’ Ghosts were any indication while CBS found hits in freshmen series Fire Country and So Help Me Todd – so help us all. And in addition to Jennifer Hudson’s show, syndicators successfully launched new product this fall with talkers Sherri Shepherd and Karamo Brown drawing viewers, and Drew Barrymore growing her audience in her third season as the show split into two-half-hours.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie was finally released in May after a two-year delay but ran up against the Top Gun: Maverick buzzsaw on opening weekend as it became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.
One of the biggest failures of 2022 was Fox’s Monarch, launched after an NFL doubleheader September 11 but hardly drew any viewers in its Tuesday night time slot and easily the worst show of the year. Another big failure was Dr. Oz’s campaign to win a Senate seat in Pennsylvania as he gave up his talk show to run and lost to John Fetterman in the November elections (to add insult to injury, his daughter’s The Good Dish – a replacement for his show premiering last January – lasted all of nine months as it and numerous other syndicated shows were canceled.) On the flipside, viewers embraced the Chicago-based FX Hulu series The Bear, as 2022 became the year of the Italian Beef.
2022 was insufferable if you watched live TV as viewers put up with commercials that were dumb, stupid, insulting to the viewer, and outright aggravating. Leading the pack were numerous political commercials (especially those Proft produced) and those for the struggling and declining DirecTV, as if the only purpose was to piss off male viewers with their garbage Real Housewives ads – a great way to tell people not to buy your product.
Last and quite least, Will Smith got slapped by Chris Rock on-stage at the Academy Awards in a shocking moment, but ratings were up so linear TV at least still has some pulse.
The business of media
Of course, the biggest story of the year is Elon Musk buying Twitter for $44 billion and basically running it into the ground faster than you can say quick. It’s a miracle Twitter is still here after the Tesla owner slashed half of the company’s workforce, making Clear Channel’s cost-reducing moves look like nothing.
Corporate shenanigans also ran amok at Warner Bros. as David Zaslav of Discovery took over the legendary studio and not only cut costs by laying off employees, but also going as far as to shelve nearly-finished movies like Batgirl and remove series from HBO Max in order to save on residuals and receive tax write-offs. Netflix had it own problems as it saw its stock drop in April as the company looked to introduce lower-priced tiers with ads, something Disney Plus already did amid the flood of FAST services hitting the market, with Pluto and Roku Channel front and center – even ABC got into the FAST game by launching “unlocked” channels featuring material from their owned-and-operated stations and fare from National Geographic while NBC launched 24/7 news channels featuring their O&Os.
The biggest broadcasting transaction of 2022 was Nexstar acquiring three-quarters of The CW after months of speculation, and the Irving, Tex.-based company didn’t waste any time by dumping several key CW personnel, including CEO Pedowitz. Nexstar is positioning The CW as a more cheaper-run operation as the network canceled several scripted series in May, and putting the reminder of them on notice as the future of such fare on network TV are in question as NBC floated around an idea to eliminate the last hour of prime-time next fall, only to pull it for now.
Several Chicago cable customers saw major changes as RCN owner Astound Broadband finalized its deal to buy Wide Open West (WOW) and rebranded both under the Astound name, sending them to the dustbins of history. Joining the two was Viacom, as the “V of Doom” was doomed out of existence after 51 years with ViacomCBS rebranding to Paramount Global. And hedge fund Standard General bought station group Tegna in a deal still awaiting final approval by the FCC, who remains at four members as Gigi Sohn’s nomination to be the agency’s fifth member continues to be held up.
Chicago sports was a complete horror show in 2022 as basically all pro teams went into the toilet with the White Sox being the biggest disappointment as manager Tony LaRussa proved returning for a second time wasn’t the best idea. The futility even extended to the Sky, who couldn’t even repeat as WNBA champions. On the bright side, QB Justin Fields proved he is the future for the Bears as it’s becoming likely Chicago’s NFL Lakefront Team will become Chicago’s NFL Suburban Team with a future move to Arlington Heights. The Bears are already moving to a new radio home at ESPN 1000 (WMVP) in 2023 as Audacy’s cost-cutting wound up cutting the Bears out of WBBM-AM’s lineup after two decades.
Even local sports media had a rough 2022 as both Marquee and NBC Sports Chicago were embroiled in controversial judgement calls as cord-cutting is decimating regional sports networks as the financial condition of Bally’s RSNs continued to deteriorate.
The Winter Olympics turned out to be a major ratings bust for NBC and its affiliates, as they were not able to get a ratings boost for their late news.
Big tech threw their money around as Apple acquired weekly Friday night MLB games and signed a ten-year deal with MLS, taking most games off linear TV while Google signed a new deal to become the exclusive home of NFL Sunday Ticket. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman traded in their Fox garbs for those of ESPN as they took over Monday Night Football. On the collegiate front, The Big Ten shook up athletics by nabbing USC and UCLA from the Pac-12 and inking the biggest sports rights deal in their history with NBC, CBS, and Fox – but not ESPN.
In the greed department, fan friendliness wasn’t on the mind of the NHL when the league decided to plaster distracting virtual board advertising on basically every telecast (making Blackhawks’ telecasts even more unwatchable.) And despite lacking a media rights deal, Saudi Arabia’s new LIV Golf league siphoned away some of the best players from the PGA.
Some of the local media personalities we lost this year include puppeteer Bill Jackson; WGN-TV and WSNS-TV personality Merri Dee; radio host Jim Bohannon; WGN-TV/radio personality Floyd Brown; sportscaster Les Grobstein; WNUA-FM personality and jazz musician Ramsey Lewis; and WCFL programmer Ken Draper, among others.
National and international figures we lost include former CNN anchor and native Chicagoan Bernard Shaw; Star Trek actress and Robbins native Nichelle Nichols; actor and host Bob Saget; Call Me Kat star Leslie Jordan; actresses Anne Heche and Angela Lansbury; singers/actresses Irene Cara and Olivia Newton-John; WWF/WCW wrestler Scott Hall; and Queen Elizabeth II.
The T Dog Media quote of the year
“The Reporters” isn’t exactly must-watch TV with microphones on a small desk on a pitch-black background set and horrible graphics. This show was supposed to invoke memories of the beloved “Sportswriters on TV”, but as we know that was a completely different era in television where you could get away with looking like a public access cable show in its 480p standard-definition glory in monoaural sound. This is 2022 and we get our television in 1080p HDR high definition and Dolby surround sound, something Marquee execs fail to get a grasp on what is a generally terrible show.”
– From May 31, 2022 article “Chicago Sun-Times drops out of Marquee’s “The Reporters” due to editing controversy”
And that’s a wrap for 2022. In the next few days, we’ll have answers to 2022 media questions we asked and and look ahead to 2023. Happy New Year from T Dog Media!