The Media Notepad: Chicago-area native, Rays broadcaster Dave Wills dies at 58

Also: Hulu pulls plug on White City; Alpha Media and Sirius/XM announce layoffs; BET up for sale; Sohn withdraws FCC bid

In stunning news, Oak Lawn native and Rays radio broadcaster Dave Wills passed away unexpectedly Sunday at the age of 58. 

Wills was at Rays spring training camp and broadcasting games last week, but did miss the last two weeks of the 2022 season due to heart problems. 

Wills began his career (like so many others in sports media) at SportsPhone, and did play-by-play for UIC basketball and the Kane County Cougars, plus radio stints at the former WMAQ and at WMVP, now branded as ESPN 1000. He later joined the radio team for the Chicago White Sox, where he hosted pre and post game shows until the end of the 2004 season. A year later, he achieved his lifelong dream of being a play-by-play broadcaster, joining the Tampa Bay Rays in that capacity. 

“He was focused and incredibly loyal,” Fox 32 sports anchor Lou Canellis told the Sun-Times Monday. As close friends, they grew up in the same Oak Lawn neighborhood and went to school together. “I will never forget, we were in Mr. Tucker’s class, which was basically an English grammar class at Oak Lawn High School, and we had to make a tape, like a broadcast. I remember Dave at that time wanting to be a play-by-play guy.” 

Wills called the team’s historic World Series run in 2008 and when they made it back in 2020, though they lost both times. 

“Dave was an outstanding broadcaster, a great friend, and an even better person,” said Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg. “He had a remarkable talent for bringing the game to life for our fans and was a vital part of the Rays family. We will miss him dearly, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

Funeral arrangements are pending. Wills is survived by his wife, Liz.  

The following news is a reminder linear TV isn’t the only struggling media platform – the suburban Chicago cluster of Alpha Media announced layoffs of ten employees, including Waukegan WXLC morning host Wes McKane and PD/midday host Frank Wright. 

Layoffs also hit Woodstock’s WZSR; WILL 95 Rock; WSSR Joliet and WERV-FM Aurora (95.9 The River), with longtime Chicago radio personality Mitch Michaels exiting after twelve years. It looks like no station in the Alpha Media cluster was spared from cuts.

Alpha didn’t comment beyond the announcement, but obviously the economic downturn, weakening ad sales, and the lingering fallout from the pandemic are to blame. 

Meanwhile, Sirius/XM Monday also announced they were trimming their workforce, laying off eight percent of its workforce; or roughly 475 employees. It isn’t clear if any on-air personalities were affected. This comes as a lot of entertainment and media companies are downsizing due to uncertain economic conditions (and for more proof, see the next story below.)


Remember when Hulu announced last August were producing a series adaption of Eric Larson’s Chicago-set book The Devil And White City? Well, the streamer announced this week they have abandoned plans for the project.

Published in 2003, the book is divided into four parts, with the first three set in Chicago between 1890 and 1893, and evolves around Daniel Burnham and his plans for the World’s Fair, which would take place in Jackson Park in 1893. The final part is not related to Chicago, but involves a Philadelphia pharmacist who would lure victims to an abandoned lot across the street from his pharmacy and kill them in a plot you can say would pass for a segment on any current true crime show. ABC Signature (which like a majority of Hulu, is owned by Disney) is now shopping the project to other streamers, which has been in development for more than a decade. 

White City ran into trouble last October when two names attached to the project (actor Keanu Reaves and director Todd Field) withdrew. 

Still, the project from Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are busy recruiting Jude Law, The Bear star Jeremy Allen White, and director Matt Ross despite not having a home. 

Had the series preceded as planned, it would have premiered in 2024, and would have started filming here this summer. While the project is on hold, it is yet another setback for Chicago-based production as HBO Max canceled South Side and Warner Bros. Discovery pulled the plug on the Chicago-produced Judge Mathis last month. White City obviously fell victim to Hollywood’s belt-tightening as the industry is now looking to cut costs. 

In surprising news, Paramount Global is rumored to put cable network BET and its associated properties up for sale. 

The news has already drawn interest from two prominent Black media executives: Tyler Perry, who operates his own studios in Atlanta; and Byron Allen, who runs Allen Media Group whose portfolio includes a syndication company, The Weather Channel, The Grio, and more. In any case, Paramount is expected to retain a minority stake in the channel – similar to what they and Warner Bros. Discovery did with The CW when each sold their a majority stake to Nexstar. 

Among the channels mentioned are BET and VH1, which in its original form was a music video channel aimed toward women 25-54 with an adult contemporary format. BET was formed by Robert Johnson in 1980 and became one of the first black millionaires in the nation. Both serve African-American viewers, but each came under fire in recent years for its programming content such as racy music videos and reality fare such as Basketball Wives and the Love And Hip-Hop franchise. Another frequent critic was Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder, who often lampooned the network in the comic strip and the animated sitcom of the same name. 

Also in the package in BET Plus, a streaming service Perry already has a financial interest in, and BET Studios, whose investors include black-ish creator Kenya Barris and actress Rashida Jones. 

BET was acquired by Paramount predecessor Viacom in 2000, raising concern about program cuts – including the elimination of its news department, which it did several years later. If Perry or Allen successfully buys the stake, it would mark a return to Black ownership for the channel. 

It’s back to square one in the search for a FCC Commissioner as Democrat Gigi Sohn announced Tuesday she was withdrawing her nomination, blaming telecom industry figures and Republicans for her decision. 

“It is a sad day for our country and our democracy when dominant industries, with assistance from unlimited dark money, get to choose their regulators. And with the help of their friends in the Senate, the powerful cable and media companies have done just that,” Sohn said in a statement, who also claimed her character was assassinated by her political opponents.  

Stuck in limbo for the last two years, there was no realistic chance Sohn would become the fifth member of the agency, given her past criticism of conservative media outlets (especially Fox News) and being on a board of the now-defunct Locast, a company who streamed broadcasters’ local signals without permission. Democrat West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said Tuesday he would not support her confirmation. Reminiscent of aldermen aligned with Ed Vrdolyak during “Council Wars” back in the day, Manchin has been clashing with more liberal and progressive factions of the party for years – especially with the Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate. 

Sohn’s appointment could have reversed some of the actions performed by the FCC under the Trump administration, including bringing back net neutrality and proceeding with other issues. 

With Sohn no longer in consideration, the commission remains deadlocked in a 2-2 tie for the foreseeable future – which, believe it or not, could be bad news for media companies who now could see any industry mergers and acquisitions frozen indefinitely if the Standard General-Tegna deal recently being sent to an administrative law judge is any indication. Announced thirteen months ago, the deal to buy the broadcast group – with stations in St. Louis and Moline, Ill. among others, is now in limbo as it faced stiff opposition from unions and prominent Democrats, despite getting blessings from the NAACP and Operation Push, and other liberal groups. 


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