The Media Notepad: Chicago Fire strike a radio deal with WLS-AM

Also:  “The Fred Show” to be syndicated; WGN has its own vault “discovery”; Fox TV stations delivers for Amazon

In good news for Chicago Fire fans, all Chicago Fire soccer games are being broadcast over Cumulus Media’s news/talk WLS-AM beginning this weekend, according to a report Tuesday in the Chicago Sun-Times. The deal was officially announced Wednesday morning on the station.

“This exciting partnership will bring more content to our fans and create opportunities for new fans to connect with our Club throughout the week and on matchday. We can’t wait to launch our inaugural broadcast live from Soldier Field this weekend.” Chicago Fire business operations president Dave Baldwin told morning host Steve Cochran. The Fire play the New York Red Bulls Saturday night from Soldier Field. 

The move marks the first time in its 26-year history the MLS team would have an English-language home in the Chicago market. Until now, games were only available in Spanish over WRTO-AM, who’ll continue in the role.

According to the Sun-Times, ten games would air on terrestrial radio over WLS-AM or one of Cumulus’ two FM stations while the rest are being streamed over The deal also give Cumulus the opportunity to cross-promote the teams through its two FM properties, classic hits WLS-FM and alternative/modern rock Q101/WKQX-FM. Thirty minute shows before and after each game are also part of the deal.

The decision to head to WLS is necessary given all but one of the Chicago Fire’s games are streamed exclusively on Apple TV Plus as part of a league-wide ten year deal giving Apple rights to produce and stream MLS games. It gives fans a chance to catch games who otherwise wouldn’t be able to because either they couldn’t afford the Apple package or simply feel it isn’t worth the investment.

Apple did make a weekly game available to Fox Sports to air on linear TV in a multi-year deal. The lone Fox Sports game the Fire appeared in aired this past weekend, when the Fire lost to Atlanta on a last-second goal, carried by FS1 (you have to see it to believe it, kids.)

Cumulus is busy trying to rebuild WLS-AM’s sports presence after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018, forcing them to shed unprofitable sports contracts, including those to the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox. WLS currently airs NACAR and University of Illinois’ football and men’s basketball.

The news comes a day after the Fire broke ground on a new training facility on the West Side – one many residents are not pleased about given it uses land once occupied by public housing and the Chicago Housing Authority owned. 

Days after rival Top 40 station B96 (WBBM-FM) scaled back on playing current hit music, iHeart Media’ Kiss 103.5 FM (WKSC-FM) announced Monday they’re syndicating the station’s morning-drive program The Fred Show. Syndicated thru iHeart’s Premiere Radio Networks, The Fred Show joins a list of syndicated offerings for its Top 40 stations, including Elvis Duran and Ryan Seacrest among others.

Known legally as Chris Frederick, “Fred” arrived in Chicago in 2011 to replace Drex in morning drive from Charlotte, where he worked at WIHT-FM and also did double duty hosting Fox News Edge at the then-Fox affiliate WCCB (the Fox affiliation moved to WJZY in 2013 and is now with The CW.) Originally launched as Brotha Fred, the morning show was instrumental in dismantling the longtime dominance of B96, who was once home to the long-running Eddie & JoBo Show from 1988 to 2008.

“I’m incredibly grateful to introduce our show to cities across the country!” Frederick said in a press release. “We have built a community in Chicago and are excited to welcome the entire nation to our family. Thanks to Julie Talbott and Jennifer Leimgruber at Premiere for their belief in us, in addition to my amazing leaders at iHeart, including Bob Pittman, Tom Poleman, Brad Hardin, Thea Mitchem, Dennis Clark and James Howard. Let’s go!”

Clearances have yet to be announced.

Despite being in the third-largest market, Chicago has not really hosted a daily nationally syndicated radio show in recent years. In the 2000s, Mancow Muller’s Mancow’s Morning Madhouse was based and heard here and syndicated to stations nationwide, but without the participation of his employer Q101 (WKQX) and its then-owner, Emmis Communications. Also during this time, the late Ramsey Lewis syndicated his morning show out of the former WNUA-FM to Smooth Jazz stations across the country through Premiere.

Amazon announced last week it is in a new venture to deliver local Fox Television Stations’ newscasts to Prime Video, Alexa, and Freevee. The seventeen 24/7 free ad-supported television (FAST) channels – including Fox 32 in Chicago, are being delivered to the Amazon News App and Alexa on Echo Show services.

“This important collaboration with Amazon further solidifies our commitment to bring FTS’s powerhouse local news content to as many people as possible,” said Jeff Zellmer, who is senior VP of digital operations at Fox Television Stations. “We know that choice and accessibility matter to our viewers and this launch is another key step in our overall strategy and goal of giving our viewers the live and on-demand content from the stations they love.”

Fox owns 29 stations in seventeen markets, including in the country’s nine largest led by New York and Los Angeles. The channels are also available on Tubi (the streaming service Fox owns) and Amazon’s Freevee and Prime Video streaming services. The collaboration actually began last year, when Amazon to carry its two FAST channels, Fox Soul and LiveNOW from Fox, which is run by the Fox stations’ group and not Fox News.

In keeping with their 75th Anniversary theme this year, Nexstar’s WGN-TV Friday night flashed back to the most infamous program to air on the station – the night Geraldo Rivera came to town and tried to find The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.

Taking place at the old Lexington Hotel on April 21, 1986 at the corner of Cermak and Michigan (the whole area isn’t recognizable now if you can believe it), WGN and Tribune Broadcasting produced the special at what was one known as one of Al Capone’s old hideouts. There were rumors circulating over the years Capone hid a lot of valuables at the hotel in a “vault” hidden in the basement.

After using dynamite to blow up a few walls, the search for Capone’s loot turned out to be disappointing, netting only a few old whisky bottles and dirt – a lot of dirt.

As the special was blasted by TV critics, it was WGN-TV and 180 local TV stations nationwide who found treasure by scoring huge ratings – even rivaling the top-rated show on TV at the time, The Cosby Show. In Chicago, the Capone special was the highest-rated entertainment show of all time – a record that still stands today, outdrawing the final episode of M*A*S*H, the TV movie The Day After, and even the “Who Shot J.R.” episode of Dallas

So 37 years later, WGN decided to unlock their own recently discovered “vault” (actually, a safe) buried deep within the bowels of 2501 Bradley Place (it was actually in a back room.) If you watched the piece Friday night, you can argue what was found in their tape room (tapes of Cub games, parades, station promos etc.) was more interesting. 

No dynamite was needed (just a engineer.) So what was in the safe you ask?

Well, it wasn’t exactly mind-blowing compared to what WCBS-TV in New York found in their “vaults” in 2000 when tapes of the original CBS version of game show The Joker’s Wild – which were presumed to be “wiped” – were found in a storage room (WGN had a few small diskettes and two large diskettes containing station data, plus keys to a Chrysler.) But also found were several archive tapes consisting of the 1981 film Chariots Of Fire; a copy of Roy Leonard hosting Family Classics; and an original reel-to-reel aircheck featuring the infamous 1987 pirated transmission breach when “Max Headroom” invaded the station during WGN-TV’s newscast and was also featured (in more graphic terms) during a WTTW program later in the evening (the person behind the stunt was never caught.) 

Now that’s REAL treasure.

Further reading: 

Darlene Hill becomes permanent co-host of WVON’s afternoon show (Crain’s) 

Kenzie K joins Q101’s morning show as Justin Nettlebeck exits (Radio Insight)

Artists Tony Fitzpatrick and Jon Langord honor the late Lin Brehmer with art, poetry, and song (Axios)

WNBA games are headed to Scripps’ Ion network beginning in May (NextTV)

BuzzfeedNews to shut down (Deadline) 


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