Robservations: WTTW’s Phil Ponce cutting back on ‘Chicago Tonight’

Phil Ponce (Photo: WTTW)

Robservations on the media beat:

Chicago public television viewers will be seeing less of Phil Ponce in the new year. The longtime host of “Chicago Tonight” confirmed that he’ll reduce his workload at WTTW-Channel 11 to three days a week in 2018 and two days a week in 2019. “The station is graciously letting me transition away from full-time status,” Ponce, 68, said in an email Wednesday. “Tempus fugit and we’ve got a great bench that deserves more time in the saddle (am I mixing metaphors?) I don’t know what will happen after year two and will play that by ear. In any case, I do not want to stay on the air so long that I start scaring the horses.” Except for a four-year break, Ponce has hosted the flagship nightly news program for the Window to the World Communications station since 1999.

Victor Parra

Another veteran Chicago broadcaster taking bows is Victor Parra, who’s retiring after nearly four decades as host of “Mambo Express.” The Afro-Cuban jazz showcase began airing on the College of DuPage’s WDCB FM 90.9 in 2004 after a long run on Chicago Public Media WBEZ FM 91.5. “It’ll be the end of an era, but he’s going out on a high note,” WDCB station manager Dan Bindert said in a statement. “We are so grateful to Victor for the years of great radio that he has provided WDCB and our listeners. . . . For so many of us, he’s been the perfect musical guide, tying the music’s past and present together and providing just the right amount of information to enhance our enjoyment of the sounds.” Parra’s farewell show will air from 4 to 6 p.m. December 31.

Cumulus Media

Cumulus Media, which operates four radio stations in Chicago, filed to reorganize in Chapter 11 bankruptcy Wednesday in an effort to reduce its $2.4 billion debt by more than $1 billion. The Atlanta-based company earlier this month defaulted on a $24 million debt payment, and its stock was delisted at NASDAQ. “We will use this restructuring process to relieve the financial constraints on our continued progress, allowing us to focus our resources on investing in our business and people to strengthen our competitiveness and ultimately drive growth,” Mary Berner, president and CEO of Cumulus, said in a statement. Among the company’s 446 stations nationwide are news/talk WLS AM 890, classic hits WLS FM 94.7, classic rock WLUP FM 97.9 and alternative rock WKQX FM 101.1.

Wayne Messmer

Yes, that’s the voice of the great Wayne Messmer on “The Lights of Wrigleyville” a just-released podcast in ESPN’s “30 For 30” series. (Here is the link.) Messmer narrates the audio documentary of the epic battle to illuminate Wrigley Field in 1988, making the Cubs the last Major League team to play night games at home. Messmer, famed as the Cubs public-address announcer and National Anthem aficionado, also hosts “The Wayne Messmer Radio Show” at 7 p.m. Sundays on WDCB FM 90.9.

Jim Barker

Colleagues are remembering retired Chicago radio executive Jim Barker as a consummate gentleman and a kind and caring boss. He died Friday at 85. Starting in 1967 with RKO Radio in Chicago, Barker had a notable run as vice president and general manager of the former WFYR. He later served as general sales manager of classical WFMT FM 98.7. Barker was a Syracuse University graduate, U.S. Air Force veteran and Algonquin resident. Services will be at noon Saturday at Riverside Reception and Conference Center at 35 North River Lane in Geneva.

Wednesday’s best comment: Mark McCombs: Harvey Wittenberg's voice as the announcer at Chicago Stadium will always be the soundtrack of the Blackhawks from our youth. He pronounced goal scorers, assists and admonishments all with the same sense of epic authority. "Fans in the first row of the balcony and first row of the mezzanine are kindly reminded to please remove all drinking cups from the ledges. Thank you." He is a Chicago treasure.