Robservations on the media beat:
As a parting gift to Michael Ferro, tronc paid out its former chairman’s entire three-year, $15 million “consulting fee” in a single payment, it was disclosed Wednesday. “The company fully expensed the $15.0 million contract in the first quarter,” tronc reported to investors, resulting in a net loss of $14.8 million. “The quarter was negatively impacted by a charge related to the acceleration of the accounting for the consulting agreement with our former nonexecutive chairman,” Terry Jimenez, tronc’s chief financial officer, said in a Chicago Tribune report. Ferro abruptly resigned as chairman March 18 — hours before he was accused of sexual misconduct by two women in a Fortune magazine takedown. One month later, he cashed out all nine million of his tronc shares for $208.6 million. The undisguised greed of Ferro’s $15 million consulting agreement proved a rallying point for journalists who organized the Chicago Tribune Guild and won newsroom staffers their first bargaining rights in the Tribune’s 171-year history.
WBMX 104.3-FM rounded out its full-time air staff Wednesday with the hiring of Sean “Sonic” Leckie as afternoon personality on the Entercom classic hip-hop and R&B station. Leckie, who has split his radio career between stations in San Diego and Atlanta, called the Chicago job a dream come true. “When you invest and believe in yourself, you can do anything,” he told Facebook friends. “Truly humbled.” The final piece in the new station’s lineup, he debuts today as host from 2 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. “Sonic brings a passion for music and drive to succeed to 104.3 Jams,” Jimmy deCastro, senior vice president and market manager of Entercom Chicago, said in a press release.
Charles Whitaker was named interim dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University Wednesday. He’ll lead the school while a national search is under way for a successor to Brad Hamm, who announced he’s stepping down at the end of the current academic year. Whitaker joined the Medill faculty as a professor in 1993 and now is associate dean and Helen Gurley Brown magazine chair. He previously was a senior editor at Ebony magazine and a reporter for the Miami Herald and Louisville Times. Whitaker earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Medill in the early ’80s.
The Chicago Tribune just became the latest news organization to disable reader comments on its website. “We’ve turned off comments across chicagotribune.com while we review our commenting platform and consider ways to improve the system,” the paper’s editors announced. Columnist Mary Schmich cheered the move, tweeting: “Oh happy day.” A spokesperson for parent company tronc could not provide a time frame for the return of comments, saying only: “We are exploring options to make commenting better on the site.”
The radio industry is remembering Mike Joseph as a pioneering programming consultant who revitalized Top 40 radio and reinvented it for FM audiences. In 1982 he brought his trademark “Hot Hits” format to Chicago, transforming WBBM 96.3-FM into a contemporary hit radio powerhouse that’s still in the game. Joseph died last month in Los Angeles at 90, his son, Mike Joseph Jr., told AllAccess.com. Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Joseph studied pre-law at Western Reserve and began his radio career as program director of WTNS in Cochocton, Ohio, in 1950. One of his early clients as a consultant was WKBW in Buffalo, New York. “And that staff I still say is one of the greatest rock staffs in the history of rock and roll,” he once recalled, “including the greatest rock jock ever, Dick Biondi.”
Wednesday’s comment of the day: Steve Robinson: In his nearly three decades on the radio in Chicago, Carl Grapentine, the dean of American classical music radio announcers, has shared his passion, joy and knowledge of classical music with millions of listeners in a gentle, calm and loving manner. During the many years I was on the air with him during pledge drives I would watch in continuing amazement as wave after wave of phone calls flooded into the station in answer to his calm but impassioned requests for support. Hats off and bravo to Welz and Nick at Ravinia for honoring this gentle giant who has given so much to Chicago.