Robservations: Nexstar silences Bill Kurtis as voice of WGN Radio

Bill Kurtis

Robservations on the media beat:

The dulcet voice of legendary Chicago anchorman Bill Kurtis won’t be heard on WGN 720-AM anymore. New owner Nexstar Media Group has dropped Kurtis after three years as the signature voice of the news/talk station. Starting today, station identifications and promos will be recorded by Steve Kamer, a New York-based voice-over artist known for work on NBC Olympics coverage. Under executive vice president Sean Compton Nexstar is seeking to broaden the appeal of the former Tribune Broadcasting radio flagship and tie it more closely to TV sister station WGN-Channel 9. Case in point: New jingles for WGN Radio incorporate the familiar theme music from the TV station's newscasts. "We are embracing our Midwest roots," a Nexstar spokesman said. "Going to bring back the warmness of WGN — a station for everyone." Continue reading

Robservations: On eve of cancellation, ‘Worldview’ host wins Studs Terkel Award

Jerome McDonnell

Robservations on the media beat:

Just days before ending his 25-year run as host of “Worldview” on Chicago Public Media WBEZ 91.5-FM, Jerome McDonnell has been named recipient of a 2019 Studs Terkel Community Media Award. His Monday-through-Friday noon talk show on international affairs was canceled to make room for a new local talk show to air from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., starting October 14. McDonnell's last broadcast will be October 4. He's expected to shift to reporting on energy and environmental issues for the public radio station. Continue reading

Robservations: On Day One, Nexstar ousts WGN Radio station manager

WGN Radio

Robservations on the media beat:

Todd Manley

It didn't take long for the new owner of WGN 720-AM to start shaking things up. Less than 24 hours after acquiring the former Tribune Broadcasting news/talk flagship, Nexstar Media Group fired Todd Manley, station manager and vice president of content, and named news and operations director Mary Sandberg Boyle interim boss. Manley, who'd headed programming since 2013, took the fall for WGN's precipitously low ratings. In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, the station tied for 16th place overall, with mornings, middays, afternoons and evenings all out of the top 10. In a meeting with staffers Friday, new executive vice president Sean Compton hinted at more changes to come. Continue reading

Robservations: WGN Radio under new management

Sean Compton

Robservations on the media beat:

WGN Radio

With the $6.4 billion acquisition of Tribune Media by Nexstar Media Group finalized Thursday, there’s a new man in charge of news/talk WGN 720-AM. Sean Compton, who had been president of strategic programming and acquisitions for Tribune Broadcasting, has been named executive vice president overseeing WGN Radio, the WGN America and Antenna TV cable networks, and all programming acquisitions for Nexstar. The move marks a return to radio for Compton, who had been the No. 2 executive at Clear Channel Radio (now iHeartMedia) before former Tribune CEO Randy Michaels hired him as senior vice president of Tribune Broadcasting's programming and entertainment unit in 2008. It’s now up to Compton to restore the underperforming WGN Radio — the only radio property in Nexstar’s portfolio — to some semblance of its former ratings glory. Nexstar is headquartered in Dallas, but Compton will continue to be based in Chicago. Continue reading

FCC approves Tribune Media sale: What’s next for WGN?


By a 3-2 vote Monday the Federal Communications Commission approved the sale of Chicago-based Tribune Media to Nexstar Media Group, resulting in creation of the largest broadcast station group in the country.

The $6.4 billion transaction, expected to close as soon as this week, will put ownership of Tribune Media flagships WGN-Channel 9 and WGN 720-AM outside of Chicago for the first time since WGN's founding in 1924. Nexstar is based in Dallas. Continue reading

Robservations: Ryan Baker shifts to morning news anchor at CBS 2

Ryan Baker and Erin Kennedy

Robservations on the media beat:

The train wreck known as WBBM-Channel 2's morning newscast is about to add a familiar face. Ryan Baker, longtime sports anchor at the CBS-owned staton, will join co-anchor Erin Kennedy from 4:30 to 7 a.m. weekdays, starting September 30. "I’m grateful to the station management for having the belief in me as a news anchor," said Baker, who aced an on-air tryout in August. "I can’t wait to get started." A south suburban native and University of Illinois graduate, Baker joined CBS 2 in 2008 after five years at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5. Mike Puccinelli, who's been co-anchoring with Kennedy since Marissa Bailey was cut in March, will return to reporting duties. Joining the morning team as "breaking news anchor" will be reporter Audrina Bigos. No word yet on who'll replace Baker as the station's main sports anchor. It'll take a miracle to lift CBS 2 out of fifth place in the ratings, where it's been languishing for years. But Baker may be just the guy to do it. Other Chicago sports anchors who've made the leap to news include Corey McPherrin, Tim Weigel (for a short time) and Warner Saunders. Continue reading

Robservations: Ransomware attack reported at Entercom stations

WBBM Newsradio (Photo: Bart Shore)

Robservations on the media beat:


Entercom Communications won’t confirm reports that it has been crippled by a company-wide ransomware attack, affecting e-mail, internet, telephones, music scheduling, production, billing and other internal digital systems. “We are experiencing a disruption of some IT systems, including email,” a company statement said. “We apologize for any inconvenience and are working around the clock to resolve this issue." On Tuesday reported a $500,000 ransom demand, which the trade publication said the company does not plan to pay. Entercom Chicago includes all-news WBBM 780-AM/WCFS 105.9-FM, sports/talk WSCR 670-AM, Top 40 WBBM 96.3-FM, adult album alternative WXRT 93.1-FM, country WUSN 99.5-FM, and classic hip-hop WBMX 104.3-FM. A tip of the hat to WBBM Newsradio business editor Len Walter, who reported on the breakdown Tuesday and its impact on his own station. Continue reading

Robservations: WGN's 'Sweetness' special scores in primetime

Walter Payton

Robservations on the media beat:

Twenty years after his passing, Walter Payton is still a champion in Chicago. “Savoring Sweetness: The Life & Times of Walter Payton,” a one-hour special on the Chicago Bears legend, topped the primetime ratings for its premiere Wednesday on Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9. More than 172,300 households tuned in, according to Nielsen figures. It also finished first in key demographics. Payton’s son, WGN sports reporter Jarrett Payton, hosted the special, which featured interviews with teammates, family and friends of the famed running back. “Savoring Sweetness" will be rebroadcast at 10 p.m. Saturday on WGN and at noon Sunday on CLTV. Continue reading

Chicago radio ratings: The Mix moves back to No. 1

Hubbard Radio/WTMX

WTMX 101.9-FM, the Hubbard Radio hot adult-contemporary station, seesawed back into the top spot in August, trading places with classic rock sibling WDRV 97.1-FM in the latest Nielsen Audio survey.

The Mix also ranked first in mornings with Eric Ferguson, Melissa McGurren and Brian “Whip” Paruch, and in afternoons with Kevin “Koz” Koske and Jennifer Roberts. Continue reading

Fox 32’s Larry Yellen announces retirement

Larry Yellen

Larry Yellen, who brought a lawyer’s training and a journalist’s curiosity to his coverage of the courts, is retiring after 25 years as investigative reporter and legal analyst at Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32.

Yellen, 67, told colleagues Wednesday he’s voluntarily stepping down from full-time employment at the end of September. While he may appear on Fox 32 from time to time as an expert contributor, he plans to spend much of his time traveling with his wife and daughter, and pursuing fly-fishing and volunteer work. Continue reading