Final fade-out for CLTV leaves Chicago poorer


At precisely 6 p.m. Tuesday — just six hours before a new year begins — CLTV will sign off the air forever.

Paul Lisnek's "Politics Tonight" will be the last program viewers see before Nexstar Media Group pulls the plug on the 24-hour cable news channel. Lisnek, who taped the final show last week, said he closes with a farewell statement.

With that, a 27-year piece of Chicago broadcast history will come to an end — the victim of a changing media landscape, a proliferation of digital news sources and out-of-town owners who took over parent company Tribune Media earlier this year.

Chicago Sun-Times (January 4, 1993)

"Cable News Debut Appears Promising" was the headline of my Sun-Times column soon after CLTV premiered early in the morning of January 1, 1993, in 600,000 households wired for cable in the Chicago area.

"Despite inevitable glitches and a dearth of real news over the New Year's weekend, Chicago's first 24-hour local cable news channel got off to a promising start," I wrote.

"Much of what passed for news during the premiere weekend consisted of endlessly repeated canned features and decidedly non-local wire stories. But in a glimpse of its true potential, ChicagoLand [CLTV] served up live pictures of the 40-car pileup on the Kennedy Expressway near Addison on Saturday — hours before other newscasts hit the air."

In that review I also singled out a rookie reporter named Dina Bair as a "rising star to watch" on CLTV. (Bair now co-anchors the Monday-through-Friday "WGN Midday News" with Steve Sanders on Nexstar Media WGN-Channel 9.)

Dina Bair

Five days later, the firing of Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka put CLTV on the map for its marathon breaking news coverage.

"We made our first splash as a station because we were able to cover the story for hours on end while the local stations were saddled by network obligations," recalled former CLTV sportscaster Lance McAlister in a farewell tribute to the channel dubbed "Children Learning Television" in its early days. (McAlister now hosts a sports talk show on Cincinnati radio.)

Despite that auspicious start, CLTV rarely lived up to its potential as the Chicago area's go-to source for extended coverage of live events and in-depth reporting, as its founders envisioned. In recent years it served mainly as a farm team for talent and as an outlet for cheap programming (including simulcasts of radio shows on Nexstar Media news/talk WGN 720-AM) and reruns of WGN newscasts.

Still, as the outpouring of fond memories from current and former employees attests, the demise of CLTV leaves Chicago media a little poorer and 2019 a little sadder.

Friday’s comment of the day: J.S. Childs: This is a response to a comment a few days ago by a poster who noted that WBBM Newsradio is the All Mancari All the Time station. A few months ago, I emailed WBBM and said that every time that ad came on, I turned off the radio. I also emailed [Mancari's Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Oak Lawn] and told them this and asked if yelling really sold cars. I don't know if I can take credit for this, but a month or so later, the volume on the ads was noticeably down. But since then, every time they make a new ad, it gets a little louder. They are yelling again.