As Joe Donlon bows out, 'the hunt is on' for new top anchor at WGN

Joe Donlon

If all goes as planned, the next time we’ll see Joe Donlon is September 1 when he debuts with Marni Hughes as the Monday-through-Friday anchor team on “News Nation,” the national nightly newscast coming to WGN America.

The question now is who will replace Donlon at WGN-Channel 9 where he’s been co-anchor of the 5, 6, 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts with Micah Materre since 2018. Nexstar Media Group owns both WGN America cable network and WGN locally.

If there's a short list of would-be successors, no one who knows is saying. In fact, they won't even say who'll be filling in tonight.

“Joe has been a great co-anchor these last two years, and we wish him every success at ‘News Nation,’” Dominick Stasi, news director of WGN, told me after Donlon's sign-off Friday night. “The hunt is on and we are looking at many qualified candidates. We will be rotating anchors alongside Micah in the meantime.”

Donlon, 57, who grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, and graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, spent 21 years as a top anchor in Portland, Oregon, before he was tapped to replace Mark Suppelsa at "Chicago's Very Own."

Two years is hardly enough time to become a household word in Chicago, but Donlon acquitted himself admirably and demonstrated a particular gift for sensitive storytelling. (Here is the link.)

He also can legitimately say he went out a winner. In June — for the first time ever — WGN's 10 p.m. newscast tied for second place (with NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5) among adults between 25 and 54.

Partial credit for WGN's 90 percent ratings jump undoubtedly goes to the station's L.A.-style helicopter coverage of an hourlong police chase of a homicide suspect June 3, which was narrated by Donlon and Materre.

“I want to thank the amazing staff at WGN,” Donlon said in a message posted earlier on Facebook. “You put your arms around me and welcomed me into your tight knit family. It’s such a special place. Every day is a dance party.

Erik Runge

"The good news is, I’ll still be in the family — just upstairs in a different newsroom.”

In other news at WGN, two per-diem staffers have been promoted to full-time general assignment reporters.

Erik Runge, who joined WGN in 2013 from Fox-owned KMSP in Minneapolis, will be reporting for "WGN Morning News" and "WGN Midday News."

Shannon Halligan

And Shannon Halligan, who joined WGN and the former CLTV as a news and traffic reporter in 2016, will be traffic reporter for "WGN Evening News" and a news reporter for other newscasts. Halligan, a Chicago area native who grew up in Schaumburg and attended James B. Conant High School, previously worked for NBC affiliate KSHB in Kansas City, Missouri.

"Both have made strong contributions to the WGN News team and we look forward to more solid reporting from both," Stasi said.

Friday’s comment of the day: Steve DuBose: Nice picture of Bruno Kirby . . .