Robservations: Sun-Times, WBEZ closing in on merger; Bob Newhart returns to Emmy Awards; Eric Zorn offers subscription newsletter

Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ Chicago

Robservations on the media beat:

For a couple of news organizations that demand transparency from everyone else, there’s been little of it from the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Public Media, parent company of news/talk WBEZ 91.5-FM. Since late September, when news of their proposed merger was first disclosed, both sides have been dealing behind closed doors to unite the two legacy media brands under what they're calling "a new model of local nonprofit journalism." Matt Moog, CEO of Chicago Public Media, said in an internal communication the two companies were focused on “completing due diligence . . . with an eye toward reaching a final agreement by the end of the year.” He told employees they'll hear more at their next staff meeting Thursday. Nykia Wright, CEO of the Sun-Times, declined to comment. “I do not have any updates for you at this time,” she said.

Bob Newhart

The 63rd annual Chicago/Midwest Emmy Awards will stream live Sunday on the Chicago/Midwest Emmy YouTube channel, the Emmy App and, starting at 7 p.m. Sponsored by the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the virtual event will be hosted by Chicago comedian Pat McGann, who’s back for his third time in the role since 2016. Look for the legendary Bob Newhart, who hosted Chicago's first Emmy show in 1959, to make a guest appearance with McGann Sunday. (Here is the link to a complete list of nominees.)

Eric Zorn

Former Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who was among the biggest stars to bail out after Alden Global Capital took over the paper, has been publishing a free weekly email newsletter (dubbed the Picayune Sentinel) since September. Now he’s aiming to monetize the effort via Substack, seeking subscribers at $5 a month or $50 annually. Real fans can opt for “founding member” status at $120. (Here is the link to subscribe.) “The Thursday Picayune Sentinel will continue to be free, but in a few weeks I plan to open up a patrons-only comment forum in an effort to create a community of engaged readers unpolluted, as most comment forums are, by drive-by snark and insults,” Zorn explained. “The heavily edited boards I hosted at my old Change of Subject blog at the Tribune was a model for (mostly) useful and respectful discourse, and I hope to replicate that. I will also move much of the feedback/dissent exchanges from Z-mail over to paid-subscriber editions, and I will produce other bonus content.”

WGN Radio 720

Are more personnel changes in the works at WGN 720-AM? Two weeks after announcing plans for a new weekday lineup in the new year, Nexstar Media posted an opening for a full-time on-air personality at the news/talk station. (Here is the link.) WGN bosses wouldn’t say what shift it’s for, but one clue may be in the job listing’s requirement for “flexibility to work any shift with a focus in anchoring overnight newscasts.” Fans are hopeful WGN finally will hire a local replacement for Phoenix-based Rollye James, who’s been filling in since WGN cut popular overnight host Nick Digilio in September 2020.

Ayana Contreras

It’s a big month for Ayana Contreras, content director for Chicago Public Media’s Vocalo alternative music station and columnist for Downbeat magazine. On December 14, University of Illinois Press will publish Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago, her homage to creativity in Black Chicago. And every weekend in December Contreras will host “Soul Sauce,” a three-hour dance party featuring R&B and soul classics, at 7 p.m. Saturdays (and repeated at 1 p.m. Sundays) on WBEZ 91.5-FM. “Like so many Chicagoans, I grew up listening to legendary radio disc jockey Herb Kent’s appointment listening on the weekends,” Contreras said. “The gift that I wanted to give to Chicago this holiday season is a classic soul music program featuring the music that has populated rumpus room parties, backyard barbecues and sock hops in Chicago for decades.”

Brigham Avery

“Hollywood & Ivy,” a monthly, one-hour interview show featuring celebrity fans of the Chicago Cubs, premiered Thursday on Marquee Sports Network, the team’s regional sports network. Hosted by Chicagoan Brigham Avery, the series kicked off with actor Joe Mantegna as first guest. Other celebs on tap include George Wendt, Tom Dreesen and Jeff Garlin. Serving as executive producers are Avery, Mantegna and Chicago attorney and talent agent Steve Mandell. “I’m so excited to be a part of this amazing team," Mandell said. “When I was asked to be an executive producer, I couldn’t have asked for a more fun and accomplished group to work with.”

The Hunt for the Chicago Strangler

On the heels of Candace McCollum’s series last week for Midway Broadcasting news/talk WVON 1690-AM on Chicago’s missing Black women and girls comes “The Hunt for the Chicago Strangler.” The three-part documentary series premieres Friday on the subscription streaming service discovery+. Narrated by Chicago-born actress and filmmaker Tonya Pinkins, it explores the long-neglected murders of Black women on Chicago’s South and West Sides and highlights the work of the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project.

Thursday’s comment of the day: Guy Postlewait: It’s nice to see WRME [Me-TV FM] continuing to do well. Despite their disadvantaged dial position, they’ve been extremely consistent in the volatile world of Chicago radio. I’m still hoping they find a new frequency before the FCC does away with Franken FMs.