'Newsradio' reluctant to sign off on Hultman

November 19, 2009

hultmanWhen Pat Cassidy abruptly quit as morning news anchor at WBBM-AM (780) last year, bosses of the CBS-owned all-news station reached out to John Hultman, who'd retired from the job a decade earlier.

The idea was for Hultman to fill in on a free-lance basis -- through the end of the year at the most -- until a permanent replacement for Cassidy could be hired. That was 16 months ago. Hultman, 72, is still there every morning, sounding just as great as he did during his original 30-year run at "Newsradio 780." Along with anchor partner Felicia Middlebrooks, he has kept the station's morning drive ratings at or near the top. (The latest Arbitron figures show them solidly in third place among all listeners as well as among those between the ages of 25 and 54.)

Although Hultman's bosses admit they wish he'd stay on forever, they're reluctantly bowing to his request to step down. Sources said they've narrowed the list of top candidates to three -- including one unnamed insider -- and hope to have a successor in place by early next year. Among outsiders briefly considered for the job several months ago was Greg Jarrett, who'd been laid off from KGO-AM in San Francisco. Nothing came of the audition he recorded for WBBM, but Jarrett subsequently landed as morning host at Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720).

Until recently, there also was talk that WBBM might be keeping the door open for Cassidy, who'd jumped to Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890). But now that he's settled in comfortably with Mancow Muller in middays there, a comeback for Cassidy seems highly unlikely. What are the qualifications for the job? In an ad posted on industry websites seeking "the best news anchor in the country," here's how WBBM bosses described their ideal candidate:

"If you have a strong journalism background, if you have a warm, personable delivery, if you're an excellent writer, if you can think on your feet, if you know how to report a story, if you can relate to people of all ages, if you can work as a team player, if you've got a great voice, if you know a good story, if you can remain calm under extreme pressure, if you are technically gifted, if you have several years of big market experience, if you're a news junkie, if you know how to treat people with respect, if you project nothing but the best of images, if you can take direction, and if you consider this a dream job, then we may be interested."

All in all, I'd say that sounds like a pretty good description of John Hultman. Elsewhere on the media beat:

  • Stacey Marks Bronner, former vice president and general manager of Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 and WPWR-Channel 50, is headed for suburban Boston to become vice president/station manager of Comcast-owned New England Cable News, based in Newton, Mass., reports NewsBlues.com. She most recently had been publisher of Today's Chicago Woman.
  • Although most of his co-workers at Channel 32 are unaware, recent hire Michael Kinsella has an illustrious pedigree. The new administrative assistant to Fox Chicago vice president/news director Carol Fowler is the grandson of the late Floyd "The Big Tuna" Kalber, one of the most successful and celebrated Chicago news anchors of all time. Kinsella is a graduate of Tufts University and a former intern and page for NBC.
  • News of the death of Chicago School Board President Michael Scott hit particularly hard Monday in the management suites of WLS-Channel 7. That's because Diana Palomar Scott, vice president of community affairs at the ABC-owned station, was Scott's wife.
  • As sensitive as WTTW-Channel 11 bosses are about the lack of racial diversity on "Chicago Tonight, they're equally touchy about the effects of budget cuts at the Window to the World station. Earlier this year, veteran correspondent Rich Samuels vented his frustration about Channel 11's priorities on Twitter: "Wish 'Chicago Tonight' had the resources to get to Springfield for 'Governor's Day' at the [Illinois State] fair. Oh, well . . ." Hours later came this from Samuels: "One or more bosses displeased with my tweet re: lack of resources to cover Springfield today. Fact: all media outlets constrained these days."
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