There's plenty of life left for Roe Conn at WLS

December 11, 2009

Reports of Roe Conn's demise -- like that of another Midwestern humorist -- have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, the Chicago radio veteran is close to signing a new deal to continue as afternoon personality on Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890).

Barring a last-minute snafu, sources said, Conn is expected to sign a two-year renewal any day now, superseding his current contract, which expires June 1. In exchange for the additional security, he's likely to accept a reduction in his previously reported seven-figure salary.

The only obstacle to finalizing the deal could come from Citadel Broadcasting's top bosses, who were reported to be preoccupied Thursday preparing to file for bankruptcy by the end of the year.‚  Such a move would allow the company to restructure its $2 billion debt.

Word of Conn's renewal comes despite speculation that his days are numbered at WLS. After the latest Arbitron survey showed him significantly underperforming the rest of the station, the Sun-Times' Lewis Lazare cited unnamed "observers in the local radio market" who asserted that "the high-priced WLS talent might not be able to hold on at the station much longer." My friends at the ever-vigilant ChicagolandRadioandMedia.com went even further, declaring it "the end of the line for Roe Conn at WLS," and identifying three potential replacements for him.

When completed, Conn's new deal is likely to be followed by another round of personnel changes on his show. Earlier this year, contributors Bill Leff and Christina Filiaggi were replaced by Amy Jacobson. Jim Johnson continues as news anchor.

Apart from his WLS renewal, Conn recently signed a new syndication agreement with United Stations Radio Networks to distribute "The Roe Report," his daily news and commentary feature. Airing on WLS and WABC-AM in New York (and soon to return to KABC-AM in Los Angeles), it was launched in part to fill the short-form programming void left by the late Paul Harvey. Nick Verbitsky, chairman and CEO of USRN, said in a statement:

"Roe Conn has proven himself to be not only a great local broadcaster, but a guy with great instincts for what the whole country is thinking and talking about. Frankly, we see Roe Conn as one of the bright spots in the future of talk radio, and we're thrilled to be able to grow our menu of services in that format with Roe in the spolight."

Conn, 45, a Chicago native and onetime producer for CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 and the former WMAQ-AM, joined WLS as a weekend host in 1989. He's been hosting afternoons since 1996.

Elsewhere on the media beat:

  • The history of Chicago television from 1940 to 1990 -- in photographs from the archives of the Museum of Broadcast Communications -- will be presented in a new book scheduled for release Feb. 1. Chicago Television, part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series, was edited by former museum archivists Daniel Berger and Steve Jajkowski. Bob Sirott wrote the foreword. Advance orders for the $26.99 paperback are being taken at Amazon.com.
  • The demise of Editor & Publisher after more than a century Thursday closes out a troubled year for media watchdogs. In June, the broadcasting bible Radio & Records ceased operations after 36 years. Both trade publications were owned by Nielsen Co.
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