Today's special: Joe Ahern joins Rosebud Restaurants

February 24, 2010

Joe Ahern

In all the years he was Chicago's flashiest television executive, my old friend Joe Ahern always seemed most in his element at fancy restaurants or on the party circuit. So his latest occupation should come as little surprise.

Ahern, 64, whose failed run as president and general manager of CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 ended in 2008, has landed a top executive position with Rosebud Restaurants, the chain of Chicago steakhouses and Italian eateries owned by his longtime pal, Alex Dana.

Although no announcement was made to herald his employment, Ahern has had an office at the company's West Diversey Parkway headquarters since around the start of the year, according to a co-worker. I called there Tuesday, but Ahern wasn't in.

Those who've followed Ahern's career will recall that Rosebud Prime in the Loop was the site of his 63rd‚ birthday party in June 2008. By one unconfirmed account, the tab reached $5,000 for the luncheon attended by Channel 2's senior managers and on-air talent (along with Ahern's family and friends). But when CBS rejected reimbursement for it on Ahern's expense account, station department heads and managers were ordered to write personal checks to cover the cost of their boss's birthday bash.

Rosebud also employed one of Ahern's daughters, Meredith, as a hostess at one time.

Despite a larger-than-life reputation during his tenure as president and general manager of ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 from 1985 to 1997, Ahern was unable to achieve success when he returned to the market to run Channel 2 in 2002. As I wrote in one of my last columns for the Sun-Times on the day of his firing in 2008: 

"He hired dozens of on-air and behind-scenes staffers from competing stations, overspending lavishly to lure them. His most costly hiring blunder turned out to be Diann Burns, the highest paid anchor in local history. He overspent and overbuilt on the station's new broadcast facility at Block 37 and included a marble shower in the private bathroom of his new office even after he began cutting jobs, decimating the news budget and destroying morale. He subjected the station to ridicule (and at least two lawsuits) for its outrageous editing of the Amy Jacobson hidden-camera video, and he made himself a laughingstock when he forced his own staff to pick up the tab for his birthday party. And did I mention that he failed to boost the ratings?"

Ahern resurfaced as a high-profile volunteer adviser on Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid team, based on what chairman Pat Ryan called his "extensive media background and knowledge of the Chicago community." Chicago was eliminated from contention in the first round of voting by the International Olympic Committee.

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