We report, you decide: Fox Chicago's fix for local news

March 19, 2010

Robservations on the media beat:

  • Big changes are in the works at WFLD-Channel 32 --  but don't expect to see them happen overnight. In meetings with staffers this week, Mike Renda, vice president and general manager of the Fox-owned station, and Carol Fowler, vice president and news director, declared the current model for local news broken, and outlined plans for an overhaul to be rolled out over the coming months. Insiders say the new format of the 9 p.m. newscast is evolving into one with longer, more in-depth stories, including conversations with guest newsmakers and reporters. (I know. I know. We've heard it before.) Anchors Robin Robinson, Jeff Goldblatt and Anna Davlantes will interact as an "ensemble," I'm told. Will any of this make a difference? Let's put it this way: With Channel 32's 9 p.m. ratings averaging a measly 3.4 in February, what do they have to lose?
  • Look for another former Channel 32 news anchor to follow Nancy Loo out the door. Lauren Cohn, who co-anchored the Fox station's short-lived 10 p.m. newscast and more recently has been working as a reporter, has been told her contract will not be renewed. Like Loo, who recently lost her noon news anchor seat to newcomer Dawn Hasbrouck, Cohn is expected to exit within the next few weeks. She previously worked as a morning anchor at ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 and as a reporter at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2.
  • You've got to hand it to Randy Michaels, the CEO of Tribune Co., for sheer chutzpah. Just five days after he stared down staffers at news/talk WGN-AM (720) for leaking that infamous "forbidden words" memo to me ("What do you think should happen to people who do that?" he demanded), he put out a new memo telling all employees they should have no "fear of retaliation" for speaking up. Wrote Randy:
"We don't have a lot of rules around here. But not everyone has gotten the message. . . . Some say they are afraid to speak up or present a wacky idea for fear of retaliation (nothing will squash creativity and innovation faster). Rather than rules, our culture is defined by a few important principles: Focus on the important stuff, question authority, work together, take intelligent risk, reward performance, and do the right thing."
  • There's still plenty of angst going around WGN this week, but it's not about memos. Staffers are bracing for a shuffling of the station's weekday lineup, to be unveiled by program director Kevin "Pig Virus" Metheny. Speculation centers on afternoons and evenings, with the fate of "Sports Central," David Kaplan's long-running sports talk show, hanging in the balance. Metheny struck out last week in his bid to hire Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, who agreed instead to join Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890) as Roe Conn's afternoon partner, starting April 12.
  • Radio's cash register: CBS Radio all-news WBBM-AM (780) again was the top-billing station in Chicago for 2009, according to figures published Thursday by BIA Financial Network. With revenue of $40 million (down from last year's $44.9 million), Newsradio 780 finished ahead of Tribune's WGN, which billed $36.5 million (down from last year's $44.5 million). Chicago radio revenue overall topped $450 million in 2009.
  • An application by Lakeshore Public Broadcasting to boost the antenna height of northwest Indiana news/talk WLPR-FM (89.1) has been dismissed by the FCC, according to Blaine Thompson's Indiana RadioWatch. The FCC determined that the public radio station's signal would overlap with Olivet Nazarene University's Christian music WONU-FM (89.7) in Bourbonnais.
  • Brittney Payton, daughter of Bears legend Walter Payton and co-founder of "Youth for Life," will serve as a regular contributor to "Chicago's Best," a new food and lifestyle program on Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9 and CLTV. Premiering April 18, the half-hour show will air at 10 p.m. Sundays on Channel 9 and at various times during the week on CLTV. Other regulars will include host Ted Brunson and contributor Sarah Spain.
  • "Quiet, numbskulls. I'm broadcasting": Weigel Broadcasting is moving "Stooge-A-Palooza," the Rich Koz-hosted weekly showcase for The Three Stooges, from "The U" (WCIU-Channel 26) to "Me-TV" (WCIU-Channel 26.2, Comcast 223, RCN 14, WOW 17, AT&T U-verse 23, DirecTV 23 and Dish Network 23). Starting this weekend, it'll be on at the same time -- 7 p.m. Saturdays --  but on a different station. Koz's venerable "Svengoolie" movie show will continue to air at 9 p.m. Saturdays on "The U."
  • Jim Zerwekh, former vice president and station manager of WGN-Channel 9, has been named vice president and general manager of WTEV-TV and WAWS-TV in Jacksonville, Fla. He previously headed KWGN-TV in Denver and WSFL-TV (formerly WBZL-TV) in Miami. Since 2009, Zerwekh has been CEO of the Foxtail Group, a media consulting and operations company he founded in Greenwood Village, Colo.
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