Who'd want to join WGN's big happy family anyway?

June 15, 2010

One day after Steve Cochran told fans he expects to be ousted from news/talk WGN-AM (720) when his contract expires at the end of the month, the man presumed to be replacing him has decided not to join the Tribune Co.-owned station after all.

Bill Cunningham, the conservative host at WLW-AM in Cincinnati, told the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Kiesewetter Monday that he plans to sign a new contract with his current station "in the next day or two," adding: "I had to resolve in my mind where I wanted to be, and I've decided I want to stay in Cincinnati.‚ In my mind, I'm going to stay in Cincinnati."

Some cynics believe that WGN's very public flirtation with Cunningham was simply a ruse orchestrated by his former bosses who now run Tribune Co. to strengthen his bargaining position with WLW. Cunningham, whose style was described by Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal as "theatrically over-the-top, controversial and polarizing" would have a been a terrible fit for WGN --  even by its own steadily declining standards.

Either way, Cunningham's decision only adds to the continuing chaos at WGN, where the futures of Cochran and fellow midday host John Williams remain in doubt. Over the weekend, Cochran told fans on his Facebook page: "Thanks to everybody for all the support. As of now I don't believe I will be on WGN beyond 6/30. I will be here with updates and more as things shake out." A few days earlier, Cochran facetiously wrote:

"If you follow along with these things, you will notice news about a new talk show host from Cincinnati being hired by WGN and speculation that he's coming in to replace me or possibly John Williams. Can't speak for John, but in my case the management is treating me with the same love they've shown me for many months now --  so obviously I'm good."

Williams' fate has been in limbo since WGN announced the hiring of Mike McConnell, also from Cincinnati's WLW, effective Aug. 9. WGN has not designated a time slot for him, although McConnell initially told Kiesewetter that he'd be on starting at 9 a.m. -- which is the slot currently occupied by Williams. He later backpedaled on that, saying he wasn't sure what shift he'd be assigned.

With the blessing of WGN bosses, Williams has been working double duty since April, hosting from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WGN and from 1 to 3 p.m. for WCCO-AM in Minneapolis. How long he can continue to work both weekday shifts is anybody's guess. Chicago hasn't heard the last of Cunningham. Over the weekend he taped pilots for a syndicated talk show at the studios of Tribune-owned WGN-Channel 9. Witnesses described the tapings as a fiasco, with Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels personally urging Cunningham to abuse and berate his unwitting guests.

One segment featured the humiliation of a grossly overweight woman who was forced to get on all fours and eat like a dog. Another featured parents of child beauty pageant contestants who found themselves blind-sided when they were suddenly attacked by Cunningham.

Tribune Broadcasting also will be testing syndicated radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge as a trash TV talk host this weekend.

Contrary to published reports, the pilots are not emanating from the former studio of "Bozo's Circus." They're coming from the studio that once produced "Donahue."

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