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WGN's Allison Payne reveals battle with addiction

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Allison Payne has been saying for years that her slurred speech, glassy-eyed gaze and occasionally erratic behavior on the air are due to a series of ministrokes from which she was recovering. Even as she took a lengthy leave of absence from Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9, the veteran news anchor insisted there was nothing more to it.

“I was not drunk,” she once famously told Tribune media columnist‚ Phil Rosenthal, while apologizing to viewers who flooded the station with calls of concern after observing her swivel in her chair and slur her words during a 9 p.m. newscast in August 2008. She blamed the incident on “lingering effects of a series of ministrokes . . . compounded by overwork and perhaps a bit of adrenaline-fueled giddiness.”

On Thursday, during a live interview on the midday newscast she co-anchors with Steve Sanders, Payne, 45, went public with what many of her co-workers have suspected -- that she’s also been battling addiction. While interviewing former NHL star and Blackhawks player Theo Fleury, who’s in town to promote a book signing of his autobiography Playing With Fire, Payne disclosed that the two shared the same Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and revealed the name of their local chapter. Here’s what she said:

“While you were here in Chicago, you worked with a mutual friend, Michael Harvey, who was my sponsor, and I think yours for a time. You spent a lot of time at the Mustard Seed, which is a local AA club. Did any of that work help you with your addiction demons and the demons that haunted you from child molestation? [I] think Michael tried to help you with that.”

Whether Payne’s personal disclosure was premeditated or not, it marked a new chapter in her ongoing saga after 20 years at Channel 9. But it’s not one her bosses seem eager to promote. Unlike virtually every other segment that airs on “WGN Midday News,” video of Payne’s interview with Fleury is nowhere to be found on the station’s website.

Elsewhere on the media beat:

  • Citing a “very difficult economic environment,” Air America Radio‚ ceased operations Thursday and shut down its financially troubled progressive talk radio network. But on Chicago’s WCPT-AM (820), its effect will hardly be felt. The only Air America program on the station’s weekday lineup was Ron Reagan from 5 to 8 p.m. (All of the rest come from other syndication sources.) “It’s business as usual,” declared Harvey Wells, outgoing vice president and group station manager of parent company Newsweb Radio. WCPT is simulcast on WCPY-FM (92.5) and WCPT-FM (92.7) and WCPQ-FM (99.9).
  • WTTW-Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight: The Week in Review” will air tonight at 9 p.m. instead of its usual time at 7 p.m. That’s to accommodate the two-hour “Hope for Haiti Now” global telethon on the Window to the World Communications station.
  • Steve Cochran’s producer, Rick O’Connor, and Milt Rosenberg’s producer, Zack Christenson, are out at Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720). More changes to follow?
  • Comedian Steve Harvey, syndicated morning personality on Clear Channel Radio urban adult-contemporary WVAZ-FM (102.7), will replace John O’Hurley next fall as host of “Family Feud.” Producers of the syndicated game show said Harvey was chosen “for his ability to connect with viewers and his "Ëœone-of-a-kind’ personality.”
  • Sarah Preston, managing editor of and former “Last Girl Standing” dating and nightlife columnist for Chicago magazine, has been named the new “Working Mom” weekly blogger for, starting Feb. 1. Her No. 1 qualification? She’s also the new mother of Preston Gorenstein.
  • At the funeral for Chicago political reporter Carlos Hernandez Gomez Thursday, longtime friend and colleague Carol Marin led “a prayer of the faithful” to keep politicians and reporters honest. Carlos would have loved it. In part, Marin’s prayer said:

“For those who serve the public in government and in politics, that they may be guided by wisdom and unwavering integrity.‚ We pray to the Lord. (Lord, hear our prayer.) For those who gather and report the news, that they may they do so honestly, fearlessly and fairly. We pray to the Lord. (Lord, hear our prayer.)”

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