Robservations on the media beat:
- Only in the bizarre up-is-down, black-is-white alternate universe of WGN-AM (720) would the cancellation of Chicago's longest running sports talk show be called an expansion of sports. "WGN RADIO EXPANDS SPORTS COVERAGE AND ADDS NEW GENERAL TALK SHOW" read the headline of a press release issued late Thursday by the Tribune Co.-owned news/talk station. As of April 12, "Sports Central" will be replaced from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday by a "current events talk show" fronted by convicted felon (and manifestly unqualified radio rookie)‚ Jim Laski. What a disgrace.‚ David Kaplan, who's hosted the weeknight sports franchise since 1997, will shift to Cubs post-game shows and other sports features. It's all the handiwork of obstinate program director Kevin "Pig Virus" Metheny, who took on Laski, the former city clerk of Chicago who served 11 months in prison for accepting bribes, as a weekend host -- and his personal reclamation project. Said Metheny:
"In the past few months, Laski has built a strong track record on WGN.‚ He's a fascinating character who was called to public service and eventually behaved criminally. He paid for his crime, is sincerely contrite and is moving on. He has a unique insider's perspective on life in and around Chicago."
- WGN bosses cried foul last month when I reported here that the station had lost in the morning-drive ratings for the first time ever to Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890). They said I'd been misled. They said it was a mistake. They said I'd misread the numbers. Well, guess what? It happened again: WLS' Don and Roma Wade beat WGN's Greg Jarrett among all listeners age 12 and older in just-released Arbitron figures for February.‚ Any way you slice it‚ -- from 6 to 10 a.m. (as Arbitron defines morning drive) or from 5 to 9 a.m. (the actual hours when Jarrett competes with the Wades) -- WLS comes out on top of WGN.
- After a year that saw Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos move to Connecticut, and Oprah Winfrey announce the end of her Chicago-based talk show, the impending demise of "At the Movies" marks another setback for Chicago productions on the national stage. For ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, which has been the show's home base since 2001, it also means a loss of income from Disney-ABC Domestic Television and ABC Media Productions. "We were both honored and thrilled to produce the show for nine years -- an achievement of which we can be very proud," said Emily Barr, president and general manager of Channel 7. Although the syndicated movie-review show never recovered from the departure of hosts Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, at least it will die with dignity under Michael Phillips and Tony Scott. No word on what will replace it on Channel 7's lineup this fall, but a likely source of programming could be the Live Well HD digital channel.
- Joan Esposito,the former Chicago television news anchor, has agreed to speak publicly for the first time about her battle with cancer. In a story expected to air in May on Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9, Esposito will tell medical reporter Dina Bair that she was diagnosed with lymphoma three years ago. It's now in remission. Bair, who worked with Esposito as an intern at Channel 7 and as a producer at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5, also survived her own cancer battle with melanoma.
- At long last Roe Conn is expected to announce today that traffic reporter Christina Filiaggi will be returning to his afternoon show on WLS-AM. She could be back on as early as Monday. Filiaggi, who first joined Conn's show in 2001, was dropped in a budget cut in February 2008, brought back in June 2008, and dropped a second time in May 2009. Third time's the charm?
- Wedding bells are ringing this weekend for Tera Williams, who may be Mayor Richard Daley's least favorite general assignment reporter at WFLD-Channel 32, and Mike Barz, former anchor of the Fox-owned station's "Good Day Chicago." Williams posted a note on TravelersJoy.com that they're hoping to "go sailing in the British Virgin Islands for one week" on their honeymoon.
- One editor and one reporter will be hired by Chicago Public Radio WBEZ-FM (91.5) as part of an Upper Midwest Local Journalism Center funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, according to an announcement Thursday. The center, one of seven across the country, will operate in partnership with Michigan Radio and Cleveland's Ideastream.
- George Castle kicks off the 17th‚ season of his "Diamond Gems" baseball talk show this weekend with the addition of on an online outlet at the Times of Northwest Indiana's NWI.com. It continues to air on WLBK-AM (1360) in DeKalb at 1 p.m. Saturdays, WIMS-AM (1420) in Michigan City at 6 p.m. Saturdays, WJOL-AM (1340) in Joliet at 4 p.m. Sundays, and on SLRNRadioSports.com at 11 a.m. Fridays. Castle's 11th baseball book, When The Game Changed: An Oral History of Baseball's True Golden Age 1969-79, will be published in September by Lyons Press.
- Ruth L Ratny, publisher of ReelChicago.com, will receive the Chicago Legend Award April 15 at the Chicago International Film Festival's Hugo Television Awards. Ratny has been an outspoken supporter of Chicago's film and television production industry for decades.‚ Dean Richards, entertainment reporter and critic for Channel 9, will host the event at the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago.