The stunning announcement that Chicago Cubs baseball would be airing next season on WLS-Channel 7 “for the first time in the 68-year television broadcast history” of the team made for a great story Friday.
Except that it isn’t true.
Contrary to the press release issued jointly by the Cubs and the ABC-owned station — and picked up in virtually every news report on the deal — this isn’t the first time the two have been partners.
In 1949, Cubs home games aired on Channel 7 (then under the call letters WENR-TV), with baseball legend Rogers Hornsby as announcer, according to George Castle, a Chicago baseball historian and author of nine books on the Cubs. “Same station, same owner, same channel, different call letters,” Castle said.
“It’s easy to overlook the WENR-TV role with the Cubs,” he said. “It was only one season. WGN-TV (Channel 9) and WBKB-TV (Channel 4) also did the Cubs that year with [Jack] Brickhouse and Whispering Joe Wilson, respectively, at the mic. P.K. Wrigley spent $100,000 of Cubs money to build new broadcast facilities for the three stations in 1949.”
A spokeswoman for ABC 7 attributed the error in the announcement to the Cubs.
“Cubs front office doesn’t know squat about team history,” Castle said. “That’s one of the glaring holes in that franchise.”
Friday night update: ABC 7 released the following statement: “The Cub Games have been on the air since 1946. In 1949, the Cubs aired on WENR-TV, a precursor to WLS-TV. 2015 will be the first time the Cubs have aired on an ABC owned station since 1949. WLS-TV would like to thank those who pointed out our station’s oversight, but the most important fact is correct — Cubs baseball is coming to WLS-TV in 2015.”
Here is the complete text of the press release issued Friday:
CHICAGO CUBS AND ABC 7/WLS-TV, THE # 1 STATION IN CHICAGO, STRIKE DEAL TO AIR 25 CUBS GAMES IN HISTORIC NEW PARTNERSHIP
ABC 7 To Become First Network-Owned Television Station In Chicago To Pick Up Game Broadcast Rights In 68-Year Chicago Cubs Broadcast History
The Chicago Cubs and WLS-TV/ABC 7 CHICAGO today announced a historic partnership for television rights to Cubs games. For the first time in the 68-year television broadcast history of the Chicago Cubs, baseball games will air on ABC 7. ABC 7 will air 25 games per year through 2019. Starting in April of 2015, Cubs games will begin airing on ABC 7 Chicago in primetime, daytime and weekends.
“We are excited to have ABC 7 Chicago as our new television broadcast partner,” said President of Business Operations Crane Kenney. “WLS-TV has established itself as a trusted voice in Chicago and we look forward to a new chapter of Cubs baseball airing on the flagship station of the ABC television network.”
WLS-TV echoed the Cubs’ excitement and said they are looking forward to this new beginning with the organization.
According to John Idler, President and General Manager of ABC 7, “ABC 7 is thrilled to be a part of this new chapter for the Chicago Cubs organization, and we welcome Cub fans to the #1 station in Chicago. Like all Cubs fans, we are eager to celebrate the 2015 Chicago Cubs.”
The station also said it is confident this match-up will offer advertisers rich opportunities next season.
“When the most-watched station in Chicago teams up with our city’s most storied franchise, it can’t help but generate excitement for our viewers while providing our ABC sales team the opportunity to offer extraordinary media opportunities to our clients in Chicago and across the country,“ said Vincent Sollecito, Vice President and General Sales Manager of ABC 7.
Kenney added the Cubs will soon announce the home for the team’s remaining games not currently under contract to ABC 7 or Comcast SportsNet, ensuring all Cubs games will be on the air in Chicago next season.
“We will complete our broadcast realignment shortly, allowing every Cubs fan in Chicago the opportunity to watch every game of what we believe will be an exciting and competitive season in 2015.”