With a deep bow to the late, great Roy Leonard, whose Turkey of the Year Awards were a Thanksgiving Day tradition on WGN 720-AM for decades, here’s a hearty flip of the bird to this year’s Chicago media recipients:
The new owners of Tribune Tower evicted the Chicago Tribune from its namesake landmark after 93 years. Then they sued to keep the iconic Chicago Tribune sign on the exterior of Tribune Tower as developers convert the building to condominiums.
Alone among his radio colleagues, Garry Meier not only failed to show up for the four-hour star-studded send-off on the last day of broadcasting for Cumulus Media’s classic rock WLUP 97.9-FM. He also backed out of a well-publicized commitment to appear on a tribute to The Loop on Tribune Broadcasting’s news/talk WGN 720-AM.
It was bad enough that Entercom Top 40 WBBM 96.3-FM fired Michelle “Showbiz Shelly” Menaker after 13 years as morning co-host. Then they added insult to injury by threatening to sue her next employer, iHeartMedia Top 40 WKSC 103.5-FM, for calling her daily pop-culture quiz the “Showbiz Shelly Smackdown.” A cease-and-desist order by B96 forced Kiss FM to rename the segment “Showbiz Showdown.”
Hours before he was accused of sexual misconduct by two women in a Fortune magazine takedown, Michael Ferro abruptly resigned as chairman of tronc (now Tribune Publishing). But he managed to walk out the door with an extra $15 million “consulting fee.” Ferro spent the rest of the year trying to unload his shares in the company he once vowed to transform.
The Chicago Tribune eliminated at least a dozen newsroom positions in March — just one day before the company disclosed raises and bonuses for chief executive officer Justin Dearborn and chief financial officer Terry Jimenez. Announcing another round of job cuts in November, the company said: “Reducing our costs through employee reductions is always our last resort.”
King of All Media Howard Stern reported on his Sirius XM show that “Svengoolie,” the Chicago television treasure and horror movie host played by Rich Koz, had died. Koz begged to differ: “Howard got so many ‘facts’ wrong, it could create a whole raft of fables!” Koz, alive and well at 66, tweeted. “No idea who the host was that he was talking about.”
Also still very much alive was Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union and subject of a premature obituary posted on the Sun-Times website. “Contrary to an unfortunate slip of a mouse, I am not dead!” Lewis declared. The Sun-Times apologized, attributing the snafu to “an error involving our online publishing system.”
Without telling anyone at the time — or for months thereafter — Cumulus Media classic hits WLS 94.7-FM cut ties with legendary radio personality Dick Biondi, who’d been on medical leave from his weekend show. Biondi’s connection to WLS goes back to 1960.
CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 could be slapped with a fine or other penalty from the Federal Communications Commission for illegally broadcasting the Emergency Alert System Attention Signal in an opening promo for its 5 p.m. newscast. Station bosses called it “a mistake.”
ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 mistakenly ran a graphic over a news anchor’s shoulder that referred to the Olympics in PyeongChang as “P.F Chang 2018.” The graphic had been designed for a satirical piece by sports anchor Mark Giangreco that aired the night before. Later in the year, ABC 7 also got in trouble for a social media post that appeared to make light of the Sears bankruptcy filing. “So long, Sears!” appeared on the station’s Facebook page under the words: “WOMP WOMP! Sears files for bankruptcy . . .” The gleeful tone struck many as insensitive to the plight of those losing their jobs.
Tears flowed as freely as the champagne at going-away parties for Jennifer Lyons, who resigned as news director of WGN-Channel 9 and CLTV after 25 years at the Tribune Broadcasting stations. Three weeks later — invoking the spirit of Emily “Never Mind” Litella — the beloved Lyons returned to take her old job back.
Claiming to have “surveyed our readers to see what they value,” the Sun-Times dropped its daily crossword puzzle, TV listings grid and most of its comics to save newsprint and production costs. The next day — also invoking the spirit of Emily “Never Mind” Litella — the Sun-Times brought back the crossword, citing “feedback from readers.” Three days after that, it restored the evening TV grid to its pages, too.
Edwin Eisendrath, CEO of Sun-Times Media, approved the hiring of his wife, former Chicago TV news director Jennifer Schulze, as executive producer – new media in February. One of her first major projects, an ambitious series of weekly podcasts hosted by Sun-Times columnists and reporters, was dropped after just a few months. By October, Eisendrath had lost the confidence of his board and resigned from the company. At last report Schulze was still on the payroll.
The long-running courtship between “Chicago’s Very Own” Tribune Media and Sinclair Broadcast Group — a $3.9 billion deal that would have created the largest TV station group in the country — ended with a once-compliant FCC questioning Sinclair’s honesty and conduct. In the end, the two companies filed suits and countersuits, and went their separate ways.
Michigan Avenue magazine, the slick lifestyle publication catering to Chicago’s wealthiest consumers, failed to pay its freelance writers for as long as eight months. Officials of Modern Luxury, which owns Michigan Avenue, acknowledged “ongoing invoicing issues,” which they attributed to their merger with GreenGale Publishing 16 months earlier.