Robservations on the media beat:
And the winner of Tribune Media is: Nexstar Media Group. In a $6.4 billion deal announced Monday, the Irving, Texas-based firm agreed to buy the parent company of “Chicago’s Very Own” WGN-Channel 9, CLTV and WGN 720-AM along with TV stations in 41 other markets. Nexstar currently owns 174 stations across the country. It’s expected to take several months to complete the transaction, which will require approval of federal regulators and the divestiture of some stations to comply with ownership limits. The agreement for Tribune Media comes four months after the collapse of a $3.9 billion deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group, which ran afoul of the FCC. Incidental info: Chicagoan Dennis FitzSimons, former chairman and CEO of Tribune Co. (and a former vice president and general manager of WGN), is on Nexstar’s board of directors.
The sudden closing of United States Traffic Network Friday left three Chicago television stations scrambling for a new provider of traffic information. “Our attempts to consummate a sale were unsuccessful, and we do not have the funds to continue operating,” CEO and president Ivan Shulman told employees. All of its employees, including those in the Chicago office, were terminated without warning. The Malvern, Pennsylvania-based company supplied data and production services to NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5, ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 and Tribune Media WGN-Channel 9 and CLTV. Earlier this year USTN closed down its radio unit, which served news/talk WGN 720-AM and Chicago Public Media WBEZ 91.5-FM, among other local outlets.
Judy Pielach, afternoon news anchor at WGN 720-AM, is taking a buyout after 32 years at the Tribune Broadcasting news/talk station. Her last day on the air with afternoon hosts Roe Conn and Anna Davlantes will be December 21. “On to the next adventure . . . whatever that may be!” she told Facebook friends. In 2017 Pielach was inducted in the WGN Radio Walk of Fame. Also taking year-end buyouts from WGN are two longtime engineers, Aubrey Mumpower and Ben Cortez.
Allie Ellison Zemtseff, weekend and fill-in host at classic rock WDRV 97.1-FM, was among those laid off in year-end budget cuts last week at Hubbard Radio Chicago. She and her colleagues had “given the last 17½ years of our lives to a place that carelessly showed us to the door right before Christmas,” Zemtseff said. As reported here earlier, 11 staffers lost their jobs, including overnight personalities Mike Roberts of hot adult-contemporary WTMX 101.9-FM, and Brian Travis of adult contemporary WSHE 100.3-FM. Other part-timers cut included Don Nelson and Marc Vernon from The Drive and Jonathan West from The Mix. All three Hubbard stations increased their reliance on voice-tracking and automation to reduce costs.
WCPT 92.5-FM, which has been simulcasting the progressive talk format of Newsweb Radio’s WCPT 820-AM, officially changed hands Friday. Under new owner Educational Media Foundation, the far west suburban DeKalb station switched to the K-Love contemporary Christian music format and adopted the call letters WCLR. (Remember those?) The $1.6 million deal, announced in September, was brokered by Bob Heymann of Media Services Group. Earlier this year, Educational Media Foundation bought The Loop — former classic rocker WLUP — from Merlin Media for $21.5 million. In addition to AM 820 and its online stream, Fred Eychaner’s Chicago-based Newsweb Radio continues to operate time-brokered WSBC 1240-AM in Chicago, WAIT 850-AM in Crystal Lake and WNDZ 750-AM in Portage, Indiana.
Without fanfare, iHeartMedia Chicago has installed a soft adult-contemporary format called “The Breeze Chicago” on 103.5-HD2, the secondary HD Radio channel of Top 40 WKSC 103.5-FM. It’s programmed by KISQ in San Francisco, which launched “98.1 The Breeze” in April 2016. A smooth jazz format billed as “Air Chicago Radio” had been airing on 103.5-HD2 and also served as a 24-hour-a-day radio station for O’Hare and Midway Airports in a deal with iHeartMedia’s Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings.
Sunday’s comment of the day: Nina D. Gaspich: I am happy to report that Ms. [Michael] Sneed, as expected, did not disappoint. In her Sunday [Sun-Times] column she says nothing about her bestie [Ed] Burke, instead elaborating on her “scoop” about Kathy Byrne’s efforts on behalf of Susana Mendoza. Oh, and a Sneedling about Hillary Clinton.