Robservations: TV news rises to coronavirus challenge

Terrell Brown (Photo: ABC 7 Chicago)

Robservations on the media beat:

The world changed dramatically this week — and so did television. As it has few times in our lives, TV suddenly became the source of essential information to millions of viewers hunkered down at home and desperate to make sense of the bewildering and rapidly developing coronavirus story. At the outset of the crisis, Perry Sook, chairman and CEO of Nexstar Media Group (parent company of “Chicago’s Very Own” WGN-Channel 9), told investors: “If you’re quarantined in your home and one of the few things you can do is watch television, I think advertisers see the benefit in that.” As inartfully as he phrased it, Sook may have been on to something. News ratings are up substantially, according to preliminary reports, even as newsrooms across the country make adjustments on the fly and encourage employees to work from home. News media across all platforms will take on an even more vital role providing accurate information and a semblance of reassurance in the days and weeks ahead.

Ebertfest

Chaz Ebert pulled the plug Thursday on this year’s Ebertfest, the annual film festival co-founded by her late husband, film critic Roger Ebert, and organized by the College of Media at the University of Illinois. “We were informed by the University of Illinois that all university-sponsored events with more than 50 attendees will be suspended indefinitely, effective Friday, March 13,” Chaz Ebert wrote to attendees. “But it is something we have been contemplating because of our concern for your health and welfare.” Ebertfest 2020 was to have run from April 15 to 18 in Champaign.

Dick Kay

Dick Kay walked back an announcement Thursday that he was stepping away from Newsweb Radio progressive news/talk WCPT 820-AM, where he has hosted a Saturday afternoon show for 12 years. After initially citing “the uncertainties of COVID-19” as the reason for giving up the show, the legendary Chicago broadcast journalist later said he would take this week off (with Andrea Darlas filling in for him) and begin broadcasting from home the following week. Added Mark Pinski, general manager of Newsweb Radio: “Dick is happy and healthy, and he loves doing his show on WCPT 820 AM, and he will continue doing so for many years to come.” Kay’s “Back on the Beat” airs from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays on WCPT.

Me-TV FM

They’re calling it a weekend of “Songs Too Good For Words” at WRME 87.7-FM, the Weigel Broadcasting soft-rock oldies station known as Me-TV FM. “We’ll be putting the spotlight on songs that are truly a rarity on radio here in 2020 — instrumentals,” said program director Rick O’Dell. “If you think about it, only classical stations play instrumentals these days — along with Me-TV FM, of course.” Starting at 7 p.m. tonight, they’ll play such overlooked titles as the Champs’ “Tequila,” Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue,” Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ “A Taste of Honey, and Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice Theme.” “We’ll be playing selections radio has ignored/neglected/forgotten about for years,” O’Dell said, adding: “Some smooth jazz might even sneak into the mix!”

Katie Grennan

In a followup to a similar special last year, “Our Irish Pub (2020)” will premiere March 22 on Window to the World Communications WTTW-Channel 11. Again hosted by Irish fiddler Katie Grennan, the special will visit three notable Chicago pubs — Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro on Lincoln Avenue, The Cork & Kerry Irish Pub in Beverly, and The Curragh Irish Pub in Edison Park. Produced by Hibernian Media’s Mike Houlihan, the musical special will air at 1:30 p.m. with a rebroadcast at 10:30 p.m.

Thursday’s comment of the day: Mike Braden: It would be better if Bill and Wendy hooked on with a popular station that fits them better than WLS, which seems stuck in the doldrums.