WGN Radio cuts evening host Justin Kaufmann

Justin Kaufmann (Photo: WGN Radio)

Justin Kaufmann, the Chicago public radio veteran whose hiring as evening host at WGN 720-AM was supposed to signal a new day for the legacy news/talk station, just followed Steve Cochran, Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder out the door.

Wednesday was Kaufmann’s last night on the air. Nexstar Media Group chose not to renew his contract, which expires in early April.

“I’ve been a part of the WGN family for the past five years, so it’s hard to say goodbye,” Kaufmann told listeners at the end of the show. “But I’m sensitive to the fact that I’m not the only one that’s losing their job this week. Many of my friends who work in the gig economy, many of the workers at bars and restaurants, they’re out of luck. All the small business owners, employees in the auto industry, the banking industry. There’s not an industry that is not touched by this global emergency.”

WGN Radio 720

Kaufmann’s ouster follows the recent departures of morning host Cochran and the midday duo of Leff and Snyder. All three moves were ordered by Sean Compton, executive vice president of Nexstar, which acquired WGN in its takeover of Tribune Media in September.

Thanking the former Tribune Media bosses who hired him, Kaufmann told me: “I’m grateful to Jimmy deCastro and Todd Manley for the opportunity to be a part of a great radio station for the past five years. The bond I have with the WGN listeners will never be broken. I am truly humbled that so many people let me into their lives on a nightly basis. My only regret is that I won’t be there for them during this national emergency.”

WGN has not named a new evening host, but insiders say Ji Suk Yi is expected to shift from anchor of “The Wintrust Business Lunch” at noon to replace Kaufmann from 7 to 11 p.m. weeknights. Filling in for Kaufmann tonight will be Jon Hansen.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, WGN ranked ninth in evenings with a 3.3 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 125,200. Although Kaufmann’s show frequently was preempted by White Sox baseball and Blackhawks hockey broadcasts, the coronavirus shutdown knocked out all play-by-play sports.

Kaufmann, 45, joined WGN in 2015 after 21 years as a producer at Chicago Public Media news/talk WBEZ 91.5-FM. A northwest suburban Chicago native and Columbia College graduate, Kaufmann also is the founder of Schadenfreude, the Chicago comedy ensemble.

“It’s been a pleasure to serve you, to sit in this chair and be part of your nightly routine,” he said in his on-air farewell. “I’m very optimistic right now that I will show up soon somewhere else — real soon.”

Wednesday’s comment of the day: Scott Knitter: What would pair nicely with reverb [on WGN Radio] would be a teletype track behind newscasts.