Remote control keeps WBBM Newsradio on top of the news

WBBM Newsradio

The dedicated journalists of WBBM 780-AM/WCFS 105.9-FM didn’t have time to celebrate winning top honors for outstanding news operation and three other first-place awards this week from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association.

That’s because they were too busy working from home to keep the top-rated Entercom all-news station up and running during the biggest story of our time.

Under the direction of Ron Gleason, director of news and programming, and Julie Mann, managing editor, WBBM Newsradio has reinvented itself on the fly to cover the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping its employees safe.

With news, traffic, weather, business and sports reporters, news writers, production staff and many news anchors working outside of the station’s Prudential Building headquarters, rarely are more than three people in the newsroom at any moment.

On Wednesday, morning news was anchored by Felicia Middlebrooks in studio and Pat Cassidy at home, and afternoon news was anchored by Keith Johnson in studio and Lisa Fielding at home.

Under the circumstances, accommodations have been made to reduce in-studio staffing during late-night and overnight hours, including cutbacks to the regular shifts of part-time/weekend news anchors.

On many nights between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., WBBM Newsradio has been replaying full hours of news (minus network portions or references to current time and temperature). They begin with the disclaimer: “Whether you’re listening in real time at 2:05 or in rewind mode/prerecorded at 4:05 . . .”

But in the case of major breaking news or the threat of severe weather — as happened Tuesday night — the station breaks from the formula and goes live.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, which included the first 10 days of the coronavirus shutdown, WBBM Newsradio widened its first-place lead overall with a 7.7 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 1,248,500. It also swept every daypart — finishing first in mornings, middays, afternoons, evenings and weekends.

“Honestly, I can’t imagine any broadcaster not wanting to be on the air during something like this,” midday news anchor Cisco Cotto told me. “It’s an honor to be part of a service being provided to people who are desperate for information.”

Wednesday’s comment of the day: Rick La Fever: Once the FCC allowed the basically “no limit ownership” in a media market, this was bound to happen. Let’s see, every one of those conglomerates has filed for reorganization and a name change at least once in the 15 years, I think? Maybe that’s the real problem, it’s too easy to buy, too easy to kill, and too easy to resurrect! Who loses? Workers and the communities where the operations are located. Who wins? The investors and some of upper management who profit. Going forward from this point all industries are going to need to change. Not everyone can be the Amazon of their space!