Robservations on the media beat:
Every startup has growing pains, but “News Nation” may be having more than its share. Just 10 days after the launch of the Chicago-based three-hour primetime national newscast on WGN America, Nexstar Media Group is facing trouble on two fronts. Starting with less than stellar ratings for its opening night, the Nielsen numbers have been falling off in the second and third hours of the newscast. (Most nights are averaging less than 100,000 viewers nationwide.) In addition, staffers at Nexstar stations — including WGN-Channel 9 here — are said to be apoplectic over the decision by CNN to terminate its video sharing agreement with the company’s 197 affiliates. As first reported by FTVLive.com, the move came in retaliation for a Nexstar corporate edict that its local stations withhold breaking news video from competing networks so “News Nation” can have it first. “This was screwed up from the beginning and now we’re paying for it,” one Nexstar station news director told the industry website. A company spokesman declined to comment.
When iHeartMedia Chicago flipped country station WEBG 95.5-FM to “Rock 95 Five” last week, more than a few listeners wondered whether it would bring back the call letters of legendary hard rocker WMET (as the frequency was known from 1976 to 1986). But that is not to be. Starting Monday, its station identification will switch to WCHI. The FCC approved the call letter change this week. Chicago radio fans will recall the station also was known as WDHF, WNUA and WRXR over the years.
Perhaps hoping to steal some thunder from iHeartMedia’s new rocker, Cumulus Media alternative rock WKQX 101.1-FM launched an ambitious monthlong series this week on “The History of Alternative.” Airing from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays through October 9, the special promises to take fans “through an epic anthology of the music, memories and events that have defined alternative,” including a list of the top moments in the genre’s history. Hosted by midday jock Lauren O’Neal and afternoon jock Tim Virgin, the series was produced by 101 WKQX’s Troy Hanson, Jon Manley and James vanOsdol.
Ally Marotti, a business reporter for the Chicago Tribune covering technology and the cannabis industry, is joining Crain’s Chicago Business, where she will report on consumer products, food, restaurants, retail, media and advertising. It’s a return to the weekly business publication and digital site for Marotti, who served as a general assignment reporting fellow in 2015. “Those of us who worked with Ally before will attest that she’s a tough reporter willing to do whatever it takes to get the story,” said Crain’s editor Ann Dwyer. “She’s also a team player with a big heart and great sense of humor.” A native of Bellefontaine, Ohio, and graduate of The Ohio State University, Marotti previously worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Denver Post.
Thelma Vickroy, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and producer/director of non-fiction television, has been named chair of the department of cinema and television arts at Columbia College Chicago. She previously chaired the department of cinema and television arts at California State University Northridge in Los Angeles. “I believe that it is necessary in an educational environment for everybody to get an opportunity for their stories to be heard,” Vickroy said in a statement. At Columbia she replaces Eric Scholl, who served as interim chair.
Another casualty of last week’s shakeup at WGN 720-AM was Matt Bubala, who’d hosted late Friday nights/early Saturday mornings for seven years. But the door is open to return as a fill-in host at the Nexstar Media Group news/talk station. “Management is trying to navigate very difficult economic times in the media-battered pandemic world to keep giving you the best talk and information they can,” he told Facebook fans. “WGN has been around almost 100 years now and the station sounds really damn good. I’ve been very lucky to be part of it for the last 23 years and will still be your radio companion on the other side of the mic whenever they need me.” Bubala, who grew up in Munster, Indiana, worked as a producer at KABC/KMPC in Los Angeles and WKQI in Detroit before joining WGN in 1997.
“The Mike Nowak Show” signed off Sunday after more than 20 years on Chicago radio — including the last four on north suburban Evanston Broadcasting talk station WCGO 1590-AM/95.9-FM and SmartTalk Radio Network. Billed as “Chicago’s only long-form, deep-green gardening and environment radio program,” it’s co-hosted by Peggy Malecki, publisher of Natural Awakenings Chicago magazine. Nowak told fans he’s moving the show exclusively online to mikenowak.net. No word yet on a replacement from 9 to 11 a.m. Sundays on WCGO.
Wednesday’s comment of the day: Sari Staver: Windy City Times is the gold standard nationally for LGBT journalism. I’m a queer reporter, former Chicagoan who has freelanced for a handful of LGBT publications, including an occasional story in WCT. In my decades as a reporter for a variety of newspapers and magazines, I’ve met hundreds of journalists in press rooms around the world. Nobody comes close to Tracy Baim, whose passion, enthusiasm, talent and energy have been a gift to Chicagoans, now continuing as publisher of the Reader. Sad to see WCT shrinking, but the market speaks. Even before COVID, local and specialized papers took a huge hit in advertising, their main source of revenue. TOTALLY UNRELATED TO THE QUALITY OF THE NEWSPAPER. Advertising dollars now go to Google and Facebook. Unlike the arts (which have their own problems), few sponsors have stepped forward to support journalism. Financial support, including subscriptions and donations, is a great investment in the quality of life in the city. Good luck to the excellent staffers at Windy City Times as their presses shut down.