Robservations: New WBEZ content chief wins Sulzberger Fellowship

Tracy Brown

Robservations on the media beat:

Tracy Brown, who joined WBEZ 91.5-FM as managing editor in 2019 and was promoted to chief content officer of the Chicago Public Media news/talk station in April, has been named a 2021 Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program Fellow at Columbia University in New York. Endowed by the Sulzberger family to honor the late New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger, the program is designed to train leaders of news organizations and media start-ups to innovate and solve business challenges. After two weeks at Columbia Journalism School fellows spend the next 18 weeks back at their organizations before returning for a final week at Columbia. Brown’s project will be to accelerate a strategic plan “to grow [a] younger and more diverse audience with new editorial products.”

Charmaine Runes

Charmaine Runes, director of fact-checking at South Side Weekly and former research analyst at The Urban Institute, has joined WBEZ as a data/visuals reporter. A graduate of Macalester College, Runes recently completed a computational analysis and public policy master’s program at the University of Chicago. Also at WBEZ, Jason Marck has been promoted to senior producer of the “Curious City” series. A University of Kansas graduate who joined WBEZ in 2004, Marck will continue to host the Friday night music show “Radio Z.”

Alpha Media

Alpha Media, parent company of eight FM and three AM radio stations in the Chicago suburban area (and more than 200 stations nationwide), has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after a financial restructuring. “Today Alpha Media begins its next chapter, with an improved financial foundation, new capital and enhanced competitive positioning,” Bob Proffitt, chairman and CEO of the Portland, Oregon-based company, said in a statement. “We have greater financial resources and flexibility, and we will continue to invest in new digital capabilities to better serve our advertisers and communities across our local markets.”

Heidi Stevens

Good news for fans of Heidi Stevens: The former Chicago Tribune columnist who stepped down last month after taking a buyout, will soon be back in the paper. Stevens confirmed Monday that she will write a weekly column for Tribune Content Agency, the syndication unit of Tribune Publishing. “My columns should be in the Sunday Tribune again starting August 1,” she wrote on social media. Stevens also announced her hiring as creative director for Parent Nation, a parenting initiative launched by Dana Suskind, co-founder of the University of Chicago’s TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health. “It’s exciting, important work, and I’m honored to be involved,” Stevens added.

Aisha Jefferson

Aisha Jefferson, part-time digital content producer at WBBM 780-AM/WCFS 105.9-FM, has been promoted to full-time producer at the Audacy all-news combo. A Chicago native and graduate of Northern Illinois University and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Jefferson joined WBBM Newsradio in 2019 after serving as editor of Xfinity TV Black Entertainment for Comcast Interactive Media. “Aisha has been with us for a couple years and has patiently awaited this well-deserved opportunity,” Ron Gleason, brand manager of WBBM Newsradio, wrote in an email to staffers.

Roger Badesch

Longtime Chicago radio newsman Roger Badesch has just released the audio-book version of his acclaimed 2020 memoir, The Unplanned Life: The Journey of Roger Badesch, on Audible. He told Eckhartz Press publisher Rick Kampfer he was inspired to write the book by a certain host on Nexstar Media news/talk WGN 720-AM, where Badesch anchors weekend newscasts. “Rick Kogan was intrigued by my stories during his WGN Radio program and encouraged me, my wife said I should do it, and I had lots of retirement time on my hands,” Badesch said.

It was a road trip to remember Monday for the Chicago Cubs broadcast team on Audacy sports/talk WSCR 670-AM. There were Pat Hughes, Ron Coomer and Zach Zaidman driving to St. Louis together for the four-game series against the Cardinals. (Major League Baseball won’t allow broadcasters to travel on the team plane until Cubs players and other on-field personnel reach the 85 percent vaccination threshold. Commercial flights are considered risky because they’re subject to weather and mechanical delays.) Hughes, Coomer and Zaidman will return in the wee hours Friday morning in time for the day game here against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Zach Zaidman, Ron Coomer and Pat Hughes

Monday’s comment of the day: Mark Zegan: It’s not hard to believe a major broadcast group can be this stupid to keep throwing money down a rat hole for programming in search of an audience. More talk, less news. Wasn’t the NEWS the supposed alternative to the network talk?