Robservations: Melissa McGurren sues The Mix; fourth woman targets Eric Ferguson; Rick Party joins 104.3 JAMS

Eric Ferguson

Robservations on the media beat:

Melissa McGurren

As allegations of misconduct continue to pile up against Radio Hall of Famer Eric Ferguson, his bosses show no sign of wavering in support of their beleaguered morning personality. While Ferguson remains off the air at least through the end of October from the WTMX 101.9-FM show that bears his name, former co-host Melissa McGurren filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Hubbard Radio Chicago Thursday for defending Ferguson against her earlier claim that he was a “serial abuser of women” who subjected her to an “unbearable hostile work environment.” Jeff England, vice president and market manager of Hubbard Radio Chicago, declined to comment on the suit, but earlier the company said it had “thoroughly investigated” McGurren’s charges in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint and declared: “We do not agree with Melissa’s characterization of events.” The lawsuit claims Hubbard’s investigation “was never conducted or, at a minimum, was a sham investigation.” McGurren, who left The Mix after 22 years in 2020, now co-hosts mornings on Audacy country WUSN 99.5-FM.

Jennifer Ashrafi

A fourth voice added to the chorus of accusers against Ferguson was Jennifer Ashrafi, former afternoon co-host and traffic reporter on The Mix. She was known on the air as Jennifer Roberts. In a filing attached to McGurren’s lawsuit Thursday, Ashrafi called Ferguson “rude and dismissive to women” and said he was known to engage in abusive behavior. “It is humiliating to watch and dehumanizing to know that nothing can be done because the management at The Mix approved Ferguson’s misconduct by their silence in not reprimanding him,” she claimed in the filing. Ashrafi, who did not work directly with Ferguson at The Mix, left the station after 16 years in 2020 to accept a new job in corporate communications. “A lot of people get prematurely put ‘on the beach’ in this business and I’m thrilled that I’m making my exit completely on my terms,” she tweeted at the time.

Rick Party

Rick Party, who once drew top ratings in afternoons at iHeartMedia hip-hop WGCI 107.5-FM and Top 40 WKSC 103.5-FM, is returning to the airwaves here. Starting Monday, Party’s new syndicated show will air from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays on Audacy classic hip-hop WBMX 104.3-FM. “I was born and raised in Chicago, so it’s an absolute dream come true to relaunch my own nationally syndicated show right from my hometown on 104.3 JAMS,” he said. Brand manager Todd Cavanah said: “Rick Party is more than just an urban personality. He’s a mass appeal radio host for those who grew up on Top 40 radio, too. We need personalities that can energetically light up our airwaves as well as reach as broad an audience as possible, and that’s Rick Party all day long.” The station’s midday slot has been vacant since Sean “Sonic” Leckie moved to afternoons.

WRLL

Culminating Hispanic Heritage Month Chicago-based Midway Broadcasting has announced the expansion of its Spanish-language format on WRLL 1450-AM to 24 hours a day, starting Monday. The station previously shared its frequency with WCEV a time-brokered ethnic and foreign-language outlet licensed to west suburban Cicero. After WCEV became dormant and its license was cancelled, WRLL took over the frequency full time. “We are excited to expand our presence in the growing Latino community here in our hometown of Chicago,” Melody Spann Cooper, chair and CEO of Midway Broadcasting, said in a statement. “Our goal is to empower the Latino community through conversations and exchange of ideas regarding topics relevant to the community.” Midway also operates Black-oriented news/talk WVON 1690-AM.

Mitch Pugh

A devastating takedown of Alden Global Capital in The Atlantic Thursday exposed the New York-based hedge fund and new owner of Tribune Publishing for gutting newsrooms and undermining journalism. (Here is the link.) The must-read piece by McKay Coppins prompted Mitch Pugh, the new executive editor of the Chicago Tribune, to respond with a rally-the-troops memo to his staff. “I know these articles are discouraging,” Pugh wrote in an internal email. “That discouragement is amplified by the attention they receive from our peers on social media. And the too frequent lack of acknowledgment for the hard work you all continue to do.”

Here is the text of Pugh’s email:

So we’ve all read The Atlantic story by now. If you haven’t, I wouldn’t worry about it. There’s nothing terribly surprising or new in the piece.

I do want to take the opportunity to echo some of what I saw from Rex, Ray, Michael and others on Twitter today. The talent in our room remains immense. The dedication to our craft and our readers is unmatched. The quality of the work we do each day is impressive by any measure.

I know these articles are discouraging. That discouragement is amplified by the attention they receive from our peers on social media. And the too frequent lack of acknowledgment for the hard work you all continue to do.

I’ve not been here long. Thanks to this persistent pandemic, I’ve only been fortunate though to meet a few of you in person. But it doesn’t take long to see the true character of the Chicago Tribune. It’s found in the devotion you all have to telling the stories that matter to Chicago, Illinois and the Midwest. Quite frankly, I’m in awe of all of you. You’ve been to hell and back and you’ve signed up for more.

Thank you.

You don’t hear that enough. This work is vital. Chicago is incredibly lucky to have you on watch.

We have work to do. No question. We need to pick up some pieces, rearrange some others. Regain some trust. One step in front of the other. It will be hard work but we don’t know any other kind.

This newsroom is stronger than anyone in the media or Twittersphere can possibly understand. I’m proud to work alongside you. I’m excited to see the great things you will do in the months and years to come. They’re going to have to write articles about that, too.

Thank you again. Now let’s go kick some ass.

Thursday’s comment of the day: Thomas L. Weinberg: The Reader story is wonderful journalism. Like the best Reader stories, it’s hard to read it all in one sitting. Thanks for turning us on to it and to the Reader and Mark Jacobs for doing it.