The ax has fallen on four employees in NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5's research and promotions department and its sales department, sources confirm. These are the first of what are believed to be more cuts to come in the station's news operation, where everyone is in the process of being "rehired" and trained to do more than one job. WMAQ honcho Larry Wert maintains he has yet to determine how much the news department operation will shrink, but some worried staffers believe the reductions will be significant.
Meanwhile, a WMAQ spokeswoman said the station has gotten no word from its about-to-retire news anchor Warner Saunders about when he plans to return to the 10 p.m. newscast. Saunders has been on medical leave since early March, and was supposed to return in mid-April and work through the end of May, when he is slated to officially retire from the station. Bob Sirott, who is supposed to formally replace Saunders as a 10 p.m. news anchor in June, has been filling in much of the time since the ailing anchor has been on leave.