Finally CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 is adding to its depleted pool of local news anchors. Kate Sullivan, 33, will join the station in early September as an anchor whose duties are yet to be determined. The likely betting is that she will work with current solo anchor Rob Johnson fronting WBBM's flagship 10 p.m. weekday news report. Most recently, Sullivan was a morning news anchor at WCBS-Channel 2 in New York. WBBM news director Jeff Kiernan declined comment about Sullivan's hiring.
If nothing else, Sullivan will help take some of the considerable load off of solo anchor Johnson's shoulders. But she is going to be hard-pressed to dispel the impression that she is yet another outsider brought in to help improve the station's disappointing news ratings. In the most recent Nielsen June ratings report, WBBM's flagship 10 p.m. had slipped into fourth place behind top-ranked WLS-Channel 7, second-place WMAQ-Channel 5 and third-ranked WGN-Channel 9. WBBM had risen as high as second-place at 10 p.m., before it started to slip back in the pack.
One source familiar with developments said Kiernan chose Sullivan "because she has proven she can move the ratings needle in every job she's had." Before moving to WCBS in New York, Sullivan had worked as an anchor and reporter in only much smaller markets, including South Bend, Ind., Providence, R.I., and Little Rock, Ark.
Sullivan fills a gaping hole created last spring when WBBM management opted not to renew the contract of ex-anchor Anne State, who was brought to WBBM from the west coast by former WBBM general manager Joe Ahern. Though she was invariably a charming and cheerful presence in front of the camera, State was often faulted by WBBM news insiders for her repeated slips on air that suggested she did not know the city especially well. Before deciding not to renew her contract, Kiernan demoted State to reporter to help her gain more familiarity with Chicago.
Like State before her, Sullivan, who bears more than a passing resemblance to politician Sarah Palin, has never worked in Chicago before, but she did attend nearby University of Notre Dame. It remains to be seen whether Sullivan will prove just another attractive news reader, or a genuine talent that can help WBBM distinguish its news operation from the competition.
Since his arrival here 18 months ago, WBBM news director Kiernan has been intently focused on developing a local news product with content sufficiently distinctive to draw viewers away from competing newscasts. That effort, however, has yet to catapult WBBM to the top of the ratings heap.
Meanwhile, a WBBM spokeswoman said the station's rumored interest in hiring legendary news anchor duo Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson to handle early news anchor chores is still just speculation at this time. Which probably means such an option remains a distinct possibility.