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Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9 on Wednesday announced a major expansion of its newscasts. Starting Oct.5, the "WGN Midday News" will add 30 minutes and air from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with Allison Payne and Steve Sanders fronting the expanded newscast. The new assignment reunites Payne and Sanders, who previously anchored together on WGN's 9 p.m. newscast. WGN's early evening news also will expand from 30 minutes to an hour and air 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Mark Suppelsa and Lourdes Duarte will co-anchor the early evening newscast. WGN's flagship hour-long "News at Nine" will continue as is, with Micah Materre and Suppelsa as co-anchors.

PX00014_7.JPGFor those who watch Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9 newscasts, there's still no word on when -- or if -- the recuperating Allison Payne will return to the station's flagship hour-long 9 p.m. newscast alongside co-anchor Mark Suppelsa. According to WGN News Director Greg Caputo, Payne is still recuperating from her mini-strokes, and there's "no specific timetable" for when her recuperation will be complete. In the meantime, Payne continues to co-anchor the station's half-hour early newscast, a role she has had since January.

As for the other big pending development at WGN -- namely the bringing together of WGN's unionized staff with the non-union employees of sister station CLTV -- that has apparently been pushed back to the fall, while the WGN office space is reconfigured to better accommodate both staffs. An inside source at WGN tells us the CLTV on-air staff have been asking a lot of questions about whether they'll be paid union minimums in line with their WGN brethren. And some WGN talent, we're told, are wondering whether they'll become participants -- willingly or unwillingly -- in some sort of 24/7 news reporting cycle. All will be revealed, for better or worse, sometime in the fall when Caputo said "we hope to have the CLTV folks over and up and running."

payne.jpg Longtime news anchor Allison Payne plans to return to Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9 on Monday, after having been off the air for several months.

Per WGN management, Payne had spent her time away from the station rehabilitating from a series of mini-strokes. But her rehabilitation apparently is not complete yet. Payne reportedly will focus only on anchoring WGN's early newscast at 5:30 p.m., so she can continue with her rehabilitation.

Payne was for many years a fixture on the station's flagship 9 p.m. weekday newscast.

It wasn't immediately clear if, or when, she might return to WGN's 9 p.m. news report, which now includes Mark Suppelsa as a co-anchor.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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