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Will Warner Saunders be back?

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Will he or won't he? That's a big unanswered question involving news anchor Warner Saunders and NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5. Saunders is slated to retire from a 28-year run at WMAQ at the end of May, but complications from a recent illness have made it unclear whether Saunders will in fact be back in person to sign off for the last time as the station's 10 p.m. news co-anchor. "We just don't know yet," said a WMAQ spokeswoman, though at least one source indicated that Saunders' belongings in his office at WMAQ already have been packed up. In the meantime, Bob Sirott has been filling in for the ailing Saunders on many nights at 10 p.m. Sirott is believed to be the co-anchor heir apparent at 10 p.m., but station management has not made that official yet either.

X00096_7.JPGThe 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.

X00096_9.JPG.jpgWarner Saunders, the co-anchor of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 flagship 10 p.m. newscast, has been selected as one of the Chicago Defender newspaper's "Men of Excellence." The honorific acknowledges and celebrates African-American men who personify the qualities of respect, responsibility, passion, brotherhood and leadership.

Saunders anchors WMAQ's 10 p.m. newscast with Allison Rosati, and they are the longest-running 10 p.m. news team in Chicago. Saunders is expected to step down from his anchoring duties at WMAQ later this year. In his 30-year career, Saunders has won more than 20 Emmy Awards for his work in news, sports, documentaries, talk shows and community town meetings. A reception is slated for the Hotel Allegro in Chicago, on Jan. 15, to honor the Defender's 2nd annual group of Men of Excellence.

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This month longtime Chicago broadcasting talent Bob Sirott ups his news anchor profile at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 by starting to co-front the weekday 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts. He's believed to be the co-anchor heir apparent to Warner Saunders on Channel 5's 10 p.m. news. As Sirott moves ever closer to grabbing the holy grail in local news, we sound him out on his career and his role at WMAQ.

Q. You're raising your news anchor profile at WMAQ. What, in your opinion, separates a good news anchor from a bad one?

A. The anchors I've admired have been good writers. They don't just announce the news; they also understand it and deliver it in a way that's clear, concise and credible. However, if you're on TV every day, you can't hide your true personality. You have to be yourself and hope people like you.

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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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