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Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

Recently in WGN-AM Category

French American talk show host Simon Badinter offered Chicago radio listeners a touch of the exotic. But they never fully embraced what he was offering for the nearly two years he hosted "Simon Rendezvous" on WGN-AM (720).

So Badinter has amicably parted ways with WGN and moved his show to WTKK-FM in Boston. He has only done a couple of Sunday shows there and has yet to sign any long-term contract with the station.

While low ratings is the official reason for Badinter's show being cancelled on WGN-AM, there were other contributing factors.

For a station that prides itself on having a Chicago focus, Badineter brought an unabashedly worldly viewpoint to his Sunday evening "Simon Rendezvous." Though his day job as an advertising executive with the Paris-based Publicis Groupe kept him in Chicago often, he was also a jet-setter, and proudly so. WGN management did not think his show was as Chicago-centric as it needed to be to appeal to WGN listeners.

Then there was the matter of Badinter's style on air. "I was probably too direct, too abrasive, too confrontational, when the station aims for a tone that is more friendly and agreeable," said Badinter, who was born and raised in France, but became an American citizen on Jan. 7.

"I think the people of Chicago don't want to be disturbed, but I gave it my best shot and the topics I talked about were the right ones, insisted Badinter, who nonetheless said -- more than once -- that he was grateful for the opportunity to work at WGN.

In addition, Badinter was stuck in a difficult time slot at WGN where he could get little traction because his show was often preempted by Chicago Blackhawks games.

Badinter's replacement on Sunday evenings won't be decided until the new WGN-AM program director Bill White arrives in mid-February. But sources at the station said it most likely will be a talent that knows Chicago. WGN-AM wants to use weekends to test and develop hosts that could eventually move to more high-profile time slots.

Bill White has been named new program director at Tribune Co-owned WGN-AM (720). He starts Feb. 14. White replaces Kevin Metheny, who abruptly departed the station in November. White most recently was operations director at WBT-AM/FM and WLNK-FM in Charlotte, N.C. WGN general manager Tom Langmyer said of White: "He understands the personal bond that listeners have with WGN and will use his creativity, passion and experience to help make that connection stronger than ever." White was born in Oak Park and graduated with a BA in communications/journalism from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

PatHughes.jpgVeteran Chicago Cubs play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes has inked a new five-year contract extension with Tribune Co.-owned WGN-AM (720), the radio home for Cubs broadcasts. The new deal makes WGN the broadcast home for Hughes through the 2015 Cubs season. WGN-AM is conducting a search for a Cubs color commentator to replace Ron Santo, who died earlier this month. Hughes had shared the broadcast booth with Santo for the past 15 years.

The upcoming 2011 Cubs season will be Hughes' 16th season with WGN radio and the Cubs and his 29th season of broadcasting in Major League Baseball. "Pat's voice on WGN has spoken to the legion of Cubs fans across the Midwest and beyond for many years -- and we're very fortunate to have such a great broadcaster behind the microphone for a long time to come," said Tom Langmyer, WGN-AM president and general manager.

"Chicago is one of the world's great sports cities, Wrigley Field one of the most famous venues, and I'm just happy to be a part of it all," said Hughes. Prior to his career with WGN radio and the Cubs, Hughes was the radio play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers for 12 years. He has been named Illinois Sportscaster of the Year five times and Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year three times by the National Sportscasters Association. He is a finalist for the Illinois Sportscaster of the Year again in 2010.

Daniel Zampillo, an assistant program director at Tribune Co.-owned WGN-AM (720), is leaving the station to become executive producer of sports programming at Sirius/XM satellite radio. Initially, Zampillo will focus on The NFL Talk channel and Mad Dog Radio channel. Zampillo is relocating to New York to take the new job, which he will start on Sept. 10. Zampillo had been with WGN since 2008.

Zampillo is not the first -- and no doubt won't be the last -- staffer to exit WGN as the news/talk radio station works its way through a massive revamp under program director Kevin Metheny, who is seeking to attract more of the younger 25 to 54-year-old demo that advertisers covets.

Zampillo made a veiled reference to his new job with Sirius/XM on a his Facebook page. He has posted an "Empire State of Mind" video with imagery of New York City, along with the comment "My new home . . . I will miss you Chicago, but it's time to go."

Are we ready for some hockey? Only two months to go until the start of pre-season games for the 2010-11 NHL season. And the Chicago Blackhawks announced today that four of the team's seven pre-season games will be televised -- the most in franchise history. In addition, two of the games will air on the team's radio home WGN-AM (720).

Comcast SportsNet Chicago will carry the September 22 game against Tampa Bay and the September 24 contest against the Detroit Red Wings. WGN-Channel 9 will broadcast the team's September 25 matchup against Detroit and the October 3 pre-season finale against the St. Louis Blues. WGN-AM also will broadcast the September 25 and October 3 games.

By now it's no secret TV viewership for the Stanley Cup champion Hawks has increased dramatically in just a year's time. Compared with the 2008-09 regular season, ratings for Hawks games on Comcast SportsNet increased 94 percent last season. CSNC also carried nine of the Stanley Cup playoff games during the first two rounds, reaching approximately 2.4 million Chicago households.

The unending re-arrangement of talent and programs continues at Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720).

With the pending arrival of former Cincinnati talk show host Mike McConnell on Aug. 9, WGN-AM program director Kevin Metheny has finally revealed how he intends to divvy up a huge chunk of WGN morning and afternoon air time between McConnell and John Williams, the only weekday host left standing from the pre-Metheny era at WGN-AM.

McConnell will follow morning drive host Greg Jarrett with a show that runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. That means Jarrett will lose a half hour of air time to the new arrival McConnell. Williams will then host from 12:30 to 3 p.m., paving the way for afternoon drive host Garry Meier. The new program line-up with McConnell and Williams debuts Aug. 9. Jim Gudas will handle news during the McConnell show and Mary Van De Velde will do traffic reports. Steve Bertrand will report news for the Williams show and Leslie Keiling will handle traffic.

Since his arrival at WGN more than 18 months ago, WGN program director Metheny has been relentless and ruthless about shaking up what he perceived to be a tired WGN filled with talent and programming unerringly aimed at an elderly population of little or no interest to advertisers the station now covets. Metheny was notably silent Tuesday about the latest series of on-air changes, leaving WGN general manager Tom Langmyer to comment in a prepared statement. "Mike and John back-to-back make an extraordinarily strong team, and our listeners will be well-served with the best in news information and engaging conversation," said Langmyer.

But Metheny's constant shifting -- and jettisoning -- of talent has infuriated vast numbers of longtime WGN listeners, who have been just as constant in voicing their anger over the upheaval Metheny set in motion

Metheny's bosses, of course, won't mind what he has done at WGN if he is successful in improving the station's ratings in the key 25 to 54 demo. Until the Chicago Cubs are factored out of the WGN Arbitron ratings in October, it will be impossible to say with certainty whether Metheny's game plan is showing any real signs of success.

Host Steve Cochran has left Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720), the station announced late Friday. And mid-morning host John Williams is staying. Cochran's contract expires next week. Cochran will be permanently replaced by former Cincinnati news/talk radio talent Mike McConnell, who is scheduled to arrive at WGN in early August. Until McConnell's debut, a series of guest hosts will fill the 1 p.m to 3 p.m. time slot on WGN that had been occupied by Cochran. Chicago Cubs baseball games also will air on some days.

For now, mid-morning host John Williams is staying on at WGN. But left unclear on Friday was exactly how the station will finally divvy up the 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. time period between Williams and McConnell. "Mike McConnell and John Williams . . .make a great team to take our listeners through the events of the day," said WGN general manager Tom Langmyer in a statement. Langmyer could not be immediately reached for further clarification.

When news of WGN's hiring of McConnell first broke earlier this month, McConnell himself had suggested he would be doing the show on WGN now hosted by John Williams, at least according to one Cincinnati media writer. But WGN management subsequently indicated McConnell couldn't know yet what he would be doing at WGN, because no decision had been made about where McConnell would go in the WGN line-up.

The departure of Cochran is certain to be another jarring adjustment for some longtime WGN listeners who have been upset by the seemingly unending series of talent and programming changes that have hit the station during the past 18 months. Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels and WGN program director Kevin Metheny have made numerous changes to give the station an edgier sound and attract a younger, 25 to 54-year-old demographic.

News/talk WGN-AM (720), much in the news in recent months for the many changes in its talent line-up, took top honors at the 2010 Illinois Broadcasters Association Silver Dome Awards ceremony on Wednesday in downstate Normal. WGN was recognized as Station of the Year.

WGN also earned first place honors in eight categories -- the most of any station. First place finishes included best local radio newscast for news anchor Andrea Darlas; best live coverage of an event for the station's coverage of the Gold Coast high-rise fire; best radio news reporter for Rob Hart; best radio sportscaster for Dave Eanet; best sports play-by-play for Chicago Blackhawks broadcasters John Wiedeman and Troy Murray; best local radio show for "Blackhawks Confidential;" best local public affairs program for Dean Richards' "Breast Cancer 2009," and best locally-produced public service announcement for the WGN Radio Neediest Kids Fund.

Mike-McConnell-preferred-head-shot.jpgIs it a done deal that Mike McConnell will take over the 9 am time slot now occupied by John Williams at WGN-AM (720)?

At least a couple of Chicago media pundits apparently have concluded that is indeed the slot McConnell will fill at WGN-AM, at least based on remarks the Chicago-bound radio host made to Cincinnati Enquirer media writer John Kiesewetter in a column that ran Tuesday. "McConnell debuts 9 a.m. August 9 on WGN-AM he said" is the line in Kiesewetter's column that seemed to answer the question about what role the new host will play at WGN. But McConnell's assertion wasn't in actual quotes in Kiesewetter's column, though it suggests that is what McConnell said to the writer.

In any event, McConnell's remark to the Cincinnati writer was apparently news to WGN-AM general manager Tom Langmyer who, in an e-mail to us Wednesday, had this to say about McConnell's comment and his future role at WGN-AM: "That would be odd coming from him (McConnell), because HE doesn't know what specific slot he'll be working in, because it has yet to be determined." Of course, that said, it's still entirely possible McConnell could show up in the 9 am time slot on WGN in August, which could signal the end of the road for Williams at WGN. But a WGN spokeswoman said again Wednesday that the station "will be making an announcement within the next 2 months" about what McConnell will do at the station.

News/talk WGN-AM (720) is about to add another out-of-towner to its talent roster. Mike McConnell, a well-regarded and top-rated fixture at Cincinnati's news/talk WLW-AM (700) for a quarter century, will join the WGN-AM line-up effective Aug. 9. But the announcement of McConnell's pending arrival at WGN did not include any indication of where he will fit into the station's current program line-up. That part of the equation, the station said, "will be announced in the coming months."

It's possible McDonnell could be headed to the mid-afternoon slot now occupied by Steve Cochran, who was bumped there after Garry Meier was recently moved to the pivotal afternoon drive time slot. Cochran's contract, perhaps not so coincidentally, expires at the end of June. Another possibility for McConnell is the mid-morning slot now fronted by John Williams, who has been doing double duty hosting an afternoon show at Minneapolis station WCC0-AM (830) from Chicago for the past couple months in addition to his WGN gig.

News of McConnell's possible move to WGN first surfaced last week in Cincinnati, where there was speculation by longtime Cincinnati Enquirer media writer John Kiesewetter that WLW was about to lose to WGN-AM not only McConnell, but also Bill Cunningham, another longstanding talk host at the station. A WGN-AM spokeswoman said the station has no plans to announce any other talent additions at this time.

McConnell's move to WGN looks to have been masterminded in part by controversial Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels, who was at WLW-AM in the mid-1980's. Michaels is credited with discovering McConnell and bringing him to WLW. Apparently other WGN-AM executives have now drunk the McConnell kool-aid. "Mike McConnell is arguably the most gifted of all American broadcasters at leveraging the news and events of the day into compelling radio shows," said WGN program director Kevin Metheny. "He's (McConnell) straightforward, and his common sense approach to topics will be a great fit for WGN listeners," added WGN-AM general manager Tom Langmyer.

As for McConnell himself, the new WGN job, whatever it turns out to be, is apparently the realization of a longstanding dream to work in a major market. "I've always enjoyed Chicago and never met anyone who's lived, worked or visited there who has a bad word to say about the people or the city of Chicago," said McConnell.

The addition of McConnell to the WGN talent roster is but the latest development in an 18-month-long upheaval at WGN that has seen a near total re-think of the talent and programming line-up at the station. It's all part of Metheny's and Michaels' grand plan to shake up the station and try to attract a younger, 25-to-54-year-old demo. The moves by station management have angered many long-time listeners, but the outcries have apparently not dampened management's resolve to carry out its plan.



About the blogger

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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