By most of the accounts I’ve heard, I reckon that Jimmy de Castro, president and general manager of Tribune Media’s WGN-AM 720 and WGWG-LP /87.7 The Game, is one of the better people in radio to work for. I would dare guess that with what was set to transpire today, he probably went the last few nights without much sleep.
That said, I can’t help but think that he deserves to be fired. I understand that calling for someone might be rather extreme, but under these circumstances, I don’t see how he deserves to keep his job.
News that Chicago’s third all-sports station, The Game, will be dismantled at the end of the year, in-conjunction with the news that personalities Jonathan Brandmeier and Garry Meier are also out, should not have been much of a surprise. And yet, the mid-afternoon breaking news by Robert Feder certainly pulled the rug from beneath my feet, as well as staffers at the all-sports station.
With The Game’s literal lack of ratings being common knowledge, lumped with the apparent high number of people on air and behind the scenes working there, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that the station was in the red. Commonsense would suggest that The Game would naturally have a short shelf life.
On the contrary, The Game was either orchestrated or at the very least approved by de Castro, the messiah that was going to save WGN. Commonsense aside, I held belief that de Castro must know what he’s doing and that he had a long-term plan. Surely, such a start-up venture will be given an appropriate amount of time to be nurtured and grow. Then, the Garry Meier/WGN.FM fiasco happened, the addition of more junk programing on WGN.FM happened, The Game’s rating’s needle never moved while WGN-AM’s ratings needle moved downwards.
The pedestal that de Castro was previously hoisted onto had tumbled.
I feel bad for The Game’s staffers who will be losing their jobs at the end of the year. I feel bad for someone like Ben Finer, who became aware of his station’s fate while his show was on the air.
From a personal standpoint, I’m extremely angry about the Garry Meier (pictured, right) situation. While we don’t know the full story, there should be zero doubt that his initial removal from the AM 720 airwaves and to the WGN.FM online-only stream in May was political. Management attempted to explain Meier’s re-assignment by declaring that online streaming is the future of radio and that WGN needs a radio heavyweight like Meier to help anchor such a new and bold venture.
Some bold venture that turned out to be. Not only did Meier’s WGN.FM show receive zero promotion on AM 720, the company cancelled already scheduled remotes that he was supposed to be part of and phased out his segments with WGN-TV Ch. 9’s Tom Skilling amongst other acts that suggested he had descended far below second-class there.
Asides from anger about the way Garry Meier has been screwed by Jimmy de Castro, I am just beyond bummed out. This really does suck.
How does Jimmy de Castro explain the cancellation of Meier’s online-only show while Meier will continue to be the highest paid talent through October, 2015? If Meier’s treatment wasn’t political, his online show could rightfully continue even with the dismantling of the “WGN.FM” brand. There’s no reason Meier can’t be a featured online show and podcasted on WGN’s main website, while branding it as an added supplement to everything else that’s offered on AM 720. Such a novel idea that de Castro told the Chicago Tribune’s Robert Channick that that’s what he wants to do in 2015, while offering no explanation as to why that couldn’t be implemented by continuing to air Meier’s online show (who again, will remain their highest paid talent through October, 2015).
As for Brandmeier, he has not been under contract so the company loses nothing by cutting him lose. By saving the expenses of operating Brandmeier’s show as well as The Game, that money just might offset the remaining money owed to Meier until the expiration of his contract.
Amidst today’s news, there are still some lingering questions, mixed in with some other random thoughts or rhetorical questions I have.
- Brandmeier via social media has stated he will be on the air tomorrow. Will tomorrow be his last day or will he be allowed to continue for a while longer or up through the end of the year?
- While The Game’s “Kaplan & Haugh” show will likely continue to operate as a television show on Comcast SportsNet, how does today’s news affect Kaplan’s overall employment with Tribune Media, who has been a long-time WGN guy?
- As the winter holidays got closer, I was hoping that sports radio heavyweight Dan McNeil may resurface to fill-in on a few shows. While I suppose that could still happen, what would be the point?
- I don’t have much of a problem with how Alex Quigley and Ben Finfer ripped their bosses on the air for finding out the fate of the station via Robert Feder as opposed from their actual bosses. I don’t like the idea of them or update anchor Julie DiCaro ripping Feder for reporting the news though. He got the scoop and he went with it. That’s the media business for you, as cruel as that is.
- Speaking of Quigley, he is also the operations director at WGN and The Game. The way he has been talking on social media, you’d think he too will be out of work. Will he still be the operations director at WGN come January 2015 or will he too be completely out the door?
It bears repeating how bad I do feel for the folks at The Game. I didn’t listen to it a whole lot, so it would be inappropriate for me to fully judge it’s overall quality as a sports station. That said, I was a fan of the “Quiqs & Finfer” show, as well as the “Night Game.” There are a lot of talented voices there and I do hope they get new opportunities elsewhere soon.
I must also give high kudos to Larz at Chicagoland Radio & Media. I absolutely loved his full narration of what transpired today. I especially loved his breakdown of questionable decisions and the ramifications that have taken place since de Castro’s been at WGN. Larz concluded his report by calling into question de Castro’s long-standing reputation.
Despite the mismanagement led by de Castro, I can’t dismiss the simple fact that whether one likes or dislikes today’s WGN, that station is still primarily an all-live and all-local station. What other talk radio station in the country can claim that? Since de Castro’s been at WGN, he’s been allowed to spend a lot of money in hopes of proving that live and local talk radio still has some life yet. I still think it does. I only wish that the money was spent by someone else, with more smarts and less ego (Tom Langmyer!). It’s such a shame that such a golden opportunity was wasted by de Castro.
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