Media Bits & Bytes (1/6/15)

WGN revamping weekend sports programming… The dismantling of WGN-AM 720’s “Sports Central” became official over the weekend. The show’s co-hosts Glen Kozlowski and Jim Memolo are also out. In its place will be “The Beat,” a new sports-centric show featuring Connor McKnight, Adam Hoge and Jarrett Payton — former hosts from WGN’s now defunct all sports format “88.7 The Game” on WGWG-LP.

Todd Manley, WGN’s vice president of content and programming, was quoted in Robert Feder’s column yesterday that the station is incorporating “some of the best things of The Game and reinsert them back into the AM.”

I suppose former Game midday host Ben Finfer be damned — who in my book is an obvious rising star in sports talk radio — for having the audacity to smear station management on air upon finding out that the station would cease operations at the end of 2014.

McKnight and Hoge are both fine talents and are suitable for weekend sports talk duty at WGN. Payton, I’m not yet sold on as a radio personality. Perhaps my negative influence towards him stems from his pairing with Harry Teinowitz and Spike Manton (whom I am not particularly fond of) while on The Game.

As far as the best aspects of the Game, what is the measuring stick? It sure as hell can’t be ratings.

WTMJ adds Brian Noonan to weekend lineup… Brian Noonan, a long-time part-time host at WGN-AM, has signed on at WTMJ-AM 620 in Milwaukee. Noonan will hold the fort each Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. while continuing to work his Sunday night show on WGN.

I’m happy for Brian, who orchestrates an overly fun and informative talk show. He really ought to be more than a part-time radio host. Prior to WGN’s fall 2013 schedule revamp, it seemed inevitable that Noonan would move to a more prominent role there, with my hope that he would occupy a midday slot. His stock had risen at the station during his successful pairing with David Kaplan as co-host of “WGN Sports Night.” Such ideas for a Noonan ascension at WGN stalled when he announced that he had accepted a full-time position outside of radio and would only be available to work his Sunday night show.

I still wonder to this day if that was completely his choice or a fall-back plan after being told by management that they had no plans for utilizing him further.

WNUA going big for country… As of noon yesterday, WNUA-FM 99.5 is now a country music station. The iHeartMedia-owned station’s regional Mexican format previously known as “95.5 El Patron” will now be branded as the “Big 95.5.” With the format change, iHeartMedia hopes to draw listeners from CBS Radio’s WUSN-FM/US 99.5 country format.

With WIND-AM/AM 560 The Answer morning host John Howell’s long-term on air direction still unknown, it’s worth wondering if the former US 99 personality may have an offer from the new WNUA/Big 95.5. Howell, whose contract with WIND expired at the end of December, is still on air as of this week. As first reported by Robert Feder, Howell was believed to be considering an offer to join WLS-AM 890 to take over their morning show, though Feder had mentioned Howell was in talks with at least one other Chicago station.

For the time being, I’ll bet on Feder. I believe Howell will ultimately end up on WLS.

Jonathon Brandmeier missing in action… Jonathon Brandmeier, who originally had penciled Jan. 5 for when he’d resume live broadcasting, remains absent. It was announced via his Facebook page on Sunday that he will continue to air “best of” shows via the Brandmeier channel on TuneIn as his crew continues to get things sorted out (finding a new studio, possibly figuring out how to monetize the show, etc.).

The state of Brandmeier’s show has been murky since it was initially reported by Robert Feder that Tribune Media had parted ways with the host (the following day, Brandmeier insisted that aspect of Feder’s report was incorrect). Brandmeier’s show had been a fixture of the WGN.FM stream since fall 2013, and on air at Tribune Media’s WGWG-LP/88.7 The Game since February. With the dismantling of The Game format, it was later believed that Brandmeier might work out a deal to keep his show affiliated with Tribune Media in an online sense (as of the final week of 2013, WGN.FM was re-branded as “WGN Plus”).

Brandmeier has been grooming his listeners that his show would at the very least continue in some capacity via his TuneIn channel. While it now appears he no longer has affiliation with Tribune Media, he will be left to his own devices to broadcast any further live shows unless the two sides can still come to some sort of agreement. His listeners are encouraged to follow his Facebook page or sign up for email updates via his website.

Dan McNeil teases radio comeback for early 2015

Dan McNeil

While wishing his Twitter and Facebook followers a happy New Year, Dan McNeil teased that a radio comeback may happen sooner rather than later.

McNeil elaborated a bit further via Facebook saying “for those of you who’ve said you’ve missed me on the air…thanks for the “love” and there will be news within a month or so.”

With no further details, McNeil’s fans are left to guess where he may resurface and in what capacity. While contract negotiations between McNeil and his former employer WSCR-AM/670 The Score broke off in August, there’s been no reports or other hints of any ill will preventing the two sides from working together again.

If McNeil were to return to The Score, would it be back to full-time or more of a part-time capacity? If full-time, the obvious question is where and at the expense of which current daytime Score show? McNeil’s former Score midday show partner Matt Spiegel is now paired with ex Bear Patrick Mannelly. While ratings have declined since McNeil’s departure, any change to the Score’s morning show (Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley) or afternoon show (Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein) would be quite the surprise (unless of course Boers does decide to retire or some of the other hosts are re-shuffled).

A part-time capacity for McNeil seemingly shouldn’t be out of the question, as McNeil himself has admitted that he discussed such possibilities with Score’s Operations Manager Mitch Rosen. McNeil who appeared to be burnt out near the end of his last Score run might benefit from a lighter workload on weekends or filling in for sick or vacationing Monday-Friday hosts. A part-time role might be enough to satisfy his radio itch without the five day a week grind.

I also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of McNeil doing something completely different, perhaps with something involving his love of music. With plenty of FM rock stations in town, perhaps some sort of role might exist for him somewhere? One possible place might even be Score sister station WXRT-FM 93.1, which is also managed by Rosen.

The idea of McNeil returning to WMVP-AM/ESPN 1000 would be a huge surprise, and in my opinion, unlikely. While I had early hopes that he would surface in afternoons on WGWG-LP/88.7 The Game, that is no longer an option now that the Tribune Media sports/talk format has ceased operations. Another possibility, though seemingly slim, might be for McNeil to surface on WGN-AM 720, which is rumored to be re-tooling its own sports presence (while the weekend “Sports Central” show is believed to be on its way out, some sports programming is still expected to exist, though it would make sense to involve former talent from 88.7 The Game).

Perhaps wishful thinking, I still wish an opportunity would allow McNeil to partner with his former producer Ben Finfer, who is now available following his stint at 88.7 The Game. Finfer is a young and energetic host with strong opinions, which would contrast well with McNeil. I always thought that Finfer, who frequently worked on air along-side McNeil while filling in for Spiegel, made for a better on air partner.

I have previously suggested shortening the shifts of the midday and afternoon shows and scheduling McNeil for an early afternoon slot (in which he would be paired with Finfer). With how budget tight The Score is though, I would guess that such a scenario of an added show, which would include salaries and benefits, would be unlikely.

All we can do now is wait and see if anything materializes in the next month or so. Echoing the words McNeil used to finish his Facebook post, stay tuned.

ESPN debuts new graphics during college bowl games

ESPN is phasing in a new graphics package, first unveiled at the start of the College Bowl season in mid December. The new graphics so far have only surfaced for select Bowl games. For example, today’s ESPN 2 broadcast of the Outback Bowl was still using the older graphics package. Today’s Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl broadcasts had the new graphics.

The new look resemble the new graphics used for “SportsCenter,” which debuted over the summer. Much like the new NBC Sports graphics unveiled today, the new ESPN graphics are bigger, bolder and shinier, obviously meant to take full advantage of large high definition displays.

With new graphics comes a new score bug, which is positioned in the lower-right corner of the screen. The score bug is big, if also not somewhat awkwardly designed. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the new score graphic, but its design allows for some wasted space, specifically to the right of the game’s score digits. The waste of space is relevant because real estate on any screen is limited, meaning graphics should be designed to convey necessary information that is easy to read, while using any allocated space as efficiently as possible.

One component about the new score bug I do like are the pop-up graphics that surface above the score bug to show added information relevant to what’s happening on the screen (i.e. the player who just scored the touchdown). Assuming this graphics package is eventually used for all other live sporting events, it will be interesting to see how it is implemented for other sports, specifically basketball and baseball.

The below screen shots, from both the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl show various uses of the new ESPN graphics package.

New ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl PlayoffNew ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl Playoff

New ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl Playoff

New ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl Playoff

New ESPN graphics - 2015 College Bowl Playoff

NBC Sports unveils new graphics for 2015

With the new year, NBC Sports unveiled an updated graphics package for today’s NHL Winter Classic on NBC and the English Premiere League on NBCSN. While clearly inspired by the previous graphics, the new package is no doubt bigger and bolder with curved sides, fully meant to take full advantage of large high definition television screens.

While the new graphics were used for both the Winter Classic and the English Premiere League, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be used for all live NBC sporting events just yet. It is possible that they will be rolled out in phases, much like how Fox, CBS and ESPN do when rolling out new graphics (ESPN has been rolling out new graphics during select college bowl games). We should have a better idea Saturday night with NBC’s NFL wildcard broadcast. NBC is broadcasting this year’s SuperBowl, so it would make sense to implement the new graphics for the largest televised broadcast of the year (in contrast, Fox Sports implemented new graphics just after broadcasting last year’s SuperBowl).

It’s also worth noting that the NBC Sports graphics have also been used for live events on the Comcast SportsNet regional networks, part of the NBC Sports Group, since 2012. Will these new graphics be rolled out for the CSN networks or will they be exclusively for NBC and NBCSN?

The previous NBC Sports graphics were my all-time favorite. They were well designed for both function and looks. They displayed the necessary information during a live games without ever being distracting or appearing awkward. They were absolutely beautiful as far as color with the right amount of gradient and the added sparkle effect.

As for the new graphics, after one game, I have no complaints about them functionality wise. As for looks, they lose some of the flair the previous set had. I’m not fond of the silver sided curves, while in some cases, some smaller text sloppily positioned. I’m not saying that I don’t like them — they do look very nice and have a nice polish — I just initially don’t like them as much as the previous set. There is a chance that NBC may still tweak these graphics as they get more use, and there is the chance they will grow on me once I get used to them.

You can judge the new graphics for yourself via the below photos.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Open

Open for the NHL Winter Classic on NBC.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Player Name Graphic

New NBC Sports graphics package nameplate for identifying players and stats. Compare to previous graphics.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Score Bug

New NBC Sports score bug during NHL Winter Classic.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Intermission Score Graphic

New NBC Sports graphic showing the score at the first intermission.

NBC Sports Graphics - New 2015 - Studio Hosts

New NBC Sports graphic identifying NHL on NBC studio hosts.

Media Bits & Bytes: 22nd Century Media expanding reach…

Joe Coughlin - 22nd Century Media

22nd Century Media expanding its reach… On Wednesday, 22nd Century Media began a new partnership with WFLD-TV/Fox 32’s “Good Day Chicago” to air a weekly segment spotlighting Chicago’s suburbs. The four to five minute segment will air each  Wednesday at 7:45 a.m. with Joe Coughlin, managing editor of 22nd Century Media’s North Shore publications.

In February, 22nd Century Media is scheduled to launch their 15th community newspaper, the Lake Forest Leader, increasing their Chicagoland publications to a combined circulation of over 170,000.

The continued growth of 22nd Century Media continues to provide a nice contrast to the sagging revenues and moral at both the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times.

“Big” John Howell on the move… Robert Feder reports that “Big” John Howell has departed WIND-AM/560 The Answer, where he’s  co-hosted mornings since 2007. With an added scoop, Feder reveals Howell is close to accepting an offer to host mornings down the dial at WLS-AM 890, a slot currently occupied by Bruce Wolf and Dan Proft.

This should be a good move for WLS, as Howell would bring a more open-minded conservative viewpoint, as opposed to the angrier and more closed-minded Proft and the sheer awkwardness of Wolf. I can easily listen to Howell even when I disagree with him.

WIND is the purgatory of talk radio, so Howell’s move to WLS gives him the opportunity to reach more listeners. He will have his work cut out for him though as ratings at WLS have spiraled downwards to new lows since Proft and Wolf took over mornings in late 2012 — following the departure of the late Don Wade and wife Roma.

Editing with an agenda… Baltimore Fox affiliate WBFF-TV edited a protest video to make it sound as if protesters were saying “kill a cop” when they were in fact saying “we won’t stop ’til killer cops are in cell blocks.”

This would have been inexcusable if this were the result of lazy editing. I have my doubts that it was unintentional, but that is just my opinion.

Mediate has both the original video and the WBFF edited video for comparison.

NFL flex scheduling impact on Chicago viewing… With the NFC North division up for grabs, the Lions and Packers week 17 game has been moved to 3:25 p.m. With the new time, the game will air locally on WFLD-TV/Fox 32 following the Bears and Lions game.

College football bowl tweets… An interesting “did you know” and a “just for laughs.”

Can’t help myself: Sponsored segments during local newscast seems so wrong

Rich DeMuro - Sponsored by AT&T U-Verse TV

Rich DeMuro, host of sponsored AT&T U-Verse TV segment on WGN-TV news, Dec. 24, 2014.

As technology changes the way society consumes its news, media companies and their respective news organizations have had to find unique ways to better maximize revenues. While I understand that, what I saw this morning on the WGN-TV Ch. 9 morning news still came off as just plain wrong in my book.

Near the end of the 8 a.m. hour was a two minute segment sponsored by AT&T U-Verse TV. The piece heavily pushed an AT&T U-Verse Christmas app for kids,  which featured a variety of Christmas-themed bells and whistles, including a Santa Claus tracker. While its presentation was that of a regular newscast, it was completly separate from that of WGN (no direct join-in or reference from WGN anchors).

The beginning of the segment was identified as taking place from the AT&T U-Verse TV studio while a banner flag appeared at the bottom of the screen throughout to inform viewers that what they were viewing was promotional. The segment was hosted by Rich DeMuro, a tech reporter for KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. Upon further research, these segments likely appear on local news stations throughout the country.

While I’m not necessarily lambasting what I saw this morning on WGN, it still came across as tacky. I attempted to talk myself into believing that this somehow is no different than traditional commercials surrounding a normal newscast or advertisements surrounding copy inside newspapers. For whatever reason, I’m having a hard time accepting that.

At the very least, the segment was nowhere near as cringeworthy as the Susanna Negovan segments that have appeared on WFLD-TV/Fox 32’s newscasts…

Worth a read: Details surrounding Gregory/MTP split, influence of Comcast at NBC News

David Gregory

Luke Mullins of the Washingtonian wrote a long-form narrative detailing the inside turmoil that surrounded David Gregory and the circumstances leading up to his dismissal as “Meet the Press” moderator.

While the piece did little detail anything earth shattering new surrounding Gregory’s ousting, it was very interesting to read up on all of the tiny details in their proper context.

What the story does dive into is how Comcast, the parent company of NBC, is more involved in NBC’s division and how that may potentially impact the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner.

My “Meet the Press” viewing naturally increased after new moderator Chuck Todd took the helm. In recent weeks however, my urgency to watch and my initial exciting about Todd cooled off. What started it for me was the high urgency that Todd and the rest of the media gave to the Ebola scare. The Ebola story quickly turned into sensationalism and I wasn’t going to waste my time with that. Asides from a few cosmetic changes to the set and a change of guests, “Meet” quickly went back to being just another weekend show that rehashes the same over-cycled news from the week.

Nevertheless, news itself about the “Meet the Press” institution continues to fascinate me, though I think anyone who considers his or herself a news junkie or even has some interest in journalism will find Mullins’s piece worth reading.

Media Bits & Bytes (12/18/14)

Dave JudayDave Juday anchors final ESPN 1000 SportsCenter… I was surprised and saddened to learn that Dave Juday will no longer be anchoring SportsCenter updates on WMVP-AM/ESPN 1000. Juday announced the news Monday morning on Facebook, thanking current and former station colleagues, while conveying how his time there had meant so much to him.

As a listener of the old “AM 1000” (pre ESPN 1000 days), I remember when Juday was new to the station, anchoring nightly sports updates during “Sports Line,” which was originally hosted by Steve Olken and Dave Wills. In the near 20 years I’ve heard Juday on the air, he’s always come across as a class act who truly loved his job. I wish him the best as he embarks on a new chapter in his life.

You can hear Juday’s final SportsCenter update, which he posted on SoundCloud.

Alex QuigleyAlex Quigley out at WGN… Another Chicago radio veteran took to Facebook on Monday to announce that he too will soon be out of work. Quigley noted that his operations director position at WGN-AM 720 was eliminated. Quigley will continue to co-host his midday show on WGWG-LP/88.7 The Game until the end of the year, when the low-powered station ceases operations.

The news was hard to take in, considering that the job of Jimmy de Castro, WGN’s president, likely goes unscathed, despite being the one who led in the destruction of the station. Seriously, how can de Castro have the gall to inform anyone they will be out of a job when he is the person who most of all deserves to lose his job?

Ed Sherman follows-up with Ben Finfer after epic rant... Ben Finfer, Alex Quigley’s co-host on The Game,  was profiled in a Chicago Tribune piece by Ed Sherman yesterday. It was Finfer’s epic rant against Tribune Media bosses last month that went viral last month after having just found out during the middle of his on air shift of his station’s demise — and that he likely would be out of a job. In the Sherman piece, Finfer stated that while he knew moving to the up-start station was risky, he doesn’t regret it since it did has help solidify his confidence as a daily talk show host. He hopes to find new work as a talk show host, preferably in Chicago, come 2015.

I am a huge fan of Finfer. I had always hoped that he would end up working on air with Dan McNeil, who he produced for at both WSCR-AM/670 The Score and ESPN 1000. I hope that one of the two Chicago sports stations somehow find a spot for him.

ABC 7 News goes primetime… With WGN-TV Ch. 9’s success of expanding its newscasts into uncharted daytime hours, WLS-TV/ABC 7 felt compelled to launch a bold move of their own. Beginning January 12, ABC 7 will produce a new 7 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday newscast that airs on WCIU-TV Ch. 26. It’s an interesting idea that could turn out to be a real win-win for both ABC 7 and WCIU. The primetime newscast will be anchored by Hosea Sanders and Linda Yu, while weather will be given by the newly hired Cheryl Scott.

Roe Conn keeping mostly quiet… When Roe Conn’s website was replaced last month with an “under construction, new website coming soon” message, included was a countdown to the start of December. Since then, the countdown has been at zero with nothing new on the website. Conn has also been largely quiet on social media. My guess is we won’t hear anything new concerning Conn until the start of the new year, at the earliest. By then, I would assume that his previous contract with his former station, WLS-AM 890, will be fully expired (previous reports mentioned his contract with WLS went until year’s end). While recent speculation concerning Conn has been quiet, many expect him to still resurface on WGN-AM 720 sometime in 2015. That still would seem to make the most sense.

Podcast reach versus AM/FM… Seth Stevenson wrote a great piece at Slate about the reach of AM and FM compared to podcasts. Stevenson also explains how streaming or downloading a podcast is a lot like placing a collect call.

Fox NFL theme music during golf… Fox made its PGA broadcast debut on Saturday with the Franklin Templeton Shootout. Voiced by Joe Buck, another familiar Fox component used on the broadcast was its iconic “NFL on Fox” theme music. Not much of a surprise, since Fox has been using their NFL theme music for all sporting broadcasts since 2010, but to use it on a golf broadcast should just further demonstrate the ridiculousness of it.

Ken Fang wrote more about Fox’s golf broadcast debut at Awful Announcing.

John Feinstein/CBS Sports RadioSports Business Daily reported last month that a few changes were coming to CBS Sports Radio, including the ousting of late morning host John Feinstein. While I have not listened to much of Feinstein’s show since debuting almost two years ago, I have heard plenty of his “CBS Sports Minute” commentaries, which frequently air in Chicago on 670 The Score. Even after Feinstein is done with his regular show, he is expected to continue with the Sport Minute commentaries.

I wish CBS would have taken the opposite approach on Feinstein. Allow him to keep the show, which I never listen to, and can him from the “CBS Sports Minute.” Actually, I wish CBS would just discontinue all of the Sports Minute commentaries altogether. Feinstein, a well-respected sports writer known for his long-form story writing, often attempts to take a specific story or angle and crunch it into a one-minute musing. It doesn’t work. Boomer Esiason, another “CBS Sports Minute” contributor, is equally guilty.

The only contributor who pulls off the concept well is Jim Rome. He has a fresh take on a hot topic and is able to construct his words into a powerful meaning in just one minute. It’ an art. Rome does it well. Feinstein and Esiason do not.

States with the most holiday cheer… AccuRadio has compiled a list of states ranked based on the amount of hours each streams holiday music. Illinois ranked 26th, while Washington D.C. was number one. Thanks to Tate Handy for submitting.

Ripped off: Angry ‘Eaten Alive’ viewers should have known better

Viewers of Discovery’s “Eaten Alive” Sunday night voiced their anger on Twitter after the show’s airing. They were upset that despite the name of the show, the conservationist Paul Rosolie aborted his mission before he could actually be eaten alive.

I knew about the program ahead of time, and I chose to DVR it for possibly viewing later on if I had heard that it was worth watching. With the show being two hours, I didn’t expect for the actual encounter to take place until the final 20 minutes (after having sat through the Nik Wallenda tightrope walker “pre-game” hype a month earlier while at the in-laws).

Discovery blatantly was deceptive in titling the program “Eaten Alive.” While I’m not sure when this was taped, Discovery knew Rosolie was not in fact eaten alive by the time they named the show. And while there are plenty of ways Discovery can honestly defend the decision to go with that title, no one should buy it.

And while it was a deceptive measure, I don’t feel bad for those who actually did sit through the entire two hours (the exception would be for animal rights activists or anyone from the scientific community). Anyone who is easily that sucked in by outrageous television hype really ought to know better by now how deceptive network heads are when promoting such type of shows.

On second thought, it takes a special kind of mentality to be easily suckered into such outrageous hype. I guess that explains why enough people fall for it every time.