Media Bits & Bytes (5/30/13)

– In my “blog reserves” was an entry entitled “Memo to Mary Frances Bragiel: Spit the marbles out of your mouth.” Even though I wrote the entry some time ago, I never got around to posting it, primarily because I thought the title was a bit mean. Now that Bragiel has left WLS-AM 890, it’s a moot point. The other reason I withheld from posting that blog was because I wasn’t sure how much at fault she was.

The time WLS allows for news, traffic and weather is ridiculously short these days. That might explain why Braigel has sounded absolutely terrible since joining WLS (I don’t remember hearing her on WBBM-AM 780, so I can’t comment about her performance there). Whenever she delivered a newscast or recited the traffic and weather, I could barely make out what she was saying since she talked so fast. When uttering WLS, it sounded more like a slurred “dub-L-S!”

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed afternoon traffic anchor Christina Filiaggi descending into Braigel-level bad. I don’t ever recall hearing Jim Johnson, John Dempsey or Wendy Snyder ever sounding that bad. Somehow, they pull it off.

– In April, WMVP-AM/ESPN 1000 made some changes to their daily schedule, prompting the station to market itself as the “all-new” ESPN 1000. Asides from the one hour addition from Colin Cowherd’s syndicated ESPN Radio show, all the station did was switch hosts in their midday and afternoon slots (Carmen DeFalco and John Jurkovic to middays, Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman to afternoons). The “all-new” wore off about a week after the switch. Now, almost two months later, it just sounds silly.

– A friend of mine commented on Facebook yesterday that CLTV’s live storm coverage was nowhere to be found on Tuesday night when a tornado warning was issued around the Joliet/New Lenox area. Meanwhile, my Weather Bug Elite app on my Android phone was also a failure, issuing no alert for the tornado warning (I was in the area where the warning was issued!). As the sirens were going off, I downloaded the AccuWeather and Weather Channel apps to see if they issued any alert for the tornado warning. They did, while Weather Bug was more than happy to alert me about a flash flood warning and a severe thunderstorm warning.

– During the chaos of the storm, I checked Facebook  to see if any of my local friends had any information to share. As usual, the news feed posts were all out of order, even though I have repeatedly changed the settings so that posts appear in chronological order (I hate how Facebook constantly changes the setting so what they deem as most important appears first… and usually out of order). When I went on Twitter and searched “New Lenox,” I saw an abundance of tweets from people in the area –even though most of the tweets were from people making light of the situation, I at least was able to quickly connect with others in the area.

If there were to have been an actual tornado touchdown nearby, I would likely have known about it because of Twitter. Twitter’s search and live results is simply awesome. I find it unfathomable that after all this time, Facebook is still so behind on this.

Earth to Facebook… while the rest of the world uses Twitter during a time of crisis or while watching their favorite television show or sporting event live, you are becoming more irrelevant! Talk about an abysmal dropping of the ball.

– Thumbs down to Google for recent “upgrades” to Google Talk, now known as Google Hangouts. Whether using Gmail via a web browser or the new Hangouts app on either my Razr Maxx phone or my Galaxy Tablet, who at Google thought it was a good idea to remove the indicators letting me know if a contact is online, offline or inactive? The app, especially on my phone, is super sluggish, making it almost useless. For now, I’ll downgrade to the old Google Talk app.

– I’ve noticed a huge uptick in unique hits on the site in recent days. According to my site stats, most of the visits are from people Googling why Susan Carlson is no longer on the WBBM-TV/CBS 2 morning news. While CBS 2’s morning news ratings were near last place, there seems to be a lot of viewers unhappy with the situation.

Score Shuffle: Barry Rozner and Matt Spiegel should have a permanent show on WSCR

One of my favorite WSCR-AM/670 The Score hosts is someone who isn’t even with the station full-time. Barry Rozner, columnist at the Daily Herald, co-hosts “Hit & Run” each Sunday and regularly fills in for various shows on the Score. Rozner is highly intelligent and able to convey his vast amount of insight and opinions without the added pompousness or hostility commonplace in talk radio these days.

While Rozner has been paired with several Score hosts, my favorite pairing is when he’s with Matt Spiegel. Together, the two hosted “Hit & Run” each Sunday morning the last several years during baseball season. Unfortunately, Spiegel opted not to host the Sunday morning show this season due to increased family obligations (Spiegel’s day job is co-hosting the Score’s midday show with Dan McNeil).

I was reminded how good Rozner and Spiegel sound together when the two worked a Memorial Day shift earlier this week (Rozner was filling in for McNeil). Their individual personalities differ enough to separate them, but not enough to where they awkwardly clash. Their pairing blends the prim and proper Rozner with the more loose-fitting Spiegel. It’s almost like a check-and-balance system. It just works.

Ideally, the two would have a regular weekday show on the Score — assuming Rozner is able to or would want to add full-time radio to his plate.

Just for fun, below is the lineup I would like to see implemented at the Score:

  • 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. –  Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley
  • 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. –  Barry Rozner and Matt Spiegel
  • 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. –  Dan McNeil (more on this further below)
  • 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. –  Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein

The current pairing of McNeil and Spiegel is not bad, but it isn’t my favorite. Simply put, the two are just too much alike — in personality and delivery. Ideally, McNeil would be paired with someone with a bit more contrast.

If the Score were to implement a Rozner and Spiegel show, an alternative partner for McNeil might be Ben Finfer, who currently is the show’s producer and a regular fill-in host for Spiegel. Perhaps, another possibility may be John Jurkovic — current co-host of WMVP-AM/ESPN 1000’s midday show and former afternoon co-host with McNeil — whose contract at his current station is believed to be expiring this summer.

The rest of my proposed line-up shuffle trims an hour from each existing WSCR show, while also pushing the start of McNeil’s show to 11 a.m., instead of his current 9 a.m start. I still can’t get used to listening to Mac in mid-mornings, after many years of listening to him in afternoons.

From a business perspective, there is hardly any reason for the Score to consider amending their current lineup — ratings wise, the station is dominating against ESPN 1000. I get that the bottom line is the main consideration for programming, but in this case, I wish Mitch Rosen, the Score’s program director, could make a proactive move for the sake of enhancing the station’s lineup.

It’s a case of taking something that is already good, and making it better. Such a concept is rarely executed in radio these days. Too many program directors and corporate owners are content at playing it safe.

What’s Old is New: Jimmy de Castro hire puts WGN through the ‘Loop’

The Tribune Company dropped a bombshell this morning by announcing the hiring of Jimmy de Castro as the new president and general manager of WGN-AM 720 in Chicago. He starts June 3.

De Castro’s vast radio and digital media background makes this a monumental move for the Tribune-owned news/talk station. The added element of awesomeness is that de Castro reunites with Tribune Broadcasting President Larry Wert — the two of them were instrumental in the operations of WLUP-FM/97.9 The Loop during the mid 1990’s. While Wert’s primary priorities are involved with the Tribune’s various television stations throughout the country, de Castro will be in charge of the day-to-day operations at WGN Radio.

De Castro also has history with current WGN morning host Jonathon Brandmeier and WGN afternoon host Garry Meier from their days at WLUP, further solidifying the Loop reunion tour. How long before someone on a message board or on Twitter insists that de Castro hiring Steve Dahl is all but imminent?

Until today, the short-term future of the station has been murky. Tribune executives, including Larry Wert himself, have carefully been vague whenever referencing WGN’s future. The de Castro hire seems to suggest there is some type of commitment from Tribune towards rebuilding the station, as opposed to immediately selling it.

That is a stark contrast from the end of last year when the company was in the final stages of its four-year bankruptcy. It was highly believed that the aggressive expense cutting then taking place at WGN was in anticipation of an eventual sale of the station. The departure of long-time Vice President and General Manager Tom Langmyer, the firing of the highly rated Milt Rosenberg, splitting the poorly rated Mike McConnell into two midday shifts and the hiring of two inexpensive talents Carol Roth and Turi Ryder were interpreted as the beginning of dark days for the station (also not helping was the departure of John Williams, who has publically stated that the decision to leave was his).

Until recently, WGN was a leading source of revenue for Tribune, even while the station struggled with internal turmoil during the Randy Michaels and Kevin Metheny era. Though station revenue has nosedived of late, hiring a radio pro like de Castro is a sure indicator that the company thinks it can turn things around.

While it remains possible that the company’s long-term plan is to rebuild the station and then sell it for top dollar, such a strategy may be risky. The purchase of the iconic New York news/talk WOR-AM last summer by Clear Channel was reportedly for $30 million.  While $30 million certainly isn’t chump change, it’s a low number compared to previous trends where such stations would have likely sold for a higher amount.

There are no guarantees when approximating the future value of WGN or any radio station. Concerning WGN, the expenses invested in rebuilding the station, whether that rebuild works or not, the downward ratings trend of the news/talk format in general, and the continued advancement of technology all make it risky to not go for the fast grab of cash now, as opposed to maybe three to five years from now.

If WGN went up for sale tomorrow, they would likely have a decent list of potential suitors – Clear Channel, Cumulus Media and/or Hubbard Broadcasting might all possibly be on that list.

I have no doubt Clear Channel would love to have a strong Chicago outlet on the AM band. At present, Clear Channel/Premiere Radio syndicated programming airs up the dial on Cumulus-owned WLS-AM 890, which is believed to soon drop all Premiere programming (i.e. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity) in place of their own syndicated programming (i.e. Mike Huckabee, Michael Savage or Geraldo Rivera). There is very little reason why Clear Channel would not want to have WGN as an option to either carry their syndicated shows or make money off some type of local talk format.

Last year, it was rumored that Cumulus was interested in purchasing WGN. That certainly was a rumor that made me shutter (concerning WGN, I’d take my chances with Clear Channel as opposed to Cumulus).

As a WGN fan, I’m excited. I hope today’s hiring is the beginning of better days. de Castro certainly will have his work cut out for him. Though I do not expect him to make any quick changes, I do hope one of his first priorities is to address the awkward midday schedule — the current schedule with Mike McConnell working the 10am-12pm and 1pm-3pm shifts must change. An upgrade to Carol Roth, now hosting the “Noon Show,” is badly needed.

The station needs to figure out what it wants to be. Right now, middays (with McConnell and Roth) is more or less a current events format, while the morning and afternoon shows are more “loose” or free spirited entertainment. WGN needs to pick a lane and implement a daytime schedule that is consistent with the format. It’s somewhat okay to break format during evenings and on weekends, but the daypart format must be consistent.

WGN Radio was given a second chance in late 2010 following the removal of Randy Michaels and Kevin Metheny. Tom Langmyer and Program Director Bill White did the absolute best they could at undoing most of the damage done by Michaels and Metheny (even with some hurdles leftover, such as McConnell’s long and expensive contract, or Sean Compton’s hiring of Brandmeier). The hard work by Langmyer and White sadly came crashing down at the end of 2012.

With Wert and de Castro now overseeing things, WGN appears to have been granted a third chance. Let’s hope the third time’s the charm.

Loud and Clear: WGN’s Jonathon Brandmeier incapable of handling serious news

Jonathon Brandmeier

Days prior to his Dec. 2011 debut as morning host at WGN-AM 720 in Chicago, Jonathon Brandmeier, in an interview with Chicago media critic Robert Feder, claimed he was capable of handling serious breaking news.

Absolutely, positively. I just absolutely can do it. I always consider myself a journalist. Ron Magers used to say, “Brandmeier will take a story and peck it apart like a chicken until he gets every feather off of it.” I feel like that’s what I do. They’ll have me and the great resources of the Tribune Company. These guys know what they’re talking about. Believe me, I know what I’m doing.

Luckily for those listening to WGN in the morning, Brandmeier hasn’t had to really handle an immediate breaking news situation — outside of a winter snowstorm or the morning after the Boston Marathon bombings (more on that later).  I listened to Brandmeier this morning to see if he would discuss, or how he would handle discussing, yesterday’s devastating tornado damage in Moore City, OK.

Brandmeier began the show with staff meteorologist Tim McGill to talk about the situation. Ignoring some of the borderline humorous side remarks or connotations coming from either Brandmeier or his sidekick Buzz Killman, I thought the conversation was decent, for Brandmeier standards.

Any positive vibes I had went out the window as soon as I heard the theme music for the Wicked Witch of the West’s character from the “Wizard of Oz.” I understand the connection and that the tornado was such an important component of that movie.  I get it.

What Brandmeier or someone on his staff apparently doesn’t get is that because that song is associated with an aloof movie character who ultimately was meant as comedic fodder, the playing of that song mocks the seriousness of the story, whether intentionally or not. This natural disaster killed or injured countless people and has shattered the lives of many more.

How appropriate was it for Brandmeier to congratulate a runner for completing the Boston Marathon — when considering how steep some of those hills are — during an interview the morning after the bombings!?

Thankfully, he wasn’t on WGN the day after Sept. 11, 2001. Is it too far fetched to imagine him asking one of the rescue firefighters “so… after learning of the attack, did you still slide down the pole while on your way out of the station?”

Memo to whoever is left running the Tribune Tower: It is high time to constrain your morning host and his staff. And if the consequence of that results in him leaving, so be it. His ratings have dropped significantly since joining the station, and if the rumors are true that he never got around to signing his contract, then what’s the hold on not upsetting him? It’s not like his leaving would cost the station that much, if anything.

More like an addition by subtraction.

Surreal Video: Approaching tornado forces KSN anchors to take cover during live storm coverage

My feeling of uneasiness during severe weather quickly upgrades to full blown nervousness when tornadoes become a real possibility. I’ve had a fear for tornadoes since sitting through my first tornado drill as a kindergartener, not fully understanding why we were seated Indian style in the hallway and being told to cover our heads while listening to a scary sounding siren in the background.

For as unsettling as a tornado siren can be, I can’t imagine watching live storm coverage on my local newscast and witnessing the sheer panic as the weather guy and the other anchors run off the set to take cover from an approaching tornado.

That’s exactly what viewers saw on Sunday afternoon while watching KSN-TV in Wichita, KS. Simply surreal and terrifying at the same time.

The devastation that Mother Nature has unleashed in recent days is absolutely horrific. I found it difficult to get too upset after last night’s Blackhawks loss while thinking about the people impacted by those storms, especially in Moore City, OK and how terrorizing it must have been for those students taking cover in their school’s hallways.

While the national media is all over the storm’s aftermath, you can also get a more local perspective from various Oklahoma City media outlets, including KTOK-AM and KWTV-DT (which is streaming their live television broadcast online).

Podcast: The Blowtorch Soundoff on CBS 2 releasing Susan Carlson, WIND’s lame ‘answer’ to imaging, and more

Today, I unofficially launch the “Blowtorch Soundoff,” an experimental podcast where I spew off whatever is on my mind related to media.

Discussed on this recording, about 12 minutes in length:

  • Full thoughts on WBBM-TV/CBS 2 releasing morning news anchor Susan Carlson on Friday.
  • My rant against WIND-AM/560 The Answer’s awful imaging and voiceover work.
  • Mike McConnell of WGN-AM 720 having no idea of the Facebook “like” concept.
  • While I debut my podcast, the Radiogirl Margaret Lakin earlier this week posted her 100th podcast, where she interviews WLS-FM 94.7’s John Records Landecker.

CBS 2 Chicago playing musical chairs (again), Susan Carlson wrongfully on the outs

Susan CarlsonBoth Robert Feder, via Twitter, and Larz at Chicagoland Radio & Media reported yesterday that WBBM-TV/CBS 2 has released morning news anchor Susan Carlson. According to Larz, CBS 2 opted to remove Carlson from the air prior to the expiration of her contract, most likely to shake things up as the ratings for the morning newscast remain at or near rock bottom.

This move is a real shock to me. As a regular viewer of CBS 2’s morning news, Carlson was not the problem with that newscast. As a matter of fact, I have a hard time identifying any real significant problems with the newscast.

Carlson and co-anchor Kris Gutierrez were a respectable team – they worked well together, were capable of showing personality when appropriate, and did a solid job at delivering the morning’s news. The added personality coming from Meagan Glaros (weather) and Derrick Young completed the newscast, as far as on set goes. There was real chemistry.

CBS 2 has a real tendency to play musical chairs, seemingly every other year or so when their ratings don’t show improvement. Sometimes, such moves are necessary, such as when the station opted to remove Steve Bartelstein, who was not a great fit. Other times, the moves are done just for the sake of change, such as when the station decided to remove evening news anchor Anne State several years back.

And for the sake of honesty, even though I am a huge fan of State’s eventual replacement Kate Sullivan, she hasn’t been much of an upgrade. That’s not a knock on Sullivan — it just means that there was nothing wrong with State!

And there was nothing wrong with Carlson either. While there are plenty of talented female news anchors out there, it’s not a given that the new choice will do as good of a job as Carlson. And even if she does, it will be hard to find someone who does a better job than Carlson. So at best case scenario, they find someone who does as good of a job. To that, I ask, what’s the freakin point!? Besides demoralizing the rest of the morning news staff and potentially upsetting the on air chemistry, this move will do nothing to shake the ratings. At best, CBS 2 will likely find whoever they hire to replace Carlson will be nothing more then a lateral move.

Just for fun… Since CBS 2 is desperate for attention, maybe they should consider hiring recently ousted Comcast SportsNet reporer Susannah Collins.  At the very least, that would probably generate added views to their YouTube channel!

Five years later, Mulligan and Hanley have dropped in ‘score’

When Mike North and WSCR-AM/670 The Score parted ways in mid-2008, I was ready to celebrate. It meant North’s bombastic ego finally caught up with him after years of dodging bullets. It also meant the promotion of then midday hosts Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley, veteran Chicago sports writers who made sports radio a second career for two hours each weekday. Their midday show was a simple “paint by numbers” sports show, that wasn’t too serious. Stick to that formula, and it should work in morning drive.

Nearly five years later, I have a hard time listening to Mulli and Hanley. The problem is they got too comfortable. While their show still follows the “paint by numbers” formula, their loud and obnoxious personalities and spontaneous attempts at humor have become a huge distraction to what otherwise could be an entertaining and informative morning sports show.

Two weeks ago, the morning following CSN Chicago Susannah Collins’ infamous “tremendous amount of sex” slip of the tongue, Mulli and Hanley’s 6 a.m. segment featured them playing the sound bite over and over again, while laughing and giggling like school children. Yes, the slip was humorous, but nothing more deserving then a quick laugh before moving on. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought I was listening to two high school kids broadcasting out of their parent’s basement with the repeat of the sound bite and their constant joking and laughing about it. Instead of discussing the Blackhawks victory in a playoff game, they were too amused with the sound bite.

You would think the amount of guests they surround themselves with would provide a decent buffer. It does to an extent, when the guest is capable, or willing, to play off the hosts’ humor. While someone like Matt Bowen pulls it off nicely, I cringe thinking about the times they had Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal on each Monday to discuss baseball.

His segments during the 2010 and 2011 baseball seasons were painfully awkward to listen to. Not only would Rosenthall no sell the humor attempts coming from Mulli and Hanley, the questions they would ask him were the same each and every week — why are the White Sox not hitting, how much more can Cub fans take with bad baseball, what can Adam Dunn do to start hitting? It was the same freakin’ interview each week!

In contrast, Rosenthal now appears each week on the Score’s afternoon show with Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein. The segments are a night and day difference. Boers and Bernstein keep their humor to a minimal, and ask a variety of questions about the game. The discussion is different each week based.

My rant may be a moot point since their show is doing very well, ranking third place in the morning ratings among the 25-54 demographic during the month of March. Their competitors, “Mike & Mike” on WMVP-AM/ESPN 1000 is syndicated so any focus on Chicago sports is minimal at best, and usually non-existent.

Another reason Mulli and Hanley probably do so well is because they come across as likeable — they don’t take themselves too seriously. If you can get past their overbearing personalities, they do actually discuss Chicago sports amongst callers and a solid lineup of guests — even if the exchange is potentially awkward. The core of the discussion is informative and relevant. Their show would be really good if they toned down their attempts at humor. Less is more.

I enjoy off topic banter and humor when listening to the radio, which is why I have enjoy Boers and Bernstein, Dan McNeil, Roe Conn, Garry Meier, etc. But when the silliness is not funny and becomes distracting to the core product, that’s  a problem (which is what WGN-AM is now experiencing with their morning superstar Jonathon Brandmeier).

While Mulli and Hanley are an improvement over their predecessor Mike North, what good is that since I’m unwilling to listen most mornings?

Odds & Ends

– When I do listen to Mulligan and Hanley, I do enjoy it when Mark Grote (“Scoreboard Update” anchor) chimes in before or after the updates. I wish he was allowed to speak more beyond the top and bottom of each hour. I also enjoy his hosting work each Saturday morning with Steve Rosenbloom.

– Following on what I wrote last night about WGN-AM 720’s “Noon Show,” I had the misfortune of missing program with guest host Bob Sirott. Joining him was fellow veteran Chicago news anchor Walter Jacobson. Another unfortunate is that the show isn’t podcasted on WGN’s website (a poor excuse for a website).

– Meanwhile, with regular “Noon Show” host Carol Roth still away, WGN’s Judy Pielach fills-in on today’s broadcast. Tomorrow, WGN airs a special “Cub’s Corner” broadcast with David Kaplan, Brian Noonan and Andrea Darlas.

– With the Cubs playing tomorrow night, game one of the Blackhawks second round playoffs against the Redwings will have to air on WLUP-FM/97.9 The Loop in addition to the live stream via WGN’s website.

Politico’s paywall experiment poses a valuable question – at which point does the paywall model become saturated?

Following Politico’s announcement last week that the publication would begin testing a metered paywall system in a handful of states, their media writer Dylan Byers tweeted the following:

I don’t care so much about the question as I do about the idea that most websites producing original content would charge for access. Even if Byers’ tweet was tongue-and-cheek, I do wonder if such an idea could be realistic in the near future.

What kind of websites would be worth charging access for? Any journalistic entity would be an absolute must due to its high cost. Many prominent newspapers have already established a paywall system on their websites, while others such as the Washington Times soon will be.

Would it be out of line for other niche publications to charge for access, such as TMZ, the Verge of SportsbyBrooks? Or how about narrower niche sites like the Daily Kos or Android Central? At some point, the paywall system has to become saturated. I’m not sure there are enough people with disposable incomes willing to pay for all the content they now get for free.

It was much easier for publications, general and niche, to make money in the pre-Internet era. Back then, people relied on the local paper in their city or region for a mix of local, national and world news. Anyone wanting more reading content  subscribed to weekly or monthly magazines.

I’m a semi frequent visitor to Politico, primarily for Dylan Byer’s media content. Depending on what pricing structure and the amount of free access they allow, I doubt I’d consider paying for their content — I already am a New York Times digital subscriber. Not that I don’t think Politico’s content is worth paying for, but after spending $100 each month on my Droid Razr Maxx, $70 towards Dish, the New York Times, Amazon Prime and several podcasts, I would have a hard time adding a CNET, the Verge, SportsbyBrooks, Grandland, or Politico to that list — regardless of how much I enjoy those websites.

Bill Moller would be an ideal host for WGN’s ‘Noon Show’

Bill Moller, WGN Radio HostToday’s “Noon Show” on WGN-AM 720 was an excellent listen courtesy of guest host Bill Moller (who regularly hosts “WGN Weekend” each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.).

Previously, I’ve written on the Larz message board that Moller would have been the perfect individual to regularly host the “Noon Show,” since he is so well rounded in a variety of subjects and has an extended network of contacts (there certainly would be no shortage of guests). Moller has the tools to produce a highly informative and compelling broadcast that can expound on the day’s news, provide some “good to know” tidbits or dive into important money/agricultural issues when needed, along with WGN’s Orion Samuelson. Moller previously hosted money/financial weekend shows on WGN, so he has experience talking money and business.

Such a show would be highly unique and could be a nice alternative to WBBM-AM 780′s “Noon Business Hour” (which I also happen to enjoy).