Misuse of the public airwaves: Pete McMurray spews dangerous psychic nonsense on WGN

Yesterday, I had the displeasure of listening to Pete McMurray fill in on the WGN-AM 720 morning show (which will be occupied by Steve Cochran starting next week), in which a Chicago area psychic was allowed to spew nonsense on the air for the better part of the 8 a.m. hour.

For the record, I think McMurray is a fine host. That said, I am disappointed for his involvement and endorsement of this psychic reader and her so called “abilities” on the show.

The real “fun” began after listeners were invited to call in for an on air reading.

Just by knowing the birthday of an individual, this reader could predict that one man’s family turmoil, stemmed from his mother-in-law, will be resolved by next month, that a women going through a job transition now will out of the blue find herself in a radical jump to self employment just after the new year, and that an ex lover is going to resurface in the life of another female caller. While one of the female callers appeared to be skeptical, the man with the family issues was obviously very relieved after the psychic said the situation would soon be resolved.

Such nonsense becomes dangerous when involving sensitive financial advice or inspiring baseless information pertaining to a missing person or a deceased loved one (i.e. psychic Sylvia Browne on the Montel Williams Show telling Amanda Berry’s mother that her daughter was dead).

I’m far past the point of blaming the individual for falling for such nonsense. While they do deserve a share of the blame, I’m placing the brunt of it on the media. It was irresponsible for ABC to hire anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy to co-host “The View,” just as it is dangerous for George Noory have “expert” guests discussing and promoting alternative medicine on his “Coast to Coast AM” program. Montel Williams can never be forgiven for the weekly appearances he gave to Sylvia Browne on his then syndicated live talk show. I would have a lesser problem if the above circumstances were at least challenged. The fact such claims go unchallenged is a cardinal sin.

Yesterday’s segment with the psychic reader is far too dangerous to be written off as harmless or just for fun (not helping was Jennifer Weigel calling in and further endorsing this particular psychic). The disclaimer often used by psychics, “for entertainment only,” is how they skirt around potential legality issues.

Such psychics, such as Browne, often charge several hundreds of dollars per reading! Such psychics simply prey on the weak, instilling a false sense of hope and trust, while raking them for hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Certainly an expensive form of entertainment.

With WGN looking to restore trust and goodwill, it’s sad that this kind of junk was allowed on the air. The “new” WGN should be better than this. Prior to yesterday, I would have thought both Pete McMurray and Jennifer Weigel were too.

If anything, this is a stark reminder on just how the fight to debunk such nonsense while encouraging the use of critical thinking has a long ways to go.

By the balls: Football’s flagrant hold on ESPN

On Friday, the New York Times released a damning piece that revealed just how much of a grip the NFL has over ESPN, concerning the network’s participating in a documentary about players suffering from football related head injuries. The story has garnered a lot of attention within the sports media community, calling into question the journalistic integrity of ESPN as a result.

On a semi related note, you may recall an ESPN television show 10 years ago called “Playmakers,” which depicted a fiction pro football team overcoming day-to-day hurdles in a fiction pro football league. The NFL didn’t appreciate having such “hurdles” spotlighted — even if the show was fiction — and pressured ESPN into dropping the series.

On Saturday, the Times released another football related piece about ESPN, concerning the network’s influence in the creation of specific games, of which would also air on the ESPN networks. While not as damning as their now lack of involvement in investigating head injuries, this piece is still revealing, at least at the big picture level, as it concerns the relationship between media partnership.

The two type of above circumstances are not exclusive to ESPN or sports media. Concerning our news and political media, I’d argue that any agendas, whether it be the New York Times, NBC News or Fox News, are more often business/financially driven as opposed to being politically driven. Political talk radio should be the most obvious example (unfortunately, that is often missed by the hardcore fans of a Rush Limbaugh or a Glenn Beck).

Ball game or not, at the end of the day, news reporting is all business.

You can slam dunk that or bank on it. Whichever you prefer.

‘That Other Pregame Show’ to debut on CBS Sports, err… that other cable sports network

That Other PreGame Show

Compared to the efforts of the NBC Sports Network and the newly launched Fox Sports 1, it would appear that the CBS Sports Network isn’t even trying (put aside the aggressive luring of Jim Rome away from ESPN).

In an effort to curb such pessimism, CBS Sports Network announced yesterday they are launching a new expanded NFL pregame show to air each Sunday morning during the NFL season. The name of that show, according to Ed Sherman, will be “That Other Pregame Show.”

Are they serious?

I get the attempt at standing out and all, but “That Other Pregame Show” sounds more the name of an amateur podcast (no offense to the many fine amateur podcasters out there) or the name of a show on Fox Sports Net in the year 2000.

The new show could turn out to be great for all I know, but the seemingly half-assed naming attempt only reinforces the notion that CBS Sports Network is the weakest link within the cable sports channel arena.

Though day-to-day ratings between the three cable networks may not show a lights out difference, both NBC and Fox so far have more invested in their respective sports networks. With the seemingly long-term goal of one day becoming a legitimate competitor to ESPN, the games have just begun, so CBS isn’t out of it yet.

Nevertheless, I can’t help wonder if Jim Rome now regrets going to CBS. If he would have waited a while longer after his ESPN contract expired, perhaps he’d be at either NBC or Fox by now.

Ed Shultz roundabout at MSNBC

Ed Schultz

MSNBC announced yesterday that progressive talker Ed Schultz is moving back to weekdays, albeit, at the earlier time of 4 p.m. CT. Schultz was removed from the coveted 7 p.m. primetime slot earlier this year to make room for Chris Hayes, who has been a rising star in the progressive community.

Politico’s Dylan Byers explains how Hayes’ program “All In” has so far been unable to spark the ratings for primetime cable news. Moving Hayes to primetime was a very gutsy move, and one that might have been inspired by MSNBC President Phil Griffin’s heart rather than his head.

I wonder if moving Schultz to the 4 p.m. slot is the first step in what eventually results in a switch — moving Hayes to 4 p.m. while Schultz moves back to 7 p.m. That might be a clever way for Griffin to save face without completely embarrassing Hayes, someone who Griffin obviously thinks very highly of.

I am in the camp that prefers Schultz’s performance style over that of Hayes or Rachael Maddow. Hayes and Maddow are better at actively discussing important issues in a way that that might have more impact on an opposing mindset. In the short-term however, the added fire and showmanship of Schultz does a better job at keeping my attention.

Fox Sports 1 debuts with auto racing, Fox Sports 2 nowhere to be found

Fox Sports 1, the all new sports network by Fox, made its debut this morning by officially replacing Speed.

Fox Sports 1 has kicked off the festivities with the airing of auto race qualifying runs. The same thing most racing fans watched on the former Speed channel last Saturday morning.

Yes, Fox Sports 1 is a big picture project. Don’t judge the network for another five to 10 years once they can capture other big name sports. Yet with all the self-hype going into this new all sports network that is not ESPN, to have the first day flogged with auto racing seems highly ironic. It comes more across like a sorry plea to Speed channel viewers — “We’re sorry! We still love you and your NASCAR. We promise! Please don’t leave!”

Meanwhile, if Fox Sports 1 is the new golden prize of Fox Sports, then Fox Sports 2 is the bastard stepchild. By design, the press for Fox Sports 2 has been minimal, if non existent, and finding the bitch is nearly impossible. You sure won’t find it anywhere on the Fox Sports website.

Again, by design, Fox Sports 2 is more or less a spillover channel for Fox Sports 1. And they want all eyes on Fox Sports 1 today, and understandably so. Yet by doing it this way, they are already telling everyone that Fox Sports 2 doesn’t matter. Not the best way to introduce a new brand, in my opinion.

Would have been better off saving the Fox Sports 2 launch for when they had a useful reason for its existence. From the way it appears now, when they will eventually need Fox Sports 2, it won’t be much different then finding your local Comcast SportsNet Plus channel.

Not quite gone, but soon to be forgotten: WGN Radio moves Mike McConnell to online only

WGN-AM 720 midday host Mike McConnell has been removed from the station’s on air line-up… kind of. He will now be heard, exclusively via the station’s website on WGNRadio.com’s Livestream Ch. 2, an online-only secondary stream channel (usually reserved for re-airing of older shows).

From Mike McConnell’s Facebook page earlier this morning:

Hello friends,

We’re starting something new today. A PODCAST!
Some of the show will be prerecorded and some live.

The live portion will stream at 11:00am cdt and your calls are welcome.

The phone number is WGN’s old number 312-591-7200.

When you call you will go directly on hold and hear the stream.

There is no call screener and for now I’m experimenting with how to best put it together.

The show will then stream in it’s entirerty at 3:00pm cdt.

I typed this whole damn thing myself believe it or not. Just part of my commitment to the listening public.

Talk to you later.

Mike Mc

For all intent and purposes, this appears to be the station’s way of getting around his contractual obligations. McConnell’s three year anniversary at WGN was Friday, Aug. 9. Though terms of his contract were not made public, speculation was his multi-year deal ran anywhere between three to five years.

Listeners wishing to listen to him will have to seek out WGN Radio’s Livestream Ch. 2 feed at WGNRadio.com. The show will be made available in the afternoon as a podcast. It will be interesting to see what kind of effort the station will make to promote McConnell’s online shows.

The station is now free to program anyone they wish during his 10am-3pm slot, which as of this writing, is written as “WGN DAYTIME” on WGN’s website. Various fill-in hosts are scheduled to host during those times for the rest of this week.

Today’s McConnell broadcast was described on air by the host himself as an “ill conceived concept.” McConnell is left to answer any calls himself, many of which so far have been wrong numbers. At times, random dial tones and other phone sounds are heard in the middle of breaks and sometimes during live segments. Today’s show appears to be a “shoot from the hip” test day, more or less to get the bugs out.

It would appear for now that WGN is attempting to utilize the high priced McConnell via the cheapest means possible.

With McConnell now out of the way, it would seem logical that the station will soon announce their revamped program scheduled sooner rather than later.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is an asshole

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong was doing a swell job at demoralizing employees at the Patch, an AOL owned individual community digital news platform, on a Friday teleconference. Nothing portrays a superb boss like accepting blame for a failed venture to only then blame the people beneath for lack of leadership (and emphasizing leadership with a capital L) before announcing that most of the division will be gutted, meaning many people will lose his jobs. At least those who don’t voluntarily exit (he also encouraged that people voluntarily leave). but that his job is safe (he didn’t actually say his job was safe, but you get the idea).

No, that can’t possibly be bad enough…

Why not demoralize your employees further by publically firing an employee, loud and clear during the teleconference!?

Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you’re fired. Out!

Who is Armstrong attempting better emulate, Ebenezer Scrooge or Mr. Spacely?

Final note… if you’re someone with my resume looking for more information about me, and you fail to see the problem with how AOL CEO Tim Armstrong conducts his business, then do me (and yourself) a favor. Throw that resume into the trash. I wouldn’t want to work for you.

Mike McConnell ‘celebrates’ three year anniversary at WGN while missing in action

mike-mcconnellToday marks the three year anniversary of Mike McConnell’s Chicago radio debut on WGN-AM 720. There won’t be any celebration or acknowledgement however because he won’t be on the air.

McConnell has been off the air since early last week, and everyday so far this week. Scheduled to fill in for him again today is the husband-and-wife duo Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and Steve Cochran from 12 to 3 p.m. (which has been the primary substitute arrangement during his absence). The station’s website notes that McConnell will also be off on Monday.

The last post on McConnell’s Facebook page was July 31, indicating he would be on “vacation for a few days.” Since then, many of his fans have commented with concern on the possibility that he will not be coming back. Radio hosts taking a one or two week vacation isn’t abnormal. Such length of absences typically shouldn’t be used as reason to speculate that a vacationing host is on the way out.

In this case the uncertainly may be just. Larz at ChicagolandRadioandMedia.com has hinted that WGN will soon have a schedule overhaul that likely will not include McConnell. His more serious “news of the day” format seems to conflict with how the rest of the station sounds. While the exact length of his mutli-year contract was never made public, it has been speculated to be somewhere between three to five years. In the three years since his debut, his ratings have often been the anchor weighing down the rest of the station’s daypart (though McConnell isn’t the sole blame since other talent surrounding him have also earned low numbers; also not helping is bad Cubs baseball).

With the pending debut of Sirott and Murciano as full-time hosts, it would seem, at the very least, that McConnell’s current shift will be shortened. Cochran is the wildcard, not knowing what the station’s long-term plans are for him. I don’t believe for a second that he left his 560 The Answer/WIND-AM show to only work part-time at WGN. I think he will eventually land during middays, even if that doesn’t happen simultaneously whenever Sirott and Murciano officially debut their new weekday show. Whether he winds up in middays or not, I hold out hope that the real long-term plan for Cochran is to replace Jonathon Brandmeier as morning host.

Though I typically enjoy the more serious news/talk format, McConnell isn’t my favorite host, primarily because I find some of his topics to be a little too boring or not that relevant. I certainly don’t harbor the same hostility towards him that his many critics do. I just happen to enjoy the style and topics from a John Williams (former WGN host, now at WCCO-AM 830 in Minneapolis) or Paul Lisnek (“Politics Tonight” host on CLTV and regular WGN-AM fill-in).

Prior to arriving at WGN, McConnell was a 25 year veteran host in Cincinnati, having worked at WLW-AM 700. Initially, McConnell’s WLW colleague Bill Cunningham was slated to come to Chicago with him, where the two would work back-to-back shows during the midday. Cunningham changed his mind and opted to stay at WLW.

Until McConnell does return, his fans will continue to speculate his future while his critics hope he’s busy packing up his Chicago residence, en route to a permanent move back to Cincinnati.

UPDATE MONDAY 8/12/13 at 5:54 a.m.
Adding fuel to the “where is Mike McConnell?” or the “Mike McConnell fired from WGN” speculation is this week’s program schedule now posted on the WGN website. McConnell is off again all week with various hosts filling in. Also worth noting is even though Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano are not scheduled to fill-in this week, they noted this past Friday that they would be on again next week (though no time was mentioned). What does that mean for McConnell?

His name is on the website still, and there are vague references to him mentioned on the air, but just barely.

Newspapers await for an iTunes or Netflix model of their own

Farhad Manjoo wrote an excellent column for Slate explaining how Amazon.com CEO Jeff Blezo’s influence on e-commerce and marketing has been so innovative and how that might be relevant to the Washington Post.

Manjoo’s explains how the inexpensive information — and not necessarily the hard news — inside a newspaper played a huge role in attracting readers, and how the Internet curtailed that strategy.

For decades, newspapers made money by bundling two distinct kinds of data: low-cost information and high-cost news. The information—classifieds, stocks, sports scores, weather, entertainment listings, recipes, horoscopes, coupons, police blotters, obits—was widely popular and cheap and easy to produce.

… newspapers worked as a business, because they had a monopoly on the low-cost information. As long as there was no other place for their audience to go to for classifieds and all the rest, readers and advertisers kept paying for the ink, indirectly subsidizing the serious stuff.

Another column worth reading is by Cade Metz at Wired, about how Bezos’ Post purchase will likely tie with Amazon.

Metz also points out that high-cost news has not its own game-changing revolution the way music had via iTunes or movies via Netflix. Both iTunes and Netflix took existing products/services people already paid for and created a new model for them to receive the same but at less expense. Meanwhile, the best newspapers have come up with so far are paywalls behind their websites or mobile apps. Asides from the major publications, there’s no guarantee that model will work.

The thought of paying for online news is beyond outrageous among the young people today. You have the same problem, to a lesser extent, with music and movies, but the situation is a night and day difference because while newspapers have given their content away for free online for well over a decade, music and movies have not readily been available online for free. The workaround of downloading via BitTorrent (or previously with Napster) is illegal.

After a full day to think about it, the general consensus is that Bezos will somehow attempt to incorporate the Posts’s news content into the Amazon universe. And if Bezos is able to garner any type of success, it won’t be long before other tech giants, such as Google or Facebook, follow.

Will Jeff Bezos redefine the new normal for modern journalism?


There’s plenty of buzz coming from yesterday’s shocker that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is purchasing the Washington Post. Obviously, the Post website has a lot of great content and reaction from various writers regarding the sale. Politico also has a variety of content worth checking out.

Dylan Byers has an excellent round-up of the purchase, what it potentially means down the road and more. Mad props as well for the headline “Bezos adds Washington Post to cart” (note, the headline has since been changed to “Jeff Bezos re-Kindles hope at The Washington Post” — still cute, but I like the original better).

I’m looking forward to observing how the Post evolves in the coming years, after enough time has passed for Bezos to implement his ideas and strategy. The looming question concerning newspapers is profitability and how to monetize the online and mobile app presence in order to pay for the high cost of journalism.

The last great hope is that someone like Bezos, a highly successful and innovate entrepreneur, and an outsider to the industry, can instill new ideas that result in a new money making model that other newspapers or news producing organizations may possibly borrow.

The demand for straight news on all mediums remains highly uncertain, as the soon to debut cable network Al Jazeera America is likely to soon find out. Can a news producing organization by itself be profitable? Before cable television, the respective news divisions at ABC, NBC and CBS were money losers that were primarily subsidized from the revenues generated from each network’s line of soap opera programming. I think something like that almost has to happen again, in a more modern sense of course.

Sam Zell’s purchase of the Tribine Company was the textbook example on how to turn a bad situation at a newspaper into a worse one. The combination of personal greed and unrealistic expectations curbed any chance Zell had from day one. I like to believe that Bezos is Zell’s opposite. I’m more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt  (as opposed to someone like Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, who is now eying to purchase the Boston Globe).

While we don’t yet know what Bezos’ expectations are for the Post, it might help if our expectations for Bezos remain in check. Running a news producing organization, such as one as large and influential as the Post, is quite the unproven endeavor in today’s modern world of journalism.

If Bezos turns out not to be the miracle man journalism has been waiting for, I have no doubts, it won’t be due to a lack of honest effort.