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…

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.

Top alternative options for better Christmas music

Christmas Music Alternative Choices

If you’re regularly on the computer or you have smart phone and are tech savvy enough to download and use apps, then there’s no reason to opt for traditional terrestrial radio for your Christmas music listening experience. For years, I’ve avoided Chicago’s WLIT-FM 93.9 holiday music format, primarily because of the limited selection of music they play; it’s also nice to skip the heavy commercials.

My three alternative options for Christmas music are primarily stream based and provide an extensive playlist of Christmas songs, with limited or no commercials at all.

My first preference is Live365, which provides hundreds of different streaming stations for all types of music. Their selection of holiday channels surely will not disappoint. As a matter of fact, they have so many Christmas channels that the only downside might be deciding which ones to actually listen to(!). There is some redundancy among formats, but the selection is phenomenal. You can listen for free and only deal with a few commercials, or you can sign up for the Live365 Premium for $5.95 a month and go commercial free.

AccuRadio is another solid choice for an abundance of streaming Christmas channels. Like Live365, there are several formats of holiday channels to choose from, just minus the redundancy. You can’t go wrong with AccuRadio, and like Live365, you can listen for free and deal with only a few commercials here and there.

My old college radio station, Lewis University’s WLRA-FM has switched to their “Christmas Memories” format, which is orchestrated in-conjunction with the United Way of Will County. In place of commercials are occasional PSA’s promoting the United Way and information on how to donate for those who so desire, along with the occasional holiday message from University President Brother James Gaffney. WLRA plays a wide variety of classic Christmas songs, embed with some rare old-time songs and occasional contemporary. WLRA can be streamed from the Lewis University website (see above link), in addition to TuneIn and iHeartRadio. For those around the Romeoville/Joliet area, WLRA can be heard on 88.1 FM.

Phoning it in: Cochran should be on time to his own show

A burst water pipe in the Tribune Tower resulted in both WGN-AM 720 and The Game/WGWG-LP 88.7 being off the air for a few minutes this morning. Kudos to the Chicagoland Radio & Media message board user Larry London for what he posted this morning:

I heard WGN AM was off the air for 20 minutes this morning due to a water main break. Steve Cochran never sounded better and you can fill in your own jokes about the station’s ratings being under water.

Steve Cochran & WGN Radio Under WaterWhile I am a fan of Steve Cochran, I can’t help appreciate the humor in that message. As for Cochran, I wasn’t always a fan of his, but I have enjoyed his presence on WGN since taking over the morning show in September, 2013.

What I am not a fan of is Cochran’s physical absence during his show’s 5 a.m. hour. Originally, when his show was extended from 9 to 10 a.m. earlier this year, he explained that the first hour would be more news centric, and that he would take more of a backseat role to Andrea Darlas, Orion Samuelson and the rest of the show’s crew. Perhaps, I just failed to read between the lines, but at the time, I figured he would at least be there with the occasional chime in.

Now, it’s obvious he isn’t there at all that first hour, as evidenced by his routine of calling in by cell phone near the end of the hour while still on his way to the studio. By the way, calling in by cell phone doesn’t make up for his not being there. In my opinion, it makes the situation appear worse.

Again, I am a fan Cochran’s show, so I’m not looking for reasons to pick on him. I should also clarify that this rant isn’t because I dislike the 5 a.m. hour with Darlas and Samuelson. However, with Cochran as the face of the station – or at the very least one the faces – he is the guy who shouldn’t make it appear like he’s coasting along as he pleases.

Cochran is the one, upon his return to the station last year, who told listeners that the WGN of old was back and that WGN is the people’s station. Yet, there remains a community of angry listeners who believe Cochran is in “cahoots” with a station management team that seemingly has a real disconnect with the audience. Whether fair or not, Cochran’s critics – highly visible on Facebook, the Chicagoland Radio & Media message board and in the comments section of Robert Feder’s blog – believe he had a hand in the demotion of popular afternoon host Garry Meier (I honestly have no idea whether such assessment is fair or not).

I understand that Cochran showing up for his own show on time isn’t going to suddenly drown the anger of his vocal critics. However, his first hour absence does further the allusion that Cochran can pretty much do whatever he wants since he is tight with his bosses.

The easy fix would be to simply change the name of the 5 a.m. hour to a more generic name not featuring Steve Cochran. Or officially extend Digilio’s show an extra hour while he interacts with Darlas and Samuelson until 6 a.m. Either way, the 5 a.m. hour shouldn’t be billed as the “Steve Cochran show” when the man himself isn’t actually present.

It’s showtime for Larry Conners at KTRS

Larry Conners Radio Show, KTRS St. Louis

Tonight marks the long anticipated return of  Larry Conners. The revered St. Louis broadcaster is set to debut his new radio show, “Larry Conners USA,” which will air each weeknight from 9 p.m. to midnight on the St. Louis news/talk KTRS-AM 550. Conners has been off the air for just over a year following his controversial exit from KMOV-TV Ch. 4, ending a 27 year run as news anchor.

Since Conners made the KTRS announcement June 18th, I’ve been excited about how this new late evening news-centric talk show may pan out. I have never lived in St. Louis nor have I ever watched a Conners newscast, but I’ve been following him via Facebook since his KMOV exit and often find his commentaries to be interesting, whether I agree with him or not.

While I would expect some of the news and political topics on his show to be relevant to only St. Louis, I get the sense there will be plenty of national news and politics, in addition more off-the-wall topics that may not necessarily be of the norm. I’m hoping that the later hours will also allow for less commercials and more time for extended conversation.

I hope Conners brings well-reasoned and thought-provoking discussion of the day’s most relevant news issues to night time radio. Conners, who admits to being more to the right of center, describes himself as sometimes being too far to the left for conservatives and too far to the right for liberals.

One area of Conners’ show that has me slightly nervous already is tonight’s third hour, where he will have a guest that discusses UFO abductions. Will Conners provide a forum for such paranormal nonsense to go unchallenged or will he hold the guest accountable? I admit, much of my optimism for his show may be squashed if he lets this guest spew on unchallenged.

For Chicagoans still displaced following the loss of Milt Rosenberg’s “Extension 720” on WGN-AM 720, Conners’ show may be worth sampling. While I don’t expect he’ll match the level of variety of discussion and intellect Rosenberg brought to his one of a kind program, I do hope Conners provides a fresh and lively show that allows me to break away from the podcasts and various radio replays that I’ve had no choice to be content with.

For more about Larry Conners, you can visit his new website,

SiriusXM P.O.T.U.S. channel leaves me wanting more

Politico’s Dylan Byers reports that NBC News journalist and MSNBC host Chuck Todd will soon have his own weekly Saturday show on the SiriusXM P.O.T.U.S. channel. The new program, Unscripted with Chuck Todd, will allow the host to discuss key political issues at greater depth, minus the restraints that come with television.

While I’m pleased by this, the addition of one weekend show doesn’t solve the programming hole P.O.T.U.S. has Monday through Friday once the sun goes down. Once Julie Mason’s live Press Pool broadcast concludes at 5 p.m. CT, it’s all repeat programming of either Mason or the Michael Smerconish Program from earlier in the day until Tim Farley’s Morning Briefing the next day.

I suppose it’s fair to assume P.O.T.U.S. isn’t the most profitable channel for SiriusXM, so going with repeat programming near the end of the day saves a lot of money that they may not make back. By 8 or 9 p.m. though, a Smerconish show from 12 hours ago is sometimes dated if the topic he’s discussing has newer details. I do love the idea of Smerconish’s long-form discussion and think a similar style program live in the evenings would be the perfect fit.

The sole reason I signed up for SirusXM this past summer was for their P.O.T.U.S. channel. I enjoy the free-flow of political conversation that is absent from the stench of partisan agenda. I wish we had more non-partisan political programs options via podcasting or on terrestrial radio.

Jerry Agar mentions blog post about his NewsTalk 1010 show

NewsTalk 1010 in TorontoI would like to thank Jerry Agar for referencing this blog on his CFRB-AM/NewsTalk 1010 radio show earlier today (as well as on his own blog). NewsTalk 1010 is by and large the WLS-AM 890 or WGN-AM 720 of Toronto, if not Ontario. It is a mega radio station in Canada with a lot of reach and heritage.

Agar, a former Chicago radio host at both WLS and WGN, was referencing the piece I wrote last week about him comparing Toronto politics, and more specifically Mayor Rob Ford, versus the political nonsense that Illinois is long known for.  In that piece, I mentioned that NewsTalk 1010 is the type of news/talk station I wish we had in Chicago. NewsTalk 1010, both on air and online, trumps most of the various talk stations in the U.S.

You can listen the audio from Jerry Agar’s show using the player below (approximately two minutes).

Former WLS host Jerry Agar busy as ever thanks to Rob Ford and the Toronto political scene

Jerry Agar, News/Talk Radio Host

Jerry Agar

Rob Ford has been a lightning rod for controversy and high political drama since his rise to Toronto mayor in 2010. It’s only appropriate that Ford’s accent to the top came shortly after the arrival of Jerry Agar, talk radio’s own lightning rod for high political drama.

Agar spent a few years in Chicago, primarily as a midday host at WLS-AM 890 from Dec. 2006 to Oct. 2008. After WLS management made the foolish decision to remove Agar in favor of Erich “Mancow” Muller, he spent the better part of a year as a weekend and occasional weekday fill-in host at WGN-AM 720.  Since Feb. 2010, he’s been hosting the late morning midday show on CFRB-AM/NewsTalk 1010 in Toronto.

Considering his familiarity with the political shenanigans that Illinois is known for, I asked Agar how covering Mayor Ford and the Toronto political scene compares to his time in Chicago:

Nothing compares to covering Rob Ford. That is for two reasons. One is the man himself.  He is a walking headline. He is bomb ready to go off on a daily basis. I lost count of how many days there have been when I had a whole show planned and it went out the window because of the mayor and the need to talk about him — and I go on the air at 9 a.m. (ET). The other reason is that there are people [in] the media here, particularly the Toronto Star that have a visceral hatred for him. They spend all of their time it seems trying to bring him down. They claim righteous credit now, but they were after him before he got elected, so their practice of hounding his mother, hiding in the bushes at the family cottage and misreporting some stories on him is shameful.

Agar is a vocal and passionate talker who can easily rile up listeners who disagree with his conservative and libertarian views. Known for his sometimes lack of patience and tendency to raise his voice, it’s easy to assume that Agar is always angry. It didn’t take long for Agar’s brand of conservatism to get under the skin of some Torontonians.

Agar added:

What is fascinating is that he has actually accomplished some of the things he went to city hall to do. He reigned in spending, contracted out garbage collection to a private operator (for savings and fewer complaints about service) and pushed through a subway plan no one else could get done. He also got a contract done with the unions with no strikes, which is something his lefty predecessors could not do.

Certainly, such opinions are what his liberal listeners would take exception to on a daily basis.

For the record, I should state that having talked to a handful of people who have previously worked with Agar, he is typically known as a sincerely nice guy who is genuinely passionate about his political beliefs and that he truly believes in what he says on the air. A news anchor having worked with him in Chicago described Agar as a “real riot” while prepping for his show.

It was Agar’s high level of discussion and his ability to eloquently state an opinion that drew me to his WLS and WGN shows — even if I often found myself in disagreement with him. It’s that same level of discussion and passion that continues to draw me to his NewsTalk 1010 show in Toronto.  Even though I’ve never been to Toronto, nor do I have any ties with Canada, I can tune into an Agar show, having no familiarity with the issue being discussed, and instantly get pulled. I’ve found myself tuning into Agar the following day or listening to other NewsTalk 1010 hosts to see how an issue has progressed.

NewsTalk 1010 is the news/talk station that I wish we had in Chicago — a live and local station featuring a mix of conservative and liberal hosts that discuss the relevant news of the day. While the station excels on air, their web presence surpasses just about every other radio station in the United States. While their website design is decent and the navigation is very simple to operate, it is their high level of original content that greatly compliments the on air product. The website features an abundance of daily blogs and video features from station personalities, as well as a full archive of show podcasts.

While Chicago is lucky to WGN, which has gone back to playing up to its all live and all local strengths, it has become extremely soft by adopting a less controversial tone of conversation in exchange for a more friendly and general type of talk. I am not taking away from what WGN is doing today though — the station has assembled a variety of hosts, with different styles and credentials. The fact WGN falls short in the category of serious news/talk is purely strategic.

WLS, meanwhile, continues to make a half-assed effort. Asides from the “Roe & Roeper” show, the rest of their local lineup doesn’t come anywhere close to the level that Agar and the late Don Wade (with his wife Roma) brought each day. In addition, the absurd level of commercials and the continued “Traffic and Weather, First on the Five’s” routine makes it very hard to hear enough of Roe’s afternoon show to make it worth the effort. I wish WLS’s ownership, Cumulus, would try more of an outside the box approach, similar to what NewsTalk 1010 does, as opposed to the same cookie cutter, local conservative programming mixed in with syndicated conservative programming. In the case of WLS, they are lucky to have three live and local shows, compared to smaller markets which may only have one, if that.

Agar seems to be doing well in Toronto. In addition to his radio show, he is a columnist at the Toronto Sun and appears regularly on television via Sun News. While I often wish he was still in Chicago, I’m happy for his success in Toronto.

Agar can be heard live each weekday from 8 to 11 a.m. CT via the NewsTalk 1010 website or on mobile via the TuneIn app. I typically listen to his podcasts via the station’s website. To learn more about Agar and how he dissects doing talk radio in Canada versus the United States, I recommend his 2010 interview with the “Radiogirl” Margaret Larkin.