WGN Radio Michigan Avenue Showcase Studio Has New Name

More changes for WGN Radio.

When we are in Chicago there is always one place we stop and look at when on Michigan Avenue.  That is the most remarkable showcase studio of WGN radio. 

There’s no use getting upset about WGN-AM (720) selling the naming rights to its Michigan Avenue Showcase Studio after more than 25 years in operation, but still . . .

When the street-level broadcast center at the southwest corner of Tribune Tower officially becomes known as the Allstate Showcase Studio on May 1, it will mark one more encroachment of commerce on a familiar Chicago fixture.

“It was important for us to find the right partner for this iconic part of Chicago’s landscape,” Tom Langmyer, vice president and general manager of the Tribune Co.-owned news/talk station, told staffers in a memo. “We’re thrilled to have a respected Chicagoland-headquartered institution to share in our commitment to our hometown.”

What’s more thrilling for WGN has to be the revenue (as yet undisclosed) attached to the multiyear sponsorship deal. The station is coming off another tough year — 2011 billing was down more than $3 million — and its parent company is still mired in the longest-running bankruptcy on record. So a little extra cash comes in handy.

Radio has been in especially good hands with Allstate Insurance Co., which more than doubled its ad spending last year to $138 million, according to Inside Radio. In addition to securing naming rights to the studios of WGN and sports/talk WFAN-AM in New York, the company also replaced Jewel-Osco as exclusive sponsor of WGN’s Hometown Voices Tour of suburban remote broadcasts.

It’s not clear how much signage will be visible to passersby at 435 North Michigan Avenue, since the station says only that the sponsorship will include “an interior studio wrap featuring WGN Radio and Allstate graphics and on-air naming recognition.” Because Tribune Tower is an official city landmark, any changes to the building’s exterior would require review by the city’s landmarks commission.

WGN Radio Soon To Be News Free?

It is almost impossible to hear more than two sentences for any news story when listening to WGN radio.  They almost never report foreign news, or even the latest Congressional fights that impact our lives.  WGN radio is not only almost free of news, but doing everything possible to make it even more so.

Odd that a talk station would find the news too (fill in the blank) when many of the topics discussed are……news stories!

With the layoff of award-winning Chicago radio veteran Jim Gudas as midday news anchor last week, news/talk WGN-AM (720) is becoming less “news” and more “talk” than ever.

Bill White, director of programming and news at the Tribune Co.-owned station, said the move was made solely for financial reasons. Gudas will not be replaced, and his duties have been divided among others in WGN’s dwindling news department.

White added the news title to his programming role after the station chose not to replace Charlie Meyerson, who exited as news director last June. Rob Hart, a news anchor and reporter, also was not replaced when he quit last July to join Meyerson at Merlin Media all-news WIQI-FM (101.1).

The elimination of three positions in less than a year leaves WGN with just four full-time news employees — anchors Judy Pielach (who carries the additional title of “newsroom coordinator”), Steve Bertrand, Andrea Darlas and Paula Cooper. Weekends are handled by part-timers.

With no one to cover City Hall (Dave Stewart was cut in 2010), cops and firemen (Larry Schreiner’s been gone since 2005) or any other beats, WGN has to rely increasingly on reporters for the Chicago Tribune or WGN-Channel 9 whenever news breaks. The company also dropped its affiliations with ABC News and the Associated Press.

For a station that once was a radio news leader, WGN hardly seems competitive with CBS Radio all-news WBBM-AM (780), which also simulcasts on WCFS-FM (105.9), or with Chicago Public Media WBEZ-FM (91.5). The elimination of Gudas’s position is one more step in the wrong direction.