Why I Detest Hedge Funds, Chicago Tribune Showcases Reasons

If you ever wondered what the call letters for WGN (radio or TV) stand for now might be the time to find out. Because the root of the meaning is slowing dying.

Col. Robert McCormick was a legendary businessman and mover and shaper of Chicago. He is best known as the owner and publisher of the famed Chicago Tribune. He rightly had proclaimed that newspaper as the “World’s Greatest Newspaper” as it was a long-time preeminent source of news for the region. When the company bought a radio station and television station the idea for the call letters fell into place.

WGN.

Now the newspaper has fallen into the grubby and destructive hands of a hedge fund known for destroying local journalism.

When it comes to hedge funds it comes as no surprise I rank them alongside those who sold cure-all elixirs door-to-door at one time in our nation. They are best termed as “vulture capitalists”. Soulless, too.

Now comes news that the newspaper will likely be saying goodbye, by the end of next week, to some of its best-known names who, with their bylines, have allowed readers to know a credible reporter was writing the story. The reason for this madness is the newspaper is fully under the control of a hedge fund known for severe cost-cutting. No regard for talent and experience, or the needs of the citizenry to have a newspaper designed to impart information to all the neighborhoods and communities that rely on the Tribune.

Instead, there is now a voluntary buyout underway as Alden Global Capital sinks their teeth into the meat and bone of a newspaper that has been a regional necessity for readers. If the new owners accept the reporter’s buyout they will be gone by Friday, June 18th.

I have no problem with money being made by a business, but I do have deep concerns when the goal is money over ‘anything else’. In this case, ‘anything else’ is the local news that will be short-changed from being reported. I do not wish to be viewed as having only sentimental or nostalgic “back in the day” perspectives that are brought to this issue. While I was raised with a daily newspaper in our Hancock home, and have subscribed to at least one daily paper during all my adult years my purpose of writing this post is due to a long-lasting truism.

Journalists do work continuously to get the facts sorted, copy written, and edits made under deadlines and tremendous pressures so that we can learn the news we need to know as citizens.

Short-term profits for hedge funds at the expense of iconic news operations or the needs of news consumers are appalling. We need regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, (be it radio, newspapers, or broadcast television), into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

And so it goes.

Orion Samuelson Makes History This Week In Radio Broadcasting, To Retire In December

Sixty years ago this week legendary radio broadcaster and farm reporter Orion Samuelson had his first appearance behind the famed WGN studio microphones. In his autobiography Orion writes it was September 26, 1960 when he first stated, “This is WGN radio, clear channel radio serving the nation from Chicago.”

It was a great leap to WGN from Green Bay television and even further from his farm days as a boy in Ontario, Wisconsin. At the end of this year Orion will retire at the age of 87.

The reason I write about him is two-fold. First Orion has been a many-decades part of my radio listening. WGN has always been my main station for information and talk radio since a teenager. Orion’s voice–that deep baritone that commands listening attention while at the same time being conversational and friendly has been a touchstone on the radio dial. Throw in his clear and precise enunciation—the only voice equal to that professionalism was Paul Harvey–and it was just comfortable to hear him–even when talking about pork bellies.

The other reason he is one to honor is his working with the famed announcers such as Wally Phillips, a man I so admired and respected, and when a young man wanted to emulate. Orion rubbed shoulders with Bob Collins, Spike O’Dell, Paul Harvey, Milt Rosenberg, Steve and Johnnie, and Roy Leonard. These were heavy-hitters that drove the ratings and were of the type of radio personalities listeners wanted to invite into their home or car when the radio was on. I was thrilled when the famed studio where Uncle Bobby and others worked at was made part of broadcasting history in a museum.

So with the news that Orion will retire–and yes, we all knew the day was coming–we experience an uneasy sensation. Part of that is due to never wanting to part with someone we may have never met, yet who is ‘a friend’. The second reason is that with so much which has happened this year it seems essential that some tried and true connections to normal times remain.

We throw out the term “illustrious career” and it is often used for too many people when less over-reaching words would be more precise. But in the case of Orion the term is most apt. When radio at times on other stations can be low-brow, nasty, petty, and crude Orion maintained a high standard of broadcast integrity that I write about on CP, and require from those I listen to on radio.

Now we wish Orion the best as he will retire at the end of the year, but first, a heartfelt THANKS for the time he spent with us.

WGN Radio Ownership Perhaps To Change To Sinclair Broadcast Group–A Stain On Professionalism

I have been listening to WGN radio for over 40 years.  It has been the benchmark which I gauge other stations–other then NPR–which has its special brand of professionalism.  I am so concerned about the future status of this institution on the radio dial due to the up-coming actions of the Trump Administration.

From the years in my bedroom in Hancock, Wisconsin where the words from Eddie Schwartz would lull me to sleep and Wally Phillips would make me laugh as I got ready for school.  From “the girlfriends’ during mid-day in my adult years, to Steve and Johnnie at night–there was never a year when WGN was not a home or car companion.

Media manipulation is a real phenomenon.  It is bad for the industry.  It is bad for democracy.  I get the fact that too many in our nation have no idea what those last three sentences mean.   That too is part of the problem we face, and why our nation is now in such a troubling place.

It was ‘Chicago ‘ Ed Schwartz who made me aware that a radio announcer could be a friend to those who listened.  Equally important Eddie was wildly successful even though he did not have what might be considered a classic sounding radio voice.  Both of those lessons were ones I took with me to my job at WDOR radio in Sturgeon Bay when I sat in the broadcast booth.

Now radio is being used as a political tool aimed for not being that invited company which my mom turned to as she ironed clothes, or I wanted on long car trips, but instead as a way to manipulate news, spin politics, and rack up wins for partisans.

WGN always stood apart from other talk stations due to how each broadcaster cast his or her own show.  Being a companion on the dial as opposed to being bombastic and crude made WGN personalities always welcome.    What may be in the offing is hard to accept.

Jeff Hoover, a longtime producer and on-air contributor for WGN-Channel 9’s top-rated morning news show, was the first employee to speak out Monday about the impending takeover of the Tribune Media station by Sinclair Broadcast Group.

In response to a video montage that went viral last weekend showing anchors at Sinclair stations delivering identical messages parroting President Donald Trump’s anti-media talking points, Hoovertweeted: “Re: Sinclair – There is NO WAY any of our on-air anchors and reporters will read their scripted messages on our show. Chicago’s Very Own, not owned.

Referring to the video of Sinclair’s media-bashing campaign, a third source said it “validated everyone’s fears about the company. It’s a very bad joke — a real embarrassment and the furthest thing from credible journalism.”

Back last spring when the $3.9 billion deal with Sinclair was first announced, the irreverent cast of “WGN Morning News” mined it for laughs. Anchorman Larry Potash called Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley live on the air and left a voice mail message asking: “What can we expect? Is the holiday party going to be a bit better this year?” The next day, weatherman Paul Konrad concluded a bit about the new owners with the deadpan: “I’m sure that it’s going to be better here for us in the future.”

No one’s joking about it anymore.

With “Chicago’s Very Own” producing more than 70 hours of local news each week, the prospect of Sinclair calling the shots has people who care about ethics and integrity in the newsroom feeling anxious and worried.

Milt Rosenberg Was Teacher And Broadcaster On WGN Radio, Dies At 92

In 2014 Milt Rosenberg was among the inaugural inductees into the WGN Radio Walk of Fame, with a plaque installed in the sidewalk outside Tribune Tower.

Having grown up in a home without television until I was in the sixth grade created the man I am today.  With a daily newspaper, radio, and books I continually discovered a world that was fascinating to learn about, and never short of new wonders to engage my mind.

That may sound like an odd place in which to start a blog post about the death of Milt Rosenberg, the professor who engaged his WGN radio audience with insightful interviews covering a broad swath of categories.  He died this week at the age of 92.  But his love of learning and talking about matters which intrigued him seemed to echo with the man I became.  He had characteristics which I found most compelling.

WGN has always been the type of station which allows for creative and interesting people to broadcast, and along the way make an impact on listeners which cover some 25 states.  Rosenberg’s “Extension 720” was a two-hour daily weeknight broadcast where a discussion of topics ranging from the maturation of African economies to the art of exorcism in the Catholic Church could be found.  He had a vocabulary which made me wonder if he always did crossword puzzles in ink.   His diction and on-air abilities were solid and his comfort zone behind the console seemed so self-assured.

What he was able to convince his listeners of each night was that it was all so easy.  Milt made it seem as if this was just a conversation between him and me–and the guest might be the interloper.  No matter where I was at the time of his show–be it as I was driving or settled back in bed listening–there was an intimacy to his show.  Rosenberg underscored something I have said about radio for decades.  Radio is the most intimate medium that exists.

The facts are of course that radio broadcasting is not easy.  It takes training and timing and patience.   I know as broadcasting from WDOR was my first career choice.   But Milt made his job look easy and that is, of course, a sign of a professional.

As a boy I would latch onto a radio voice such as Earl Nightengale’s and wish to emulate it, but given he had a bass-like resonance that was never to be.  There was only one Paul Harvey type of vocal delivery and there was no way to emulate that man.  And while it has been many years since I have been behind a microphone with a headset and dials galore in front me of me I still have great respect and admiration for the radio personalities who have made my listening hours so pleasurable.

Like Milt Rosenberg.

The part of him that remains as my favorite thought concerns his love of learning, thinking, and talking it all out with others.  That to me is the definition of being rich.  Having a curious mind, the ability to wade deep into topics which fascinate, and then engage others in a lively dialogue.

It is clear that Milt lived such a life.

Godspeed to a curious-minded man.

10-22-00, Ted Koppel visits the Milt Rosenberg show on WGN. CST/Brian Jackson

The Passing Of WGN Radio’s Mike Mathis

WGN radio listeners have lost a voice that still  resonates. Though traffic in Chicago was not a concern to me living in Wisconsin, over the many years the voice of Mike Mathis was still a part of my radio family.

WGN Radio announced late today the passing of Mike Mathis, long-time traffic reporter and newly inducted member of the WGN Radio Walk of Fame. An airborne traffic reporter for most of his 25 years on the air at WGN Radio, Mike often flew in both morning and afternoon drive.  He delivered award-winning news coverage in 1990 while covering the shooting of two deputies in Lake County.  His descriptions from the air provided location details that led to their rescue.  Mathis joined the Wally Phillips Show in 1983 and was a key voice from WGN’s Traffic Central until 2008.  His infectious laugh remains a memory.

Letter From Home “Radio Of The Mind” 12/9/16

Radio has always been very special to me.  From the days as a boy, while not understanding the world, there were still the strong authoritative radio voices that announced the news and made stern warnings about severe weather approaching.  I have always been drawn to the tone and delivery style of radio broadcasters as they need to have a range of inflections and emotion that is not required in any other medium.  At age 54 I still have the same warm thoughts about those signals that bounce about and come out of my radio as I did when they came forth from the unit situated on the buffet at my childhood home.

Tonight as I sat in a theater on the campus of UW-Madison to experience a live radio production of  A Wonderful Life I was swept back to the days when I was a boy.  It was an awesome joy to sit with James and  hear the live sound effects and music hearkening back to classic radio shows.  While not old enough to recall first-hand the way radio once created shows like Gunsmoke or The Bickersons I was reminded (again) of the intimacy of radio and how the medium allows our imagination to work.

This beloved American holiday classic came to captivating life as a live 1940’s radio broadcast. With the help of an ensemble that brought a few dozen characters to the stage, the story of idealistic George Bailey unfolds as he considers ending his life one fateful Christmas Eve. This production was also aided with the assistance of WPR which aired a live simulcast broadcast Saturday December 3rd, and you can listen to the whole show.

For me the production was actually more emotional set in the nostalgic element as a radio show than the movie, which I have seen, like most people, countless times.  It was hard to tell at times if they were acting as radio personalities doing a show, or as actors and actresses doing a radio show.    That is the geeky stuff I think about.

ut_wonderfullife2016_bmeyer

Photo by Beau Meyer

As the show unfolded my mind crisscrossed the various parts of my life that intersected with radio.

I still recall  an awesome snowstorm that hit Chicago, but one that missed central Wisconsin.  As a boy I wanted the snow in my backyard, but instead turned to Eddie Schwartz on WGN as he broadcast hour after hour about how Chicago was crippled by the snow and wind.  I recall being in my bedroom and feeling like I was there in the midst of a wild storm.  As he talked with snowplow operators, police, and folks trying to get off the expressways I understood the power and intimacy of radio.  I suspect that there are few young people today who can comprehend what I am talking about.

My mind also traveled back to my years at WDOR in Sturgeon Bay when the station aired a Christmas parade in early December from Kewaunee County.  General Manager Eddy Allen Sr. always loved to talk about WGN radio –where he had once worked–and I was only too happy to hear his stories about that famed station.  Ed was the only person I ever heard on radio who could broadcast a parade.  Think about that for a moment.     

There he sat outside of a store who was a sponsor of the broadcast on what I recall was a cold night with lazy snowflakes fluttering about and with the use of descriptive words he allowed for the theater of the mind–the real role of radio–to come alive.  He knew the power of radio and used the foundations of it to entertain and inform listeners.   He described the floats and atmospherics and allowed anyone who was tuned in to live the moment.

In the era of social media and computer graphics with nothing needed to be left for imagination all that I have written may not mean a great deal.  There is no going back.  But for those who still recall the magic of radio–the radio of the mind–oh, what found memories we shall always have.

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What Was The Worst Weather In Chicago For A Presidential Election?

Tom Skilling from WGN-TV is a treasure.  He knows more about weather and the art of forecasting than anyone I have encountered.  Simply love him.  One of his Facebook readers asked the question of this post.  As a weather geek and politico I found this interesting.

We had Chicago weather historian Frank Wachowski check the records for the 36 presidential elections held since weather records began here in 1870. Over the years the city’s early November weather has varied from a balmy 75 degrees in 1964 (Lyndon B. Johnson) to a very cold high of 33 and low of 17 in 1892 (Grover Cleveland). Measurable rain has fallen 17 times and snow (all traces) four times. The worst weather seems to have occurred in 1932 (Franklin D. Roosevelt) when 1.24 inches of rain fell. The day started out mild with a high of 62, but turned sharply colder with the rain mixing with snow in the evening as the mercury fell to 37 degrees. Election Day 2012 was chilly with a high of 42. Light rain fell during the afternoon and early evening voting hours.

Tribune Media Puts Historic Chicago Building Up For Sale

This is sad for those who have nostalgic feelings about what this building represents to not only Chicago but also the world of journalism and media.   There is not a time when we visit Chicago that James and I do not walk past, pause, and just soak in this iconic building.

Tribune Media said Thursday it is listing for sale its Tribune Tower, its 90-year-old building on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Home to the Chicago Tribune newspaper, the Tower is 36-stories high and sits on three acres of sought-after land in the midst of one of the city’s most popular areas for shopping and dining.

Tribune Media, owner of 42 TV stations, the WGN America national network and other assets, spun off its publishing businesses that included the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers last year, though it held onto a large portfolio of real estate.

The Tower was named a landmark in 1989 so it would presumably remain intact no matter who purchases it, but there is plenty of room for expansion. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Tower has 737,000 square feet of space but is zoned for 2.4 million square feet.