Torch Tidbits: Jennifer Keiper returning to WLS, Chicago’s evening newscasts and more

- I’m happy to hear that Jennifer Keiper is returning to WLS-AM 890, where she will anchor the afternoon news during Roe Conn and Richard Roeper’s show. Keiper is a news pro and should make for a solid addition to the station’s overall news operations.

Keiper was one of a handful of WLS on air staffers who were let go on February 29, 2008, in what turned out to be an intense cost-cutting measure by then owner Citadel. Among other WLS staffers let go that day were Christina Filiaggi, Bill Camerson, David Jennings, Nate Clay and the late Jake Hartford.

Cameron was brought back several weeks later, while Filiaggi would return later that year before being bounced for a second time in 2009. Filiaggi returned again in March, 2010 and has stayed put since.

- Terence Henderson analyzes a recent survey by TVNewsCheck in regards to Chicago’s declining evening newscasts. Asides from a quick glance at the top stories once in a while, or when seeking a particular story of interest, I try to avoid the local newscasts like the plague, for much of the very reasons cited by Terrence as to why Chicago’s newscasts are such a mess.

- While NBC’s “Meet the Press” continues to plummet, I was only able to stomach about 12 seconds this past Sunday with the ridiculous sense of urgency David Gregory brought to the immigration/border control crisis.

Yes, the problem is a crisis, but it isn’t exactly breaking news, even though it came across as so. Not how I want to start my Sunday morning during what is supposed to be a nice and relaxing holiday weekend.

- For those hoping that Dan McNeil returns sooner rather than later to the Chicago airwaves, you’ll have to wait another two weeks… at least. McNeil announced on Facebook over the weekend that he’ll be spending the next two weeks fishing in Ontario, Canada.

- Cincinnati’s favorite radio import and WGN-AM 720 outcast has been busy of late, filling in around the clock in recent weeks on WLW-AM 700 in Cincinnati. McConnell’s workload continues for the next two weeks as he fills in for the station’s morning host, Jim Scott.

- Eddie Volkman is a moron. With his tasteless comments regarding “Jobo,” perhaps Volkman is aiming to audition as a new sidekick for Mancow!

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Loss of ‘America Weekend’ leaves weekend talk radio broke and brokered

America Weekend Radio - Envision Radio Networks

The smut and garbage that has decimated weekend programming on radio stations throughout the country has claimed another life. “America Weekend,” a block of live, compelling and original talk radio programming has ceased further production following this past weekend’s shows. Syndicated by the Envision Radio Networks, the six hour block of programming each Saturday and Sunday aimed to minimize the amount of brokered real estate, financial, travel and health programming that airs on various news/talk stations nationwide.

Kipper McGee, Veteran Radio Programmer

Kipper McGee, Radio Programmer

Launched in early 2013, I was on-board as a fan from the start after it was announced that veteran broadcaster Paul Harris signed on to host the Saturday and Sunday 8 to 11 a.m. block. The remaining blocks were hosted by either Turi Ryder or Rob Carson (Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

The shows were modular, meaning stations could carry as much of it as they wanted, in and around live sports or other programming. The concept was orchestrated by veteran radio programmer Kipper McGee. Unfortunately, the sad reality after a year and a half resulted in not enough stations willing to part ways with the easy money that brokered programming provides.

“America Weekend” host Paul Harris provided further explanation on his blog:

But the one thing Kipper and I couldn’t do was change the paradigm of weekend talk radio around the country. While we grew from our original two affiliates to about 30 from Alaska to Mississippi, we kept running into a brick wall with stations that only cared about putting on programming that gave them a check that cleared, even if it hurt their ratings. I even had a top executive from one of the major radio groups tell me that, although he loved the product we were putting on the air, he’d never be able to convince his sales managers to abandon the way they’ve been doing weekends for the last decade.

For as much as I wanted the concept to work, I admit I lost some optimism not far into its beginning. It was very hard to find affiliates that carried the show, thus making it hard to listen to live. Any of the available streams that I could find via the TuneIn app were mostly small market stations — any major market station that was willing to come on-board surely would have been publicized. I usually downloaded the “America Weekend” website. Not a viable way for them to make money, I’m sure.

What bums me about the loss of “America Weekend” is the six hours of Paul Harris each weekend. Paul has stated on his website that he will now return to semi-retirement, while continuing to host his local Friday show on KTRS-AM 550 in St. Louis, in addition to any other fill-in work from time to time.

Paul Harris, Veteran Radio Host

Paul Harris, Radio Host

While I don’t consider myself the authority on news/talk radio, it is my opinion that Paul is the best radio talk show host in America. I quickly became a fan of his in July 2008 after hearing him fill in for “Don and Roma” on WLS-AM 890 in Chicago. On top of that, I will always remain indebted to him since it was Paul who planted the seed for me to adapt an active mindset open to skepticism and critical thinking. Between reading his blog regularly (as well as his vast archive) and listening to countless shows where he filled on stations across the country, he has, without over-exaggerating, literally changed my life. I highly regret not having been aware of him back when he was broadcasting five days a week.

I should note that while Paul’s blog and previous radio shows did inspire me (aka correct previous assumptions and beliefs) politically, “America Weekend” was far from being a typical political show. It was the exact opposite. It was more of a news and lifestyle talk show, occupied by an assortment of guests to discuss a variety of topics. Paul had authors, actors, artists and journalists, and you always knew you were going to walk away having learned something useful or interesting, whether the discussion related to the importance of science education, climate change, the new iPad or green technology.

I’m sorry to see “America Weekend” belly up as a result of reluctant radio managers refusing to sacrifice easy money in exchange for providing their listeners with live and compelling content. A radio host friend of mine in Chicago once told me of a conversion he had with a programmer who described the easy money that comes from such brokered programming as being like “crack cocaine.”

In the news/talk radio industry, brokered programming has become an addiction. Unfortunately, creativity was not enough to either stop the abuse or prevent a relapse.

Follow-up Content:

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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, LarryConnersUSA.com.

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Garry Meier fans blocked from WGN’s Facebook page?

Garry MeierIs WGN-AM 720 unfairly quieting angry Garry Meier fans from its Facebook page or were they left with no choice? That is the question in response to Susan Vethacke, who claims to have been blocked from WGN’s Facebook in posts on the Chicagoland Radio & Media message board.

Vethacke identifies herself as the creator of the Facebook group, Bring Back Garry Meier — a group that has 1,400 likes. I composed a mini write-up of that group here on June 13. The removal of Meier from the terrestrial AM 720 to the online-stream WGN.FM has been a controversial subject for the 90 year old news/talk station.

While I previously wrote that I admired the efforts of the Bring Back Garry Meier Facebook group, my opinion have changed. It seems that no matter what WGN posts to their Facebook, the comments area are hijacked by Vetacke and other angry Meier fans. I thought it was mildly inappropriate, for example, when fans hijacked a post that was designated to congratulate the newly engaged Karen Conti, a frequent WGN guest and legal expert. When any fringe group crosses a certain line, they start to hurt their cause rather than help it. Whether hijacking a thread about one’s marital engagement is considered crossing the line is left to individual opinion.

Another point worth making is that WGN blocking Meier fans from commenting on their Facebook is not a freedom of speech issue. Freedom of speech applies to the protection of speech from the government via the First Amendment. You can’t call your boss a “jack ass” and expect not to get fired because of freedom of speech. WGN has the right to dictate comments on its Facebook, just as I have the right to dictate reader comments on this blog.

If the moving of Meier was all political, even at the potential expense of ratings and advertising revenue, then it seems even more unlikely that WGN management would reverse course, even if the move does pan out to be a mistake.

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Dan McNeil gameplan: Scoring a return to middays or gaming a move to afternoons?

Dan McNeil, 670 The Score/WSCR-AMAs a long-time fan of Dan McNeil, I hope he resurfaces somewhere on the Chicago sports radio circuit sooner rather than later. There’s been zero news concerning McNeil since his final June 13 broadcast on 670 The Score/WSCR-AM. As alluded by Larz at Chicagoland Radio and Media, and by McNeil himself previously on the Chicago Sports Fan message board earlier this year, the long-time sports talk host seems content with enjoying summer and recharging his batteries before making any decisions on a comeback.

While there isn’t any new news, persay, Robert Feder sums up nicely the current scenario and potential options ahead for McNeil. The easy guess, in my opinion, is that McNeil resurfaces on his Score midday show sometime before Bears season.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t be heart broken if McNeil were to change co-hosts or even stations. While I’m not anti Matt Spiegel, McNeil’s co-host on The Score since 2009, I think McNeil would benefit from the rejuvenation that he would likely get with a new co-host, especially if he were to turn up in the afternoon on the still relatively new 87.7 The Game/WGWG-LP.

I would prefer McNeil be paired with a co-host that is younger and perhaps edgier. I don’t have anyone in mind, necessary, but I haven’t been a huge fan of the McNeil and Spiegal pairing since day one. I still believe Spiegal is at his best with his former “Hit and Run” co-host and frequent Score fill-in host Barry Rozner.

While I would be very surprised if McNeil moved to The Game, I would welcome it, ensuring that there is some long-term security for him, considering we don’t know what the future of the station might be (87.7 LP goes away towards the later end of 2015). McNeil’s not moving to a jumpstart venture, such as The Game, unless it is for an afternoon drive spot, which he is on the record of badly wanting. As a long-time McNeil fan, there’s nothing like some good ol’ Danny Mac sports talk in the afternoon after a long day at the office.

UPDATED 6/30/14: Earlier today, Dan McNeil tweeted the following:

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ABC taps David Muir to succeed Diane Sawyer as ‘World News’ anchor

David Muir, ABC World News

Network broadcasting evening news isn’t what it used to be. While not exactly breaking news, such an observation was more apparent this week after ABC News announced that Diane Sawyer will be stepping down as host of “World News,” and will be succeeded by current weekend “World News” host, David Muir, beginning Sept. 2.

I’m pretty sure Megyn Kelly’s move to primetime on the Fox News Channel, or the Piers Morgan primetime exit at CNN got more reaction then the Sawyer/Muir news.

I haven’t been a fan of Sawyer’s overall presentation since succeeding Charles Gibson as “World News” host — most notably because the awkward inflections that turn up so often in her voice. Muir, has the look of a star anchor man and has done a good job on the weekend ‘World News.’ While I’m not 100% confident a 40 year old Muir would have been ABC’s first choice for the job full-time, say back in 1988 or 2005, he should be a fine choice for the modern incarnation of the network evening newscast.

At first, I suspected that ABC News veteran George Stephanopoulos would not have been all too happy about not getting the “World News” gig — it has been believed for years that he had his eyes on that job. Considering how far the network evening newscast has fallen in prominence, however, being named the network’s overall “lead news anchor” may be enough to make him happy. As lead news anchor, Stephanopoulos will be ABC News’ go to for all breaking news and special events, including election nights — a role that traditionally was occupied by the host of “World News.”

Stephanopoulos, who signed a long-term extension with ABC News in April, will continue to host “Good Morning America” and “This Week.” Sawyer, meanwhile, will become a full-time investigative reporter and appear for special interviews.

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Kenny Albert refuses to slow down

Kenny AlbertSports broadcaster Kenny Albert has had one heck of a busy month. As the radio play-by-play voice of the New York Rangers, he called all six games of the Rangers/Canadiens Eastern Conference Finals, while also calling all seven games of the Blackhawks/Kings Western Conference Finals for NBC Sports.

For the better part of two weeks, Albert was traveling back and forth between New York, Chicago, Montreal and Los Angeles.

While Albert’s schedule obviously became less hectic during the Rangers/Kings Stanley Cup Finals, it doesn’t mean he’s entirely off the hook.

Less than 24 hours after the Rangers lost the series to the Kings after five games on Friday night, Albert flew from Los Angeles to St. Louis to call last night’s Nationals/Cardinals game on Fox.

While I’m sure Albert wishes the Rangers/Kings series would have gone the other way, he should be due for some kind of a break now that the Rangers season is over.

Blowtorch Bytes
A few misc. observations while watching last night’s Nationals/Cardinals game during Fox’s “Baseball Night in America” broadcast.

Baseball Night in America- I’ve hated that Fox has been using their NFL theme music package for all other sports broadcasts (something they started doing during the 2010 MLB post-season). I was happy when I heard their classic MLB music during last night’s “Baseball Night in America” broadcast. They have continued to use their MLB music package on Fox Sports 1 MLB broadcasts as well as for MLB games on their respective Fox Sports regional channels. It’s a great sounding package and deserves use on the main Fox network. I’m glad it’s back, though they were still using the NFL music at the open of last night’s “Baseball Night in America” pregame studio show. I get that use of the NFL theme package seemingly adds prominence to the broadcast, but it just doesn’t work. It feels dirty.

- By the way, I hate the “Baseball Night in America” name. I get that Fox wants to market their Saturday primetime broadcasts as something special, but the entire “fill in the blank Night in America” name has been overdone. It started in Canada with “Hockey Night in America,” which NBC borrowed for their “Football Night in America” primetime studio show several years back. NBC borrowed the idea again for their own “Hockey Day in America” specials. And now, Fox has borrowed it for their primetime baseball broadcasts. It’s overdone.

- Thumbs up to new MLB on Fox game analyst Tom Verducci, who worked last night’s Nationals/Cardinals game with Kenny Albert. Verducci was a joy to listen to, especially when explaining, in-depth, the throwing mechanics of Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg and Cardinals starter Shelby Miller. I’ve long enjoyed Verducci on MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight” broadcasts, so I’m not shocked that he has adapted so nicely in the broadcast booth.

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Question for the ‘Bring Back Garry Meier’ Facebook group: Where else can Garry go?

Garry MeierI admire the efforts of whoever is running the Bring Back Garry Meier Facebook page. The person administering the group has stated that the objective is to not rest until Meier is either back on the WGN-AM 720 airwaves or that he is released from his WGN contract and free to work elsewhere.

My sincere question for this group, and to anyone else thinking Meier could turn up elsewhere is, which which Chicago radio station would honestly hire him, let alone pay him the amount of money he’d likely want?

I’m not asking out of spite. As a fan of Meier, I believe he has been shortchanged by WGN boss Jimmy de Castro. That said, for those hoping he eventually turns up elsewhere, I don’t see that as a real possibility. The question I ask of the Meier Facebook group simply needs to be asked.

There aren’t any other talk stations that have the same relaxed and loose fit that WGN has. WLS-AM 890 and 560 The Answer/WIND-AM are out, because they air more news/serious topical type of programing. The same goes for Chicago’s Progressive Talk/WCPT-AM 820. Meier’s more fun and less serious topics would not fit on any of those stations, unless one of them were willing to make a compromise in direction for a few hours.

Which FM music station would abandon its format to air a talk show for a few hours each afternoon? Most music stations don’t break format except for mornings. In 2014, I do think radio stations should be willing to play it less safe and try something different — a Garry Meier show on, for example, the Cumulus-owned 97.9 The Loop/WLUP-FM would be pretty unique. Unfortunately, corporate-owned radio stations typically don’t strive away from playing it safe. There’s always the chance Meier could be willing to do a morning show on a FM music station, but you’d still the caveat concerning money.

The only other station that could possibly work might be the DuPage County branded right-wing talker 1530 The Blaze/WCKG-AM. I mention WCKG as a remote possibility because the station has previously changed directions, trying new things in hopes to draw more listeners. I tend to think that if the opportunity to employ Meier was viable, they would not pass that up.  A significant drawback of WCKG might be reach. Their poor frequency throughout much of Chicago’s south and southwest suburbs might make listening to Meier a challenge (though no worse if you already can’t listen to him online). There’s still also the potential issue concerning money.

As you can see, the options for Meier turning up elsewhere most likely are slim to none minus any unforseen changes. Having said that, even though having an online-only show is still less than ideal in 2014, being on WGN.FM is probably the best case scenario for Meier and his fans.

If you have the means to listen, I’d highly recommend it. With the absence of long newscasts and excessive commercials, Meier’s “streamliner” makes for a fun listening experience.

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Congrats to Sun-Times: Worse newspaper cover page I’ve ever seen

Sun-Times Cover

I’ve seen a lot of bad newspaper cover pages that were insipid, ridiculous and downright insulting.

As harmless as today’s Chicago Sun-Times cover page may be, it has officially become the worst newspaper cover page I’ve ever seen.

Only a stupid person would buy a damn newspaper because of that “Mayor vs. Donald” headline.

What a great way to begin Friday the 13th.

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Blowtorch Soundoff: Cubs/WBBM, Garry Meier move to online, Robert Feder on De Castro

On this Blowtorch Soundoff, I discuss the angry reaction from some WGN-AM 720 listeners unhappy about the Chicago Cubs moving to WBBM-AM 780 next year. The Cubs opting to rid themselves of the Cubs, in-conjunction with the moving of Garry Meier off terrestrial radio has easily damaged the goodwill that WGN and new boss Jimmy de Castro worked so hard to re-build in the last year. I also give my take on media columnist Robert Feder, who I am a fan of, but can’t help but be disappointed at his lack of objectivism when it comes to reporting on de Castro and today’s WGN.

Approximate audio length: 13 minutes

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