A Death In The Family


by Brule Eagan

The child was born in 1922, and its name was WDAP. Two years later, the child was adopted by the Chicago Tribune, and was renamed for the newspaper’s slogan of “World’s Greatest Newspaper”. Of course, I’m talking about the legendary WGN. In 1948, it’s baby brother, WGN-TV was born. Both grew into one of the most powerful broadcast combos in the country.

Just to illustrate how many people listened to WGN Radio, there was a commuter train accident on the northwest side one morning years ago. The Chicago Police Department found out about it from listening to Wally Phillips. Someone with the wherewithal for a car phone (how quaint) called Wally with the news, and Wally put him on live. The driver didn’t think to call the cops; he called WGN.

On the TV side, in the early ‘60s, Channel Nine’s programming chief was Fred Silverman — the same one who went on to great success at ABC and then NBC. Well, maybe not so much at NBC, but at WGN he looked at the station’s huge movie library, and saw a bunch of titles that he thought were suitable for an audience of whole families, but were scheduled to run late at night. That was the genesis of “Family Classics with Frazier Thomas”, which originally ran Friday nights. That show was such a hit, it ate into the ratings of the network stations, which prompted the network suits to schedule prime-time movies. When that ate into their ratings, Channel Nine just moved it to Sunday afternoons, where it reached an even larger audience.

I said all that just to illustrate that when WGN adopted the slogan “Chicago’s Very Own”, no one laughed at it or questioned it. The stations absolutely reflected Chicago and Chicagoland.

(I’d almost forgotten until now that when I was a kid in Des Plaines, we lived next door to a Channel Nine news photographer. Chuck Ray kept a loaded 16mm camera and a couple of light meters in his car, always ready to go. He got his head cracked by a Chicago cop while he was on the job in the summer of ’68.)

WGN Radio and Television prospered in the Tribune family for 93 years. It even survived the misbegotten regime of Sam Zell and Randy Michaels.

That changed Monday.

The news came that morning that Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group was buying the stations belonging to Tribune Media.

Sinclair is the second-largest group of television stations in the United States in terms of the number of stations they own, and it is the largest in terms of coverage.

And they are politically-motivated. That became apparent when, two weeks before the 2004 presidential election, all of Sinclair’s stations (62 then), said they would pre-empt prime-time programming to run a documentary critical of Democratic candidate John Kerry’s activism against the war he helped to fight in Vietnam. The Democratic National Committee rose enough hell about that to make Sinclair back down. Since then, Sinclair has aired programming aimed at advancing conservative ideas and ideals.

Just in December, First Son-In-Law Jared Kushner said there was a deal allowing Sinclair extended access to the Trump campaign.

And just last month, Sinclair hired Trump and McCain-Palin campaign advisor Boris Epshteyn as their chief political analyst.

They incorporate their material in locally-produced newscasts, and in their Sunday public affairs program “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson”, the reporter who left CBS News in frustration of what she believed was their liberal bias.

They are very polished, and very successful. Be watchful of them. Their cookie-cutter approach to local news, peppered with comparatively-subtle conservative viewpoints, is coming to what has been one of the most respected stations in America, and indeed, the world. (I say comparatively-subtle as opposed to Fox News Channel, which shucks their bias right down to the cob.)

And mourn the loss of a trusted and beloved family member that was crushed beneath the wheels of a Trojan Horse.