Recalling the disaster that brought humanity to radio

Robservations on the media beat:

  • Seventy-five years ago this week  — on May 6, 1937 — the zeppelin Hindenburg exploded in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The catastrophe was immortalized by Herb Morrison, a 31-year-old reporter for WLS-AM (890), who was there to record the arrival of the German airship when it suddenly burst into flames, killing 36 people. Arguably the most famous actuality ever produced by a Chicago station, it marked a turning point for radio news. Every disaster broadcast since — up to and including September 11, 2001 — is measured against Morrison’s chilling, horrific account, punctuated by his plaintive words: “Oh, the humanity!” Morrison died at 83 in 1989.

  • Officials of Wrapports LLC declined to comment on a report in Crain’s Chicago Business Wednesday that they were buying the Reader in a $3 million deal with Atalaya Capital Management LP. But they were eager to trumpet their latest investment in social media. The parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times announced that it has made a significant investment in High School Cube, a Chicago-based startup that uses a social streaming platform to broadcast live high school events, including sports, concerts and graduations. The new company is headed by Larry Cotter and Kevin Doyle, formerly with the online advertising firm Classified Ventures. In announcing the strategic partnership with Sun-Times Media, Wrapports CEO Tim Knight said in a statement: “We’re looking forward to working with High School Cube because it supports our vision of providing valuable content that millions of fans and communities want on a daily basis.”

  • With the Sun-Times’ acquisition of the Reader practically a done deal, it’s been amusing to track the reaction of the Reader’s media critic, Michael Miner, who’s been a disgruntled ex-employee of the Sun-Times since he lost his job there in 1978. When Crain’s first reported the possibility in March, Miner sniffed: “We’re a little surprised that the Sun-Times, not long out of bankruptcy itself, can afford to buy anybody.” The following day he called rumors of the Sun-Times' interest in acquiring the Reader’s entertainment listings “the kind of outcome that sets teeth on edge here.” Last month he made a public plea to new Sun-Times editor-in-chief Jim Kirk to “please call” if he knew more about talks to buy the Reader. On Wednesday, Miner’s desperation boiled over when he singled out Joe Mansueto, owner of Time Out Chicago who also happens to be an investor in Wrapports. “Puritans would blink at Mansueto owning most of one magazine and a piece of its chief rival, but everyone's too busy these days dreaming dreams and trying to survive to worry much about appearances,” Miner wrote.

  • Jim Richards may be the operations manager of the new alternative rock format on WKQX-LP (87.7), but it's clear he's operating with the playbook of Merlin Media CEO Randy Michaels. Since it signed on Sunday night, the new Q 87.7 has been cultivating what programming analyst Sean Ross of called “an outlaw mystique,” boasting such ridiculous slogans as: “If the wrong people find out, we could get shut down again,” “Corporate idiots never want you to have what you want on the radio,” and “Already there are some people maneuvering to shut us down.” Early Wednesday night, the station aired an explicit, uncensored version of Sublime’s April 29, 1992 — including three variations on the F word. Even by Randy's raunchy standards, that’s going too far.

  • Speculation is heating up on who will succeed Emily Barr as president and general manager of WLS-Channel 7. Barr resigned this week after 15 years at the top-rated ABC-owned station to become president and CEO of Post-Newsweek Stations. With ABC expected to fill the position from within the company, one frequently mentioned candidate is John Idler, who’s been president and general manager of WTVD-TV in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, since December 2007. Idler previously spent five years as vice president and general sales manager under Barr at ABC 7. Coincidentally, Barr also headed WTVD before she came here in 1997.

  • While principal news anchor Mark Suppelsa is out all month for alcohol rehab, WGN-Channel 9 plans to fill his slot on the 5 and 9pm weekday newscasts with a rotating array of substitutes. Micah Matere and Lourdes Duarte are handling responsibilities this week and next, while Tom Negovan and Dan Ponce likely will “get us through the rest of the month,” according to Greg Caputo, news director of the Tribune Co.-owned station.

  • Alexis Del Cid, daughter of veteran WLS news anchor Jim Johnson, has been hired as co-anchor of It’s Your Morning at KCTV-TV in Kansas City, Missouri. Del Cid, who began her career as a reporter at former all-news WMAQ, most recently was morning and noon anchor at KOIN-TV in Portland, Oregon. “I'm so proud of her,” Johnson told me. “This move takes her to a great market — and brings her closer to home.”

  • The Studs Terkel Bridge at Division and Halsted Streets will be rededicated in honor of the famed author, historian and broadcast pioneer at noon Saturday. Among those expected to attend are Governor Pat Quinn, Congressman Mike Quigley, State Senator Pat McGuire, and Alderman Scott Waguespack along with “a merry mob of Terkel torch-carriers to speak up and sing out.” It’s hosted by the Studs Terkel Centenary Committee, celebrating the 100th year of Terkel’s birth. Born on May 16, 1912, he died at 96 in 2008.



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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)