Home to the Tribune Co., Chicago’s iconic but embattled media owner, the third-largest market is now on the front line of today’s media woes. Under crushing debt of about $13 billion, Tribune, owner of the Chicago Tribune, WGN-TV, WGN-AM, WGN America superstation and CLTV, filed for bankruptcy late last year.
Real estate mogul turned Tribune chairman and CEO Sam Zell recently admitted on TV that buying Tribune was a “mistake,” and has tried just about everything to turn business around. He even put up for sale the landmark Tribune Tower, only to take it off the market earlier this year due to weak real estate prices. A deal to sell the Chicago Cubs for $900 million to the Ricketts family, scheduled to close in May, could be delayed until June.
As of January, the flagship paper is now a flashy tabloid, as far as possible from its once-stately image. In March, Tribune consolidated the foreign bureaus of the Tribune  and Los Angeles Times into a single unit to be run from L.A. With ad revenue down 20 percent, Tribune is planning a 20 percent staff reduction.
The Trib isn’t the only Chicagoland paper in distress. The parent company of Chicago’s second-largest daily, the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as several suburban papers, followed suit, filing for bankruptcy in late March. In April, the paper instituted layoffs in order to cut its payroll by 15 percent. And Illinois’ third-largest paper, family-owned Paddock Publications’ Daily Herald serving suburban Chicago, has cut 24 jobs and instituted a 5 percent reduction in salaries. A year ago, the paper cut the work week and told employees to take one unpaid day off per quarter; that’s now up to one unpaid day off every month through July.
In its TV division, Tribune is in the process of integrating the operations of CW affiliate WGN-TV with CLTV, its 24/7 cable news channel. At the very least, the merging of the newsrooms will save Tribune rent on CLTV’s current facility in nearby Oak Brook.
Superstation WGN, now branded WGN America, debuted its new look and sound, along with new programming such as Scrubs, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Boston Legal and radio’s The Bob and Tom Show.
As for the rest of the rough and tumble local TV market, WLS-TV, ABC’s owned-and-operated station, manages to hold on to its news lead in every news daypart except mornings, where WGN-TV is on top. In its first foray into early news, last September WGN-TV added a half-hour newscast at 5:30 p.m., barely edging out WBBM-TV, CBS’ owned-and-operated station, to come in third.  
No. 2 in early and late news, NBC O&O WMAQ is in the process of remaking its newsroom. To save costs, WMAQ is sharing a helicopter with WFLD, the Fox O&O. The two stations also have agreed to pool newsgathering resources at general market events, a practice their owners began last summer in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, WFLD added an hour of local news at 9 a.m., and continues to hold on to its 9 p.m. late-news lead over WGN-TV.
Radio stations are settling in with Arbitron’s portable people meter ratings service, which went live in October. News stations continue to hold top ratings spots, with CBS Radio’s WBBM-AM at the top, followed by Citadel Broadcasting’s Talk WLS-AM. WGN-AM, Tribune’s Talk station, for years at the top of the ratings, was tied for No. 3 with Bonneville’s Classic Rock simulcast on WDRV-FM and WWDV-FM, which moved up from 10th place in the final diary survey. Urban stations, such as Clear Channel’s WGCI-FM, formerly
No. 2, fell to No. 10, while WOJO-FM, Univision’s regional Mexican station, dropped from third to eighth.

Publish date: April 27, 2009 https://stage.adweek.com/brand-marketing/chicago-112057/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT