Monday, September 23, 2019

Nexstar CEO: ‘WGN will always be Chicago’s very own'

When Dallas-based Nexstar closed on its purchase of Tribune Media on Thursday, it marked the end of a Chicago company with nearly a century of broadcast history, reports The Chicago Tribune.

It was also the beginning of a new era for Tribune Media’s flagship WGN TV, radio and cable stations, long Chicago’s very own broadcast outlets, whose future under new ownership may seem to be up in the air.

Perry Sook
Perry Sook, the chairman and CEO of Nexstar — now the largest television station owner in the U.S. — said the change in corporate ownership will not make the former hometown stations any less Chicago.

“WGN will always be Chicago’s very own,” Sook said in a Thursday interview with the Tribune. “It’s not a slogan depending on where the corporate office is. It’s how well they are serving the local community.”

Sook pledged that WGN-Ch. 9 will feel very much the same going forward to longtime viewers. At the same time, Sook signaled that WGN-AM 720 and WGN America, the only radio station and cable channel, respectively, in Nexstar’s portfolio, were not “core holdings” and could be sold — for the right price.

Longtime Tribune Media executive Sean Compton was named Thursday to oversee both WGN Radio and WGN America under Nexstar.

Sook, 61, briefly a TV news anchor himself, founded Nexstar more than 20 years ago with the purchase of a single TV station in Scranton, Pa. He grew it into a broadcasting behemoth by acquiring stations in mostly small and midsize markets across the U.S.

WGN 720 AM (50 Kw)
Nexstar just got a lot bigger with the acquisition of Tribune Media, a deal which was valued at about $7.2 billion, including the assumption of Tribune Media’s outstanding debt. The combined company will be able to reach more than 69 million local TV households with 197 TV stations in 115 markets. Los Angeles and Chicago stations — acquired in the Tribune deal — are now its largest markets.

Here’s a preview of what may be coming for the WGN 720 AM stations under Nexstar, based on the Tribune’s interview with Sook:

The company’s broadcast portfolio started with WGN-AM 720, a pioneering radio station launched by Chicago Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick in March 1924, with the call letters standing for “World’s Greatest Newspaper.” It was the only radio station in the Tribune Media portfolio, and remains so under Nexstar.

Sook, who started in radio in Punxsutawney, Pa., while still in high school, said he intends to maximize the potential of WGN Radio. One change in approach will be to share more resources with WGN-TV, Sook said, including co-promotion of events and a crossover of programming.

“They’re part of the same family," Sook said. "You’ll see the TV station and the radio station collaborating more, working more together and speaking more with one voice in Chicago.”

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