In Chicago, Tribune Has an Omnipresence
By Kim McAvoy -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/13/2003 8:00:00 PM
Tribune Co. has all the bases covered in Chicago. The multimedia giant is a leader in the Windy City's news and advertising marketplace. And its influence in the sports arena is evident through its ownership of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field.
Certainly, Tribune's roots in the city are deep. Residents have been reading the Chicago Tribune since 1847. The paper is as much a part of Chicago as a snowstorm. The city's convention center is named after Col. Robert R. McCormick, the Tribune's longtime publisher and editor and grandson of its first owner, Joseph Medill.
Chicagoans have listened to Tribune's WGN(AM) since 1924 and rely on WGN-TV for a steady diet or Cubs, White Sox and Bulls games. CLTV, the area's first 24-hour all-news cable channel, was launched in 1993. And last year, Chicago magazine was added to the company's local-media holdings.
"We want all of Chicagoland to think of Tribune," says Mark Krieschen, vice president and general manager of WGN(AM). In fact, "Chicagoland" is a Tribune-invented word.
"We want you to wake up to WGN(AM), have the Tribune at your doorstep, tune in WGN-TV for any additional news, and, when you get to work, go on the Tribune Web site," says Krieschen.
Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons sees such diversity as necessary: "As newspapers continue to face more media competitors, amortizing the costs of these very large staffs of journalists becomes very difficult. The viewing public benefits from the additional depth that print journalists can bring to a newscast."
News/talk station WGN(AM) is considered a market leader in sales and ratings. It also carries the Cubs. WGN-TV, a WB affiliate (Tribune is a part owner of The WB), has been on the air since 1948.
"People in this market grew up with WGN-TV," says Station Manager Dominic Mancuso. Indeed, its Bozo the Clown Show, which ran daily from 1961 until 1994, became such a local institution that there was, at one point, a 10-year wait for tickets and some expectant mothers received Bozo tickets as baby-shower gifts.
In 1987, during FitzSimons's tenure as general manager, the show was cut from 90 minutes to an hour. It undoubtedly was not a draw for most daytime sponsors. But, at the time, FitzSimons told Robert Feder, television columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, "Producing it is a luxury, but that is the price we're willing to pay to maintain our position as Chicago's No. 1 independent station."
WGN-TV offers 31/2 hours of news in the morning, an hour newscast at noon, and a late-news broadcast at 9 p.m. "We have the No. 3 late news in the market and the No. 2 morning news in the market," says Mancuso.
The TV station—Chicago's Very Own, it claims as its slogan—says it has "the strongest community presence in the marketplace," plus a legacy of goodwill from its old Bozo the Clown show and other personalities long associated with the station, including late sportscasters Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse. "We raise a lot of money for charity," Mancuso says. "We hold the 'Bozo Ball' every year to benefit WGN-TV's children's charities."
Indeed, FitzSimons started the WGN-TV fundraiser, which helps support groups like the "Off the Street Club," a boys and girls club located in an impoverished area on the West Side.
Community involvement is important at WGN(AM) as well. The radio station has its "Neediest Kid's Fund" and conducts fundraising activities for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Tribune's clout in the community is made even more significant by its McCormick Tribune Foundation. The foundation was created in 1955 after the death of McCormick. Some $33 million was distributed to 477 Chicago-area charities and organizations in 2002. This year, the foundation plans to donate about $35 million
Chicago's Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism can thank the McCormick Tribune Foundation for the majority of funds to build the new McCormick Tribune Center, a $17.5 million state-of-the-art facility.
At odds with Chicago
With such a powerful media and sports portfolio behind it, Tribune sometimes finds itself embroiled in controversy. Currently, the Cubs are at odds with city officials over a proposal to designate Wrigley Field a historic landmark. The team opposes such a move, claiming it would hamper efforts to renovate and upgrade the 89-year-old stadium. Contention between city officials and Tribune is really not unusual given the company's high profile in the community and the fact that the Tribune does not always back Mayor Richard Daley.
If city officials prevail, however, Wrigley Field won't be the only Tribune property designated a landmark. The company's Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue, built in 1925, is already a city landmark, housing corporate offices, WGN(AM) and the Tribune newspaper among other company divisions.
Despite numerous media assets in Chicago, some observers say Tribune does not control the city's media agenda. "With their audience footprint—their significant audience footprint—they're clearly formidable competitors," says Larry Wert, president and general manager at NBC's WMAQ-TV. Nor, he adds, is there any question that Tribune controls the largest aggregation of ad revenue in the $764 million TV market.
However, he note, Chicago is an extremely dynamic market, and there is a variety of major media organizations with a strong presence. Despite the intense competition, he says, Tribune is a "good group and classy organization."
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