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Bulls & Bears

Chicago is optimistic, despite shaky economy 7/11/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Every summer is filled with festivals in Chicago neighborhoods, but locals say summer 2008 is a little brighter than others. Chicago's Sen. Barack Obama is, of course, gunning for the presidency, the White Sox and Cubs were both in first place at presstime, and the International Olympic Committee recently put Chicago on its short list for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“Everybody's hopeful about the Olympics,” says WFLD/WPWR VP/General Manager Patrick Mullen. “There's a lot of optimism in the city.”

Still, the local economy appears to be in a holding pattern. Home to the likes of McDonald's, Boeing and Motorola, Chicago—which just wrapped up its famed Taste of Chicago festival—is not exempt from the woes of the Midwest. Sales staffs are increasingly pressed to come up with innovative ways to squeeze out revenue. “I'm not going to lie to you, it could be better,” says WLS President/General Manager Emily Barr. “People are very concerned about the economy.”

WLS, with Wheel of Fortune and Oprah Winfrey, remains a monster. The ABC O&O won evening and late news in May; Barr credits experience in the newsroom. “We've got a strong bunch of on-air people who've been around a long time, and behind them are a strong group of journalists,” she says. “We can tell the story with that much more context.”

The market brought in $861.5 million in 2007, according to BIA Financial. WLS led with $181.1 million, ahead of Fox-owned WFLD ($149.8 million), Tribune's CW flagship WGN ($144.3 million), NBC-owned WMAQ ($138.2 million) and the CBS O&O WBBM ($100.6 million).

With deep-pocketed parents, the stations are extending their reach. WFLD added the 10 p.m. newscast the Ten last April (it also airs a 9 p.m. news), expanded Good Day Chicago to 10 a.m. on July 7, and is partnering with the Chicago Bears to air more than half of the team's games in 2008.

WMAQ has the Olympics, Sunday Night Football come fall, and the Chicago Marathon. The station is opening offices for NBC's production outfit LXTV. “There'll be two new shows in the fall,” says President/General Manager Larry Wert, “First Look Chicago and Open House Chicago.”

WGN, which wins morning news, is relaunching its Website in August, and adds the new WGN Evening News at 5:30 in September, while expanding its 11:30 a.m. news. The station has also added Blackhawks hockey to go with its Cubs, White Sox and Bulls games. “It's the most sports from any local station in America by far,” says VP/General Manager Tom Ehlmann.

No general manager is more stoked than WBBM's Joe Ahern. The station is moving into a new facility facing Daley Plaza, which Ahern says 60,000 people might walk through on a given day. WBBM, which went through layoffs in March, opens a ground-floor studio in September. “It really sets the standard for the next 50 years as to what a television station will be like,” Ahern says.

WBBM will have “home court advantage,” as Ahern puts it, for all celebrations in Daley Plaza, whether it's an Obama election win, a green light from the Olympic Committee—or a Cubs-White Sox World Series. Says Barr of WLS: “That would be a very big deal for our city.”

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