Peacock palace intrigue: Will new owners bring new boss to NBC 5?
After 13 years at the top of Chicago’s NBC-owned station, is veteran broadcasting executiveLarry Wert moving up or out?
As ratings and revenues decline at WMAQ-Channel 5 and new owner Comcast Corp. takes a hard look at all of its operations, talk of a management shakeup has moved beyond industry gossip. “With WMAQ’s broadcast ad revenue down . . . and the parent network losing money, cable giant Comcast can’t afford to wait long for a turnaround in its third-largest market,”Crain’s Chicago Business reported Sunday in a story headlined: “Live at 5, for Now.”
Wert, 55, first gained attention as a protégé of radio titan Jimmy deCastro and as the high-profile boss of such radio legends as Jonathon Brandmeier, Steve Dahl and Kevin Matthews. His frequent appearances on the air with them made Wert by far the best known among the city’s broadcast managers. As consolidation dimmed radio’s spotlight, he returned to television where he’d started his career in advertising sales in the late 1970s.
Ten years after his appointment as president and general manager of NBC 5 in 1998, Wert moved up to president, Central and Western Region for NBC Local Media, overseeing NBC Chicago and the company’s stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Dallas.
But Wert’s fortunes may be shifting under Comcast, which acquired ownership of parent company NBC Universal earlier this year. When his former boss, John Wallace, was named to a new post, Wert was passed over for promotion to president of NBC Local Media. Instead, Comcast went outside the company to hire Valari Dobson Staab, who’d previously been president and general manager of ABC-owned KGO-TV in San Francisco.
To make matters worse, Staab wasn’t Comcast’s first choice for the job. Wert’s No. 1 competitor, Emily Barr, president and general manager of top-rated WLS-Channel 7, had turned it down earlier, according to multiple reports including the story in Crain’s.
Wert still has his fans in the Chicago media community, but few likely would be surprised if changes came to NBC Chicago’s front office. Years of cutbacks in news and programming under his budget-conscious leadership have taken a toll. What once was lauded as a virtue — the stability he fostered after an era of inept managers — seems more like satisfaction with just getting by. Even peacocks need fresh air.
“I’m excited to move forward in the new company with a new leader, whatever my assignment evolves to,” Wert told Crain’s. Neither he nor the publication speculated on what that assignment might be.