Wert gets down to work as new Tribune stations boss
From the moment Larry Wert was named president of Tribune Broadcasting’s station group last month, speculation began about how quickly he’d start making over the company’s two Chicago flagships — WGN-Channel 9 and WGN-AM (720).
While both properties have been operating under interim managers since last fall, the radio station appeared to be in particularly critical condition, with revenues plunging and programming failures piling up. For a born-and-bred Chicagoan and broadcast veteran like Wert, restoring the once-dominant news/talk station to relevance and popularity in his hometown had to be his first order of business.
Or so a lot of people thought.
Now that he’s ensconced in his new office on the 17th floor of Tribune Tower and getting down to business, it turns out that the first station on Wert’s to-do list isn’t WGN. It’s WPIX-TV in New York.
Owned by Tribune Co. since its inception in 1948, WPIX has been without a permanent news director since October, when Bill Carey stepped down. (Among other things, Carey was credited with hiring Larry Mendte as a commentator.) Filling the news director job and making a few other adjustments in the largest of the 23 markets Wert oversees is a top priority, he told me Monday, his first official day on the job.
Also high on Wert’s agenda are renewing the company’s broadcast rights to Cubs baseball, a television staple on WGN for 65 years (the current contract expires after 2014), and negotiating deals with various cable companies for retransmission consent to carry local station programming.
Coming off a 15-year run as president and general manager of NBC 5 — and a decade before that as a top radio station executive in Chicago — Wert, 56, knows he has taken on the biggest challenge of his career. “There’s so much to absorb and so many issues to catch up with, the task is almost overwhelming, but at the same time very exciting,” he said. “In meeting with many of the employees who’ve worked so hard and lived through years of uncertainty, you can feel their enthusiasm for what’s ahead.”
Wert said he’s had no shortage of advice from friends and colleagues about whom to hire and how to improve both WGN television and radio — two heritage stations he’s competed against in one way or another for much of his professional life. If he does have specific plans for them, he’s not ready to share them yet.
Meanwhile, just down the street at NBC Tower, Wert’s successor as president and general manager of NBC 5 is also settling in. David Doebler, who most recently held the same job at NBC-owned WVIT-TV in Hartford, Connecticut, is likely to find Wert a tough act to follow.
"I could not be more honored to join WMAQ and to work with the very talented team at the station to continue the tremendous momentum in the market," Doebler, 51, said in a statement. "On a personal note, my family and I have always been very big fans of Chicago and are excited to make it our home."