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WGN-AM & WGN-TV Release New Websites, Anger Fans

As first mentioned on this website yesterday, WGN-AM & WGN-TV both unveiled new websites for their stations yesterday. Both are very unique, in that their homepages, and many interior pages, are now made up mostly of images and tiles to be clicked upon, not text. More than what is different, returning website visitors are upset with what is missing.

This redesign has not been sitting well with the stations' fans. The previous websites, while somewhat cluttered, were still able to let visitors quickly see and find what they were looking for. News items were front and center. Schedules, bios, station information, etc. was easily located. That is no longer the case.

The pages are filled with tiles, much like what the new Windows 8 has been trying to accomplish, and similar to seeing a bunch of icons of apps on a tablet device or smart phone. However, with the tiles and images being so large, it takes a long time to scroll through the entire homepage, in the hopes to find what one was looking for... which more often than not is not featured on the homepage anyway.

A larger problem has to do with a user now having to click through multiple pages before being able to find what they were looking for, instead of clicking once from the homepage. For example, WGN-TV's website has retained its many blogs by WGN employees. However accessing them will take time. In fact, the only way to find blogs like Marcus Leshock's "Leshock Value" or Nancy Loo's "Big Tiny World" is to hope to stumble upon the "Topics" page, which lists the blogs and and other special pages contained within the website. There is no drop-down menu or easy access for much of what the website offers.

One sight-impaired fan told CRM that he can longer navigate the new websites, since the lack of text and missing items make it near impossible for him and his software to find what he seeks. With no text saying the word "download," he cannot even listen to a podcast.

The biggest frustration seems to be aimed at the WGN-AM website. It didn't help that this website redesign came just days after the station announced it was releasing a 39+ year veteran, preparing to say goodbye to another fan favorite host, and was about to double the shift of its least popular host. Already upset fans became enraged when they discovered that they could not even truly use the station's website, and worst off all, the station removed most of what they were looking for.

The WGN Radio website has removed its massive library of podcasts. While the site has a Podcast page built in to it, it can only be accessed via this direct link, not by any means on the website. Accessing it means little, though, as the page currently contains no podcasts at all.

Thousands of hours of podcasts are gone. They did not migrate over from the previous website to the new one. It currently appears that they are not coming over anytime soon, either, if at all.

According to insiders who wish to remain anonymous, executives high up within Tribune Broadcasting thought it would be a good idea to just start fresh with this website and not bring over "old" files from the previous website. This executives felt that "nobody listens to those old podcasts, anyway." (Paraphrasing.)

That decision was clearly not based on actual data, as WGN Radio always released its download statistics internally, and often publicly, showing hundreds of thousands of podcast downloads per month. By far, the overwhelming favorite show to be downloaded was that of "Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg." This past October, 21 podcasts of his were downloaded over 100,000 times, including one that eclipsed 510,000 downloads. Nick Digilio's podcasts of his late night weekend shows were strong favorites. While not at the top of the monthly lists, podcasts for Bill Leff and Jonathon Brandmeier were popular with fans, as well.

Making this decision to remove the podcasts more stunning is that the amount of downloads were greatly increasing each month this year, with the biggest increases coming this Fall. These podcasts brought thousands of people to the WGN-AM website each and every day.

The changes have added salt in the wounds of fans of Milt Rosenberg and John Williams, both of whom are being forced out this week. Fans have been downloading their podcasts for future use, or planning on downloading past podcasts of the hosts' after the farewell week ended. That is no longer possible.

The anger by fans already upset about losing Rosenberg and Williams hit a fever pitch upon them finding they could no longer access the podcasts. Some upset WGN-AM fans compared it to losing a family member and then finding out all of their photographs of that family member had been stolen from their home. It was a double whammy for them.

As the day has gone on, a few podcasts have been added, including a handful of classic interviews of Roy Leonard (which can only be found via a direct link, not via any link on the website) and few recent clips from John Williams. However, there are still none from Milt Rosenberg or Jonathon Brandmeier.

It should be pointed out that even though they are gone from the WGN Radio website, many past podcasts from WGN-AM shows are still available for free from iTunes. Those have not been removed.

As bad as the lack of website podcasts are, it gets worse...

WGN Radio has made a decision to no longer carry or create full show podcasts. According to insiders, the company no longer sees the value of long podcasts for its fans. Those who want to hear full shows must tune in live. The few podcasts it will have on the website will only be quick snippets of shows -- segments running 3-7 minutes in length that feature a funny bit, an interesting topic, or a brief interview. For those who are either out of the area, or looking to catch up on parts of the show they may have missed due to work/family commitments, they are now out of luck.

Both WGN-TV and WGN-AM posted up a page on each website, explaining their new online homes and what they offer. They also allowed comments to be posted under that particular article. The comments in the WGN-TV page were largely negative. The comments in the WGN Radio page were overwhelmingly furious, with multiple pages of complaints. The Facebook pages for the stations, especially WGN-AM, are also filling up with angry comments.

It is possible that improvements will come to the websites in the near future, bringing back missing features and usability, especially if pressure from the public continues and if web traffic drops off from this week's changes. It remains to be seen if the company will listen to the fans or not, or even be able to make the changes needed, due to its current financial hardships.

Tribune Broadcasting did not just target Chicago's WGN-AM & WGN-TV. The website for CLTV was also changed. More importantly, Tribune Broadcasting changed the main websites for all of their television stations to this new heavily-modified WordPress template this week. While other cities do not seem fond of the changes, they are not as extreme in their displeasure as the comments in Chicago have been. Chicago is also the only city where Tribune Broadcasting has a radio station -- a station that has seen a great deal of change of late.

Not all Tribune Broadcasting websites have made the change yet. WGN-TV's Chicago Weather Center website is still the old template that has been used for years. Regarding the beloved website WGN Gold, there is (sort of) good news and very bad news. The (sort of) good news is that it still has the same template that it has had for many years. The very bad news is that all that currently remains on the site is the basic template. All of its contents, from photos of past WGN Radio stars, to biographies of them, to classic audio clips, are all gone -- wiped clean. It appears that Tribune Broadcasting may be trying to update the website, but in the meantime, has destroyed it. Longtime fans are taking that as yet another slap in their face from WGN executives, one of many facial slaps that has come recently.

Other websites have made dramatic upgrades, without losing or infuriating fans. Just this week, Chicago radio stations WLS-AM & WLS-FM upgraded to all-new websites, but all information from the previous websites were migrated over to the new websites. While the websites are new & improved, they still retained enough of the similarity of the prior website to not confuse or lose any fans. There has been no uproar toward WLS over this week's changes.

Unfortunately for WGN and Tribune Broadcasting, fan uproar seems to be its new normal.

CRM Website Information

The Chicagoland Radio & Media website (abbreviated as CRM) is a celebration of all things relating to Chicago-area media matters. CRM is a news source, a location for fans to voice their opinions, and an online museum of Chicago media's past and present, with a hopeful eye to its future. For the visitors, readers, and fans of the website, CRM is a both a resource and a release, both educational and an escape, and both factual and fun.

If it has a connection to Chicago area radio, television, print, and/or other forms of media -- information on it can be found here at ChicagolandRadioAndMedia.com!