Published on Thursday, 17 October 2013 14:28
After this website first noted
that Mike McConnell was missing from his daily podcasts for WGN Radio's website earlier this month, McConnell has yet to return to those podcasts. Most likely, he never will, at least not for WGN-AM. McConnell's agent appears to have swung two deals for his client -- one of which gets him out of Chicago and one that returns him to the Cincinnati radio station that made him famous in that region.
McConnell was hired to come to Chicago's WGN-AM from Cincinnati's WLW-AM in the summer of 2010, beginning on the air on August 9th of that year. He was brought here by the then-CEO of Tribune Company Randy Michaels. Michaels was the disgraced former CEO of Clear Channel Radio and had previously worked with McConnell in Ohio. Michaels, and some of his former Clear Channel Radio cronies, including Sean Compton and Kevin Metheny, thought that bringing the controversial McConnell to Chicago would help shake up WGN-AM. He was supposed to come along with another controversial political talk show host Bill Cunningham, but Cunningham changed his mind at the last moment and stayed behind in Cincinnati.
When he started at WGN-AM, McConnell's in-your-face, politically conservative show was programming that was opposite of what the rest of the programming on the station offered. As it turned out, it was opposite of what listeners wanted to hear. Ratings hit deep lows during McConnell's show and advertisers avoided it.
Later in 2010, Randy Michaels was forced out as CEO of Tribune Company. Within a matter of days and weeks, many of his radio cronies, including WGN-AM Program Director Kevin Metheny were fired, as well. With Metheny gone, McConnell attempted to change his show to be more like what the average WGN Radio listener wanted to hear. He stopped being rude and argumentative with callers and avoided purposely creating controversy. Even with his attempts at pleasing the audience, it wasn't until late 2012 that his ratings began to noticeably improve. He was finally beginning to grow on some listeners, even though the overall consensus on his work was negative on social media, websites, and message boards.
McConnell's contract, which was drafted up by his old radio buddies, gave him $2.5 million dollars over a five-year period. The contract had no out-clauses for the station and McConnell would have to approve any and all changes to his on-air time slots and duties. McConnell's contract allows him to take numerous vacation days per year and had him doing a large amount of his daily shows not from WGN Radio's Chicago studios, but remotely from his Cincinnati area home.
Earlier this year, Tribune Broadcasting had new management take over, which included Chicago radio veterans Larry Wert as the President of Broadcast Media for Tribune Broadcasting and Jimmy de Castro as WGN Radio President and General Manager.
McConnell was offered a late night time slot and rejected it, insisting to stay on middays. However, management felt that McConnell's show did not quite fit the style they wanted to take the station during the daytime. An offer to buyout McConnell's contract and release him was also rejected.
While McConnell could reject any on-air move, a loophole in the contract allowed WGN-AM to move McConnell online only. His last day on the WGN-AM airwaves was in late July. He began doing podcasting and live streaming on the WGN-2 stream in mid-August.
However, his last podcast was done on October 3rd, with none since. On his Facebook page, McConnell started blaming the lack of podcasts on "serious tech issues." It was not clearly tech issues. WGN Radio management informed the local freelance producer for the podcast was told not to bother coming in to the station to work on McConnell's until further notice -- which would probably never come. It seemed pretty obvious to all that pressure was being put on McConnell and his agent to accept a buyout of his contract so both sides could move on.
McConnell's agent, Cincinnati attorney Richard L. Katz, appears to have been able to negotiate a pair of deals for his client.
The first will be a buyout deal of McConnell's Tribune Broadcasting contract. Instead of being on the hook to pay McConnell $500,000 per year through August 2015 and McConnell being unable to work elsewhere during that time, McConnell will be accepting a cash deal for considerably less, but be able to work again wherever he wants as of January 1, 2014.
The second deal will have McConnell returning to WLW-AM, where he last worked, supposedly starting January 6th. He will take over afternoons at the station, working the 3:00pm-6:00pm shift, teamed up with current WLW-AM afternoon co-host Eddie Fingers.
McConnell is said to be considering doing some self-produced podcasts in the meantime, just to stay connected to his large fanbase, which is primarily made up of longtime listeners from western Ohio.
There is no official confirmation on either deal from WGN-AM or WLW-AM. Should these deals become official in the coming days, it would be the best move for all parties involved -- a win-win-win situation. McConnell will be able to return to a market where he is admired and accepted, WLW-AM regains a popular host which could increase their afternoon ratings, and WGN-AM is free from a hefty expense and from a personality that did not fit well with their current needs.
UPDATE #1: Earlier this week, WLW-AM's Bill Cunningham said on the air something similar about McConnell's returning to that station in January.
UPDATE #2: Mike McConnell today has privately denied that any of the above mentioned deals are currently in place.