WMAQ Boss Headed to Tribune

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The rumors were hot last week that WMAQ GM Larry Wert was going to take a gig at Tribune.

Wert downplayed the rumors and acted like they weren't true.

Well forget that.....

Robert Feder reports fifteen years ago this week, Larry Wert came to the rescue of a Chicago television station in distress. Accepting the biggest challenge of his career, he stepped in as president and general manager of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 at a low point in its history.

On Wednesday, he did it again: This time, Wert, 56, was named president of local broadcasting for Tribune Co. His widely rumored appointment comes weeks after Tribune Co. emerged badly battered from a four-year bankruptcy ordeal. Under new CEO Peter Liguori, the reorganized company is expected to increase its focus on broadcasting and shed other assets.

"Larry's talent, creativity, and broad television, digital and radio experience make him the ideal person to lead our local broadcasting and radio businesses," Liguori said in a statement. "Larry is also a skilled manager of people, an innovative programmer, and understands the important role our local TV news operations play in the communities we serve."

Tribune Co.’s flagship broadcast properties — particularly news/talk WGN-AM (720) — are desperately in need of new leadership and direction. At Chicago’s Very Own WGN-Channel 9, Steve Farber, vice president of programming operations, has been acting general manager since Marty Wilke fled to CBS 2 in September. On the radio side, Jeff Hill, director of sales at WGN, has been interim general manager since Tom Langmyer was fired in October.

The challenge Wert faces is quite different from the one he inherited in January 1998, when he took over as the fifth general manager in 10 years at NBC 5. Ratings, revenue and morale had plunged after prior management installed talk-show host Jerry Springer as a commentator on the 10pm newscast, prompting highly respected star anchors Carol Marin and Ron Magers to flee in protest. In television terms, it was an epic disaster.

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