As I've discussed over the past year with various interested Cubs fans, there have been rumors that the team might be switching radio stations who broadcast their games. There’s a pretty definitive report today that the Cubs are, in fact, switching its radiocasts from WGN to WBBM, the CBS all-news outlet in Chicago. Though it’s just a report, the article appeared on the Cubs website, so that’s as close to done as it can be. Also, it helps that WGN executives confirmed it on the air. It takes effect next year.
I know that this doesn't mean much to most people outside of Chicago, but it's somewhat newsworthy from a historical perspective given that WGN has an incredibly long past with the Cubs -- though that's only true if you consider 90 years "incredibly long." (By the way, what's little-known is that in the early days there were no "exclusive rights" and as many as three radio stations would broadcast the Cubs game simultaneously. In fact, in the 1950s for a few years, WGN lost the Cubs games to station WIND.)
The president of WGN Jimmy de Castro said that it was a “tough day” given the long history, and then added, “It's not that we don't love the Cubs. It's that it just doesn't make business sense on an AM radio station given today's new media opportunities and ways for advertisers to buy the Cubs."
Clearly it does make sense on an AM radio station, given that WBBM is an AM radio station. That it doesn’t make business sense on WGN is a different matter. So, don’t blame it on “AM radio,” but that their station wants to go in a different direction.
The story said that Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer “were expected” to continue as broadcasters. I would assume so. Not just because this is on the Cubs website, but Pat Hughes is a joy of an announcer and very popular, after 17 years in the booth. Coomer is in only his first year, but is developing a good rapport with Hughes. When listening to a replay of WGN executives discussing this on the air, they said that Hughes and Coomer would be going to WBBM since it's part of the contract.
Except for the tradition aspect, which is real, though comparatively minor, what this means for people in Chicago is switching the dial from 720 to 780. And if one has GameDay Audio (the Internet subscription service that Major League Baseball offers), it makes zero difference. Whether WBBM will have a sports talk show after, I don’t know. Though WGN only sometimes did.
By the way, WBBM also broadcasts the Bears, so they’re an interesting sports outlet now in Chicago, particularly for an all-news station. In many ways they seem a good outlet for this, though I’m not sure if people who want their all-news channel will be thrilled. (My mother HATED Sundays because she liked to listen to the news on WBBM, and pretty much all they had on Sundays was Bears and Bear Talk before and after the game…)
There are two sports talk stations in Chicago, one of which, WSCR, carries the White Sox. I never read if the other, WMVP, was ever in the talks about trying to get the Cubs.
The WGN executives did say that the future was open for bringing the Cubs back when the WBBM contract was up. They even offered the possibility of bidding for the White Sox next year. The point they made is that it wasn't a case of not wanting the Cubs, but not wanting them under the terms the Cubs were requiring. In fact, they said they'd continue to broadcast about the Cubs and have Cubs-related shows.
The next question now, though, is the TV rights, which are up for negotiation. That's more of an issue, particularly since WGN America broadcasts across the country. Including into my home! In their discussion on the air, WGN executives did say that the situation was different and that they were "cautiously optimistic" about retaining the Cubs on the television outlet. So, you can all breathe a little easier for the moment. Or...well, okay, I can. But we'll see...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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