Saturday, December 22, 2007

Weekend Update Without Chevy Chase

...or, whoever's doing that segment now on "Saturday Night Live". (That show is still on, right?)

We have a couple of items that can't wait until Monday. And we're basically on hiatus for the holidays, though again, we have promised to post major items whenever we are able to do so... like, perhaps, these...

BUTTE LEAVING WEWS: OMW hears that Scripps Cleveland ABC affiliate WEWS/5 general manager John Butte is retiring from the station effective January 31st.

And what do you know...Butte's official retirement statement happened to fly out on the winds at 3001 Euclid, and ended up right here at OMW World Headquarters! Imagine that. Some of it may look like this, with a nod to Kenny Rogers in there somewhere:

"When I informed Bill Peterson of my intention earlier this week, I told him that in planning for WEWS’s historic 60th birthday celebration, that the time just felt right. It's that knowing 'when to hold em…knowing when to walk away' thing.

I’m 60, the station’s 60 and managing here for the past several years fulfilled my dream of running an important station in an important market."

One of our regular readers reminded us this afternoon that three of the four general managers at Cleveland market news operations have had a news background - Butte, WEWS' former news director, along with new WJW/8 "FOX 8" GM Greg Easterly and WOIO/19-WUAB/43 boss Bill Applegate.

And though WKYC/3's Brooke Spectorsky is not on that list, the local NBC affiliate has made unusually broad commitments to news and information programming, right down to its presumably-still money losing joint venture with Time Warner Cable for "Akron/Canton News".

We'll have to see who Scripps brings in to replace John Butte, and how that affects "NewsChannel 5"...

ALSO EXITING 3001 EUCLID: When reporter Carolina Leid departs "NewsChannel 5" on December 28th, she may also be able to give one of her co-workers a ride to the airport...but their planes will head in different directions.

Station "traffic and transportation reporter" Tricia Skidmore's last day will also be December 28th. She's moving to Chicago.

OMW hears that it apparently is not a new gig that will send Tricia to the Windy City. We hear that Skidmore's fiance is becoming more and more of a big wheel in Chicago's financial industry, and she's tiring of a commuter relationship. Tricia and her fiance are planning a June 2008 wedding.

We're not saying she may not end up on the air in Chicago in the future, but she's making the move for personal reasons.

Skidmore joined "NewsChannel 5" earlier this year. As we noted in an earlier item:

Though she joins WEWS from a station in Peoria IL, we're told Skidmore used to live in Mentor and Highland Heights, and graduated from a school in Cleveland Heights. And Skidmore's mother still lives in the area, in Willoughby Hills.

As we also reported then, Skidmore came to the station in a new in-house position. Traffic on "Good Morning Cleveland" was handled for many years remotely out of Metro Traffic by Linda Dawson, who is still heard on a number of area radio outlets...

UPDATE 12/22/07 2:10 PM: The below item is now official, as Oak Hill Capital Partners is indeed buying WJW and the other FOX O&Os that News Corporation is selling off. See our later posted item for details.

When we said "somewhat likely to be announced soon", we had no idea it had actually already been announced in an official press release just a couple of hours earlier!

Here's what we wrote...

THAT OTHER SHOE - ALMOST: OMW wondered about the disposition of "FOX 8", after a sale of the station and eight other smaller-market FOX owned-and-operated stations had been announced in the building...but the identity of the buyer still hasn't been named.

We helpfully pointed out initial reports - now merely speculation - that Oak Hill Capital Partners would pick up the stations under its "Local TV, LLC" banner, with former Clear Channel radio head Randy Michaels at the helm.

Then, it was officially announced that Michaels was leaving that company - heading for a big new job as the Broadcast and Interactive head at the giant Tribune Company.

Tribune, of course, has just come under the control of a long-time friend of Randy's, Sam Zell, a billionaire who made much of his money early on by selling the old Jacor radio group. Michaels ran Jacor for Zell.

We speculated here that Michaels' career move may be behind the delay in announcing WJW's new ownership.

Then, this announcement made everything start making sense:

Local TV and Tribune Company have entered into a letter of intent to create a third-party broadcast management company which will provide shared services to all of the stations Local TV and Tribune Company own respectively. The company will function as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tribune Company, and will provide back-office services, administration, and a number of other functions to the stations with the goal of maximizing efficiencies, sharing best practices, and fostering innovation.

Randy Michaels, who was just named CEO of Tribune Company’s Interactive and Broadcasting business unit, will head the company. This combination will allow Michaels and Lawrence to build on the great track record they have established in their careers together.

The new "shared services" company (we're sorry about that phrase, folks in Youngstown) will provide these management services for not only Tribune's mostly large market stations, but for Local TV, LLC's nine medum to smaller market stations as well - as well as other possible stations not in the mix right now.

So, it's still all speculation (again) about the future of "FOX 8" and its sister stations, but - and this is just reading the tea leaves here, it's not fact - we wouldn't be surprised if that clears things up at South Marginal Road sometime in the near future.

If, indeed, Oak Hill Capital Partners/Local TV, LLC is still ready to sign the agreement buying WJW and the other smaller-market O&Os, it would still bring the stations under Randy Michaels' top-level oversight in this new "shared services" firm.

That would be the definition of Local TV's stations being "folded into" the Tribune stations, as the third-party company is a subsidiary of Tribune.

Or, if for some reason, Local TV doesn't step up and buy WJW and the other FOX stations on its shopping list - whoever does would end up folding the stations into the above mentioned management company.

But we tend to think that the FOX stations in question will land with Oak Hill/Local TV. As we noted earlier, in a very uncertain atmosphere for investment firms, Oak Hill has continued to push on aggressively, even to the point of starting yet another fund for the purpose of marching on with acquisitions - likely of more TV stations. (Oak Hill does invest in many other things.)

So, we're not ready to mark this off as "in the bag" yet...but the above scenario does seem somewhat likely to be announced, soon...