Yesterday was a rough day for the people working at 87.7 The Game. As astute sports fans in the greater Chicago area may know by now, WGN announced yesterday that it’s pulling the station from the air even though it started up just last February. As if that wasn’t hard enough, up-and-comer Ben Finfer, formerly of 670 The Score, had to read that he was losing his job on Twitter while on the air.
Deadspin has been on top of the story, because that’s what they do. They’ve put up the video of Finfer in the moment he found out he was losing his job, and it’s a good watch (the best of Finfer starts at about the four-minute mark).
Wow. Way to go, WGN. Finfer, along with co-host Alex Quigley and Cubs Twitter mainstay and fellow Simpsons nerd Julie DiCaro, vented frustrations with the situation and how they had to find out while on the air. While some were critical of veering away from sports talk, I don’t think you can blame them. Personally, if I found out I was being laid off via a news report, I’d be in my boss’s office leaving a “gift” on the desk.
Jimmy deCastro, President of WGN-AM 720, had a few things to say in the Chicago Tribune about the whole situation.
Regarding throwing in the towel on a new radio station after just nine months:
“The market is way off and the economics won’t support us,” de Castro said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s that way this year and at this time.”
Regarding concerns about WGN-AM, considering the inability to fund a full year of air-time for The Game:
“WGN is going to be great, we’re going to come around a corner and make a lot of money next year.”
And regarding Finfer venting his frustration at deCastro on the air:
“He got a little bit upset,” de Castro said. “That’s a tough way to find out.”
A few things here. First, the economics won’t support a sports station in Chicago that, according to Quigley, was growing in listeners every month, but WGN is going to be great and make lots of money next year? Okay. Believe him yet? I suppose they’ll save lots of money by laying off a ton of workers, many of whom left solid gigs to take a leap for something they believed in.
As for deCastro’s comment about how Finfer (and the rest) found out the news, that’s on him. Maybe try a public apology? If you need to know more about de Castro, Chicago radio legend Steve Dahl shared his views here (interestingly, that link takes you to the website of the same media critic that broke the news on Twitter yesterday). You can also read deCastro’s childish finger-pointing at the Cubs for preferring a good radio deal at WBBM to what WGN was offering.
Supposedly, WGN was losing millions over the lack of success by the Cubs. So they cut ties and just months later the Cubs sign Joe Maddon, announce that they’re ready to try to compete, and start going after free agents like Russell Martin and Jon Lester. Isn’t that like selling your stock when it’s at it’s lowest point? Maybe deCastro got “buy low, sell high” all mixed up.
But I suppose that logic makes sense to someone like him. This is the same guy that starts a sports radio station and puts it on FM radio to go against AM heavyweights The Score and ESPN 1000. You see, I live about 200 miles away from Chicago, and I can hear those stations on my car radio (though ESPN is a little fuzzy).
The listening market is much, much bigger for those stations. To listen to The Game in Bloomington, Springfield, Peoria, or Champaign, you’d need to download an app to your phone. And to get to that point, you’d have to be aware it even existed, which many sports fans in my area were not.
It took deCastro nine whole months to realize that the idea was poorly conceived? But let’s keep the focus where it should be, which is the laid-off employees. The silver lining, which is hard to see when you’re being canned, is that these people will have jobs. They may have to move to new markets, but people like Connor McKnight, Adam Hoge, Harry Teinowitz, Quigley, DiCaro, Finfer, and the rest will have options.
It’s worth pointing out that the Kap and Haugh Show will continue to run because CSN Chicago had picked it up to air in the mornings.
While it wasn’t always smooth and there wasn’t always chemistry, 87.7 The Game was generally honest, sincere, and entertaining. Unlike others in the market, they didn’t rely on a bit or schtick such as yelling at their callers or making fun of an old alcoholic from Milwaukee.
They recognized the progressive move of baseball coverage to the blogging community, having guys like Sahadev Sharma and others on to guest-host. Even during what was probably the worst radio interview I’ve ever heard, Kaplan and Haugh still managed to own the situation and make it entertaining.
While the shutting down of the station isn’t all that surprising or sad in and of itself, the screw-job of the people that went out on a limb to work there is. I hope all of them find something better down the road that allows them to look back on this situation and laugh. But until then, they’ll finish out the next month in a professional and entertaining way, even if they have mixed feelings about doing so.
I know I’ll be listening…on my app.
After this story posted, I was contacted by a party who was present when all of this happened. This person described a nasty scene that wasn’t seen on the air or heard on the radio. While the show was on the air, deCastro and Finfer had a conversation in which deCastro threatened to pull Quigs & Finfer off the air mid-show. This all went down just moments after their realization of their fate while they were on the air.
After the show, it escalated further, with the aforementioned show members and producer Joe Romano meeting with deCastro and VP of Programming Todd Manley, and Finfer and DiCaro arguing with deCastro. The source wasn’t able to say what was said, but observed Manley and de Castro getting into a heated exchange with DiCaro, whose position as Social Media Manager for both WGN and The Game has been eliminated, per her Twitter account.
I’m told it’s been a miserable 24 hours at WGN, saying “Many people at The Game left good jobs to come here. Within 24 hours, they’re being treated like they’re radioactive. Management isn’t speaking to them and the WGN staffers act like they don’t exist. I don’t know how they’re supposed to keep coming in here for 6 more weeks. It’s got to be horrible for them. The worst part is none of them did anything wrong, but they are being treated like they did.”