They say the first 80 years of a marriage are the toughest. The Chicago Cubs and WGN Radio made it that far in their relationship, but it turns out there will be no ninth decade of the arrangement.
Chicago media guru Robert Feder confirmed Tuesday night that the two sides will go their separate ways next year, ending a broadcast association that dates back to 1925 — practically the beginning of the baseball on the radio era.
The Cubs will enter a seven-year agreement with WBBM-780, which also broadcasts the Bears. There is also a possibility Cub games will end up on WSCR-670 — which has a very powerful signal — if the White Sox don’t renew their deal with that station after 2015. It will be interesting to see if the Cubs try to muscle the Sox off of that frequency, or have even reached a wink-wink-nudge agreement that will lead to the South Siders being heard elsewhere.
For many, the thought of the Cubs anywhere but WGN probably seems absurd. It was the station that was on virtually every time I walked into my grandma’s house growing up. She kept it there for the Cub games and just didn’t bother changing it from whatever programming was on for the rest of the day/year. And for three decades it made business sense since the Tribune Company owned both the team and the station.
That, of course, has changed. WGN is supposedly losing $6 million a year on the Cubs, and didn’t see it feasible to continue carrying games without some kind of sweetheart arrangement from the team, which it did not receive.
WGN’s programming director told Feder “It’s really not us saying we don’t want them anymore. It’s the Cubs saying that the economics they need are much greater than what we think they’re worth or what we’ll pay. They chose to go another way economically and made a decision to move on.”
This is not the first major shake-up involving traditional Cubs coverage, and it won’t be the last.
Last week WGN America, the superstation that helped explode the popularity of the Cubs with Harry Caray’s drunken broadcasts in the 1980s, announced that it will stop airing Chicago sports nationwide in 2015. It’s bitterly disappointing news for the Chicago diaspora that is spread liberally across the nation, but when you’ve got the opportunity to air even more Van Damme movies and episodes of Daisy Fuentes-era America’s Funniest Videos, you can’t pass it up.
For now, games will still be shown on WGN TV in the Chicagoland area. But as multiple teams have created their own broadcast networks that often aren’t even carried in their home markets (see: Dodgers and Astros), there is plenty of reason for Cub fans to be worried about the future of the team on that medium as well.
Unfortunately, it appears all the things familiar and comforting about the Cubs is in the midst of a change. Except, of course, their winning percentage.