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Winds of Change

For a while, one needed a scorecard to keep up with the goings-on in Chicago television. Personnel changes, both on-air and off, swept the market in 2002, a little less so in 2003.

The story to watch in the Windy City today is the resurgence of CBS-owned WBBM-TV. The perennial doormat of local news scored some major gains during the November sweeps and was the only station to improve its late-news ratings from a year earlier.

WBBM-TV has been on a tear since the arrival of Joe Ahern as president and general manager in August 2002. Ahern, a station manager with ABC-owned WLS-TV earlier in his career, has lured more than a dozen news employees from other Chicago stations and scored a major coup in October when he attracted popular anchor Diann Burns from WLS-TV.

Emily Barr, WLS-TV president and general manager, concedes that, while WBBM-TV has made some gains, much of the improvement can be attributed to two factors: the strength of lead-in programming from CBS and the presence of ABC's Monday Night Football, which takes WLS-TV out of the equation for one night each week.

"If you look at the numbers on a Tuesday-through-Friday basis," Barr said, "you see their increase is all of three-tenths of a rating point."

WLS-TV regained the top spot at 10 p.m. (10.9/17, down 9%). WMAQ-TV, which won the time period a year ago, finished second in this year (9.8/16), after shedding 23% of its audience, the biggest drop of any station in the market.

Advertising revenue recovered nicely in 2003, with stations' billings rising an estimated 3.5% to just over $860 million, according to figures provided by BIA Financial Network.

Independent stations do well in Chicago. Longtime independent WGN-TV, which is owned by Tribune Co., a part owner of The WB, generated more revenue last year ($135 million) than WBBM-TV ($94 million) or Fox's WFLD(TV) ($126 million), according to BIA estimates. WCIU-TV, a true independent, lays claim to being the No. 1 station in total households between noon and 5 p.m. In 2002, Fox paid $425 million to purchase WPWR-TV, the UPN affiliate.

Source: Chicago Public Library