Just as readers become used to the names, personalities and landscape of their newspaper, television viewers become comfortable with the faces on network TV newscasts.
I can't begin to count the number of e-mails and voicemails I've received the past two months about Chicago media mainstay Bob Sirott, who along with his wife Marianne Murciano, has been a fixture on Chicagoland television for decades.
Sirott's TV tenure includes time as host of PBS chat show "Chicago Tonight," time with WMAQ NBC-5, morning host duties at FOX-Channel 32 and even a stint as a national media identity as host of CBS magazine show "West 57th" during the late 1980s.
But what seems to have readers in a quandary of late is Sirott's disappearance from the airwaves of our Chicago TV media partner NBC Channel 5, especially since network executives had publicly hinted Sirott would likely succeed retiring Warner Saunders, who left in May.
Here's one of my most recent voicemails on the subject, this one from reader Paula Parker of Lansing, Ill.:
"Phil, I love reading your columns. In fact, I used to just get the newspaper three days a week and now I subscribe to it seven days a week, just so I can read your column everyday so I don't miss anything. But somehow, I think I might have missed a column along the way. Did you write anything about what happened to Bob Sirott? He used to be on all of the Chicago stations at one time and now he's gone. But I thought I heard somewhere that he still has a radio slot some place. Can you please help me with this information? Thank you and keep up the good work. Paula Parker."
For those who, unlike Paula, may not have followed Windy City-born and raised Sirott's career over the years as closely, he's actually had a few "go-arounds" with WMAQ NBC in Chicago, where he first began working as a page way back in 1966.
His most recent time with the station started in early 2006 as a weekend anchor opposite Anna Davlantes for the 5 and 10 p.m. broadcasts. But most recently, he had been doing the weekday 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts with Allison Rosati, including helping "fill the bill" during those two years while Saunders was away at times for medical leave.
Much like the print world of magazines, and yes, newspapers, local news TV stations are also facing challenging times in today's climate of fewer advertisers and a younger generation who receive news around the clock via the Internet, cell phones and computers.
That being said, it seems once Saunders did retire, Sirott and his wranglers were not able to agree with the NBC WMAQ top brass about a contract with an extended length and financial incentive to please both camps.
In these financial times, the days when Chicago news anchors could command top dollars have faded. For example, in December, WBBM-CBS Channel 2 dropped Diane Burns and her reported $2 million a year contract, despite her 23 years in the business.
Sirott officially "left the airwaves of WMAQ-NBC Chicago" on June 11, despite the fact he technically remains employed there and will be paid for the remaining months under his existing contract.
Adding further confusion and ripples through the world of Chicago broadcast news is the abrupt departure from the station by nine-year favorite Davlantes, which was announced last Thursday as a "move on good terms" and "not about money," according to her agent Steve Mandell.
Over the weekend, WMAQ-NBC-5 President Larry Wert and his staff announced Rob Stafford, formerly a national correspondent for "NBC Dateline" before his job was cut, was being selected in place of Sirott and his colleagues Dick Johnson and Marion Brooks, to take over the primary evening anchor spot starting Aug. 10.
I've been told by a few friends in Chicago broadcast biz that many of these changes are being quickly hammered out now, before the historical programming move this fall by NBC in September to give Jay Leno his own comedy talk show in the lucrative 9 p.m. prime time slot which leads into local newscasts.
As for Sirott, this latest span with WMAQ-NBC 5 marks his third time affiliated with the station.
After starting his broadcast career as a disc jockey for WBBM-FM in 1971 and then time with WLS -AM in 1973, in 1980, he was finally seen on TV at WBBM-Channel 2.
In March 1989, Sirott joined WMAQ-TV as a noon news anchor and later, co-anchored the network's "First Thing in the Morning" show with Rosati. But after four years with the station, he was fired in July 1993, citing a "difference of opinion" with management.
He left his Chicago Fox morning show gig with his then-future-wife Murciano in 2000, after she was moved to later broadcast assignment and Tamron Hall brought in as her replacement.
Sirott's first wife, Carrie Cochran, was a new anchor at WBBM-Channel 2.
As for Parker's reader question about where to listen to Sirott on the radio, on April 12, 2007, Chicago radio station WGN 720-AM announced it was reviving "The Noon Show with Bob Sirott." Sirott and wife Murciano also do joint hosting duties on WGN from 10 to 11 p.m. for "The Sunday Night Radio Special."
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 219.852.4327.
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