Replacing the Big Name Anchors in Chicago

A number of big name Chicago Anchors have retired or are getting close to saying goodbye. 

The Chicago Tribune writes that the hair may still be perfect, but Chicago television news anchors have been growing older, however imperceptibly, before our eyes.

A spate of prominent retirements and medical leaves in the last year has changed the face of local TV news, and an aging talent pool presages more to come.

Chicago TV stations are filled with veteran on-air news talent, and loyal viewers treat them as "kind of a big deal," in the words of fictional anchorman Ron Burgundy. When longtime anchors retire, stations often go to their benches for experienced successors in an effort to minimize the disruption and maintain credibility with viewers.

"You want that gravitas; you want that journalism experience," said David Doebler, president and general manager of NBC-owned WMAQ-Ch. 5. "There's no substitute for experience."

Which increases the pressure on TV stations as they seek to replace familiar faces.

Recent retirees at top-rated ABC-owned WLS-Ch. 7 include longtime anchors Ron Magers and Linda Yu. In addition, veteran political reporter Charles Thomas retired this month, and Frank Mathie is calling it quits next month after 50 years as a reporter at the station.

But not only are the Anchors getting older, so are the viewers.

"The numbers are down and the demographics are terrible," said Michael Rosenblum, who founded New York Times TV and Current TV and now heads up consulting company RosenblumTV. "I don't think anybody under the age of 30 even watches television news. Probably the median age is somewhere around 60 to dead."

However, local news remains the primary revenue source for TV stations, said Steve Ridge, chief operating officer for Frank N. Magid Associates, a television consulting firm.

"It's still the big moneymaker," Ridge said. "That will make or break a station."

Ridge said that as the audience gets "progressively older," stations need to gradually refresh their talent pool in a bid to attract younger viewers without shocking the core loyalists. But old habits are hard to break for most viewers.

In May, when Magers, then 71, retired after more than three decades in Chicago TV news, he was succeeded at 10 p.m. by early evening anchor Alan Krashesky, a 35-year veteran at ABC 7.

"The challenge happens well before that person gets to the age of retirement," Idler said. "The challenge is building that big bench. As terrific as Ron was and is, it was fantastic to be able to tap into our resources and put Alan Krashesky in that place."

The station made a similar transition last fall when Yu, a pioneering Asian-American broadcast journalist who logged more than 30 years at ABC 7, retired.

Yu's final broadcast was Nov. 23 — a week before her 70th birthday.

"The blessing that I've had in life is that I don't seem to show my age," Yu said. "The comment that I got from so many people was, 'Why are you retiring? You're only in your 40s.'"

Judy Hsu, a 16-year veteran of the station, shifted from mornings to succeed Yu as co-anchor of the 4 p.m. newscast.

"We knew our viewers knew her; they just weren't used to seeing her in that time period," Idler said. "So in advance of Linda Yu leaving, we put her in that time period so those viewers got used to seeing her."

"I'm still hearing from people with, 'I miss you so much,'" Yu said. "It's a wonderful thing because that's how you got them to watch regularly."