After finally emerging from bankruptcy earlier this year, Tribune Co. wasted no time choosing the person it felt could reignite its broadcasting operation, which includes about two dozen TV stations and one very important local radio outlet — WGN.
The company chose Riverside’s very own, Larry Wert, who has spent the past 15 years at the helm of NBC’s Channel 5. The 56-year-old Wert is credited with turning around Channel 5 and, according to Chicago media critic Robert Feder, has been the longest-serving general manager in the TV station’s 65-year history.
Wert has been named president of local broadcasting for Tribune Co. The hire was announced on Feb. 13.
“Larry’s talent, creativity, and broad television, digital and radio experience make him the ideal person to lead our local broadcasting and radio businesses,” said Tribune CEO Peter Liguori in a press release. “Larry is also a skilled manager of people, an innovative programmer, and understands the important role our local TV news operations play in the communities we serve.”
The feeling appears to be mutual. In an email interview with the Landmark, Wert said that he’s looking forward to the challenge of leading WGN through its next phase.
“The Tribune Company has a great legacy, a 166-year-old media company based here in Chicago,” said Wert. “They hit a rough patch, resulting in bankruptcy. But they still have great assets and great people. I am looking forward to being part of shaping its future. It will be hard work, but it will be fun and rewarding too.”
Part of the reward, he said, will be getting reacquainted with broadcast personalities such as Jonathan Brandmeier and Garry Meier. During the 1990s, Wert was president and general manager of WLUP-FM (“The Loop”) and AM-1000.
“That part will be fun,” Wert said. “I miss my friends and days in radio.”
Wert hasn’t had a lot of time to miss home. He’s spent most of his 33-year career in broadcasting in the Chicago area. He grew up in Riverside and later attended Fenwick High School, where he was a standout diver and member of two national champion water polo teams.
He still lives in Riverside, the village his grandparents moved to 80 years ago. He is also a member at the Riverside Golf Club.
“We love Riverside and have rich family history here,” said Wert. “My grandfather, Lawrence Damore, started Damore Cement. My mother has lived there her entire life. My sister [Teri Tabor] owns Salon D’Amore.”
As for what changes viewers and listeners might expect as he takes the reins at Tribune Broadcasting, Wert said everyone will have to “wait and see.”
While recent years for the local broadcast outlets, particularly WGN radio, have been tumultuous, Wert said WGN is still “doing very well.”
“Everything has changed, mostly due to technology and, of course, time marching on,” Wert said. “I look forward to learning more, so I can contribute.”