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Larry Wert leaves NBC5 to lead Tribune’s WGN TV, radio, other stations

Larry Wert WMAQ channel 5 general manager-provided photo

Larry Wert, WMAQ, channel 5 general manager-provided photo

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:25PM

Tribune Co. said Wednesday it has named longtime Chicago television executive Larry Wert as president of its local broadcasting businesses.

Wert, 56, will be responsible for the media company’s 23 television stations across the country and WGN Radio in Chicago. For the last 15 years, he has been in charge of WMAQ-TV (Channel 5) in Chicago, first as president and general manager of the NBC-owned station and then getting responsibility for other stations in the network as well.

He will report to Tribune Chief Executive Officer Peter Liguori and will assume duties from Nils Larsen, a holdover from the Sam Zell ownership at the company. Tribune, which also owns the Chicago Tribune and eight other daily newspapers, emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2012.

The company said Larsen will assist Wert in the transition but stay with the company as president of Tribune Broadcasting, where he will handle special projects and the WGN America cable channel.

Liguori called Wert “a skilled manager of people, an innovative programmer and [one who] understands the important role our local TV news operations play in the communities we serve.”

Wert said he cherishes his 15 years at NBC and believes the network, which will come under full ownership of Comcast Corp., is on the upswing. He said the recent years, in which NBC passed to Comcast’s control from General Electric, were the best.

“Comcast believes in local television and they put their money into it,” Wert said.

Wert arrived at Channel 5 in 1998 in the aftermath of turmoil over talk show host Jerry Springer getting a role on its 10 p.m. news show. The station’s principal anchors, Ron Magers and Carol Marin, resigned in protest over what they regarded as a breach of the station’s journalistic responsibility.

Under Wert’s watch, Springer’s TV show was removed from the station and key news personnel were changed. Wert said restoring credibility to the station was his proudest achievement.

He announced his departure to Channel 5 staff Wednesday afternoon, a session that became emotional. “I was overwhelmed by the response from the team here,” Wert said.

He declined to speculate on changes due at Tribune Broadcasting. One challenge will be improving ratings at WGN Radio, which has seen turnover in its on-air lineup.

Speaking of WGN TV and radio, Wert said, “I need to get in there and learn more about their business story and combine that with what I know.”

Asked if he would do anything dramatic such as reviving the Bozo’s Circus show, Wert, who was born in Riverside and still lives there, replied, “If that made sense, I’d sure love to do it on my clock.”

He praised Tribune for having a “rich history of broadcast excellence.” Asked if he would use his NBC connections to raid talent, Wert said his split with Channel 5 was amicable and that he wouldn’t talk with any NBC personnel without the station’s permission.

Wert also has a long history in radio, having run “The Loop” and AM 1000 at Evergreen Media Corp., and managing additional stations after Evergreen’s merger with Chancellor Broadcasting.

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