The news was supposed to be shared at 10:30am Central today. Instead, a veteran media observer in the Windy City committed “a cardinal sin in journalism” by breaking an embargo and sharing the big story in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
After nearly 36 years in Chicago, one of the nation’s most respected radio news anchors is exiting the Entercom-owned station she works for.
Felicia Middlebrooks, a nationally renown Chicago institution, is exiting all-News WBBM-AM 780 and FM 105.9.
Her final day at the station, where she co-hosts the morning shift, is set for May 29.
Middlebrooks took to Facebook in the 4am CT hour on Wednesday to chastise Robert Feder, the longtime Chicago media reporter, for sharing the news on his blog before she could break the news to her co-anchor, Pat Cassidy.
“I apologize for that act of dishonor,” she said of Feder, before shifting into a more positive tone. “This is still a momentous occasion and I stand on Isaiah 54:17. There is much to celebrate!”
That’s because she is “transitioning” from daily on-air delivery of short-form news reports to long-form storytelling on a multi-media platform, with documentaries and feature films, audiobooks and similar projects in the works, created by her own company — Saltshaker Productions.
Middlebrooks’ first venture: A new podcast, “She Matters,” which focuses on empowering women.
In her open letter to “morning drive listeners, colleagues and friends,” Middlebrooks wrote, “For decades, you have granted me the high privilege of serving you, inviting me into your homes, your workplace and your cars—allowing me to travel with you on the train, to the airport and on the running trail. We’ve been early morning companions a very long time, nearly 36 years!
“I delivered news, much of it difficult, life changing or history making, and you listened, through endless cups of coffee, a little laughter and a few tears. But careers, like seasons, change … On May 29th, I’m dropping the mic, at least for daily radio news. I’m not retiring. I’m rewiring.”
With WBBM-AM & FM’s parent company, Entercom, in the spotlight in recent months for high-profile air personality departures at such stations as KROQ-FM in Los Angeles, Middlebrooks made it very clear that her decision to depart the Chicago Newsradio operation was far from sudden.
“Just to be clear, I’ve been working on this next level plan for nearly a decade,” she said. “This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, and it is MY decision.”
As part of Middlebrooks’ preparation, she returned to her alma mater, Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind., to obtain an MBA. There’s more.
“Because my love of journalism runs parallel to my love of movies, I also obtained a degree in film,” Middlebrooks says of her 2017 diploma from Tribeca Flashpoint College in Chicago, affiliated with Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Film Institute in New York. “Now, the same faith and purpose that have shaped my life and sustained me for nearly four decades at WBBM will guide the growth of my production company.”
FROM GARY TO GREATNESS
“I was just a skinny 13-year-old girl in Gary, Ind., when I set my heart on someday becoming a reporter,” Middlebrooks wrote.
Her journey began at Purdue University’s classical music station, WBAA-FM. “I anchored news and hosted a classical music program,” she said, hosting the show from August 1976-September 1978. “I also hosted a talk show with a plant expert.”
In early 1978, Middlebrooks was already at a commercial station, WJOB-AM 1230 in Hammond, Ind.
At age 24, with jobs at four radio stations under her belt, Middlebrooks found a role at CBS O&O WBBM-2, working as an intern, newsroom receptionist, and as a desk assistant.
In 1984, history was made — with shock jock Don Geronimo on the Top 40-formatted WBBM-FM, Middlebrooks was named the co-anchor of the morning news for WBBM-AM. She was the first woman, and first American American in the nation, to earn such a role.
“I also owe a great debt to the managers who nurtured and groomed me,” Middebrooks said. “Former CBS Radio President Robert Hosking wanted to shake-up the traditional all male morning drive paradigm. He wanted women to co-anchor. I was the test case for the network’s groundbreaking change, and WBBM News Director Carl Dickens wanted to ensure the experiment worked. Both men had a personal stake in my pioneering success in morning drive. They had confidence in me and set grand expectations, then equipped and inspired me to meet them. Now women co-anchor at all CBS Newsradio stations (now Entercom) across the country. I’m proud of that.”
Hosking died in October 2018 at the age of 86. Dickens exited CBS in July 1991 for a position at Arbitron, as VP/Western Region. Today, Dickens is a successful career coach consultant and executive coach based in the New York Tri-State region.
Middlebrooks has won scores of awards, including the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in News.
With Saltshaker, Middlebrooks will split her time between Los Angeles and Chicago.
In her letter, she spoke warmly of her longtime colleagues, and of what it is like to work in the Windy City for nearly 40 years.
“To my WBBM colleagues, iron sharpens iron,” she said. “You are ethical, creative and hardworking. Nobody does it better than you. My successes are directly attributed to those with whom I have labored. You constantly challenged me to up my game.
“What a gift to be a journalist in Chicago, the greatest news town in America! I am grateful to have covered stories at home and abroad and to have broken barriers and opened doors for women in radio.”
By 11am Central, more than 300 Facebook users had posted their congratulatory thoughts on Middlebrooks’ personal page.