Back in the day, WLS-AM in Chicago was one of those radio stations that transformed a generation in the 1960s. ABC radio, along with sister station WABC in New York turned the country on to rock ‘n roll, before FM radio had much of an influence.
ABC eventually gave up on music on AM radio, and switched WLS to a news talk format. Being a large market station, WLS always focused more on the local issues, but did start airing Rush Limbaugh from the beginning. All News WBBM is the dominant radio station in Chicago AM radio and WGN dominated the talk business along with caryimg the Chicago Cubs games.
As you probably know, ABC radio was acquired by Citadel media, which quickly went into bankruptcy and was bought by Cumulus Radio of Atlanta – using borrowed money with the promise to the new owners that they would drastically cut expenses.
Cumulus has no concept of what running a major market radio station is about. People in Chicago used to have contracts in excess of $1 million a year – because they were worth it. You don’t take a radio station billing $10 million a year, put a teenager on the air paying him minimum wage, fire all the sales people and come out ahead. However, you are cutting expenses!
Back in 1991, I was living in Chicago, commuting an hour each way every day on the CTA “El” with a portable radio. I continued to live in the area for a few more years and spent most of the day to WLS.
Once in a while, I would listen to WLUP AM/FM – they had a pair on the radio named Steve Dahl and Garry Meier. The main attraction of the show was wondering how two guys could be on the air for six hours a day talking about absolutely nothing. My strongest memory of the show was Steve referring to his son as the sperm that got away from the glass jar where Steve deposited his unused reproductive fluids. The team eventually broke up over some argument about comments Steve made about Garry’s choice of girlfriends.
A consistent theme of their show was all the old people who listened to WGN and the insipid stupid hosts that were on the station talking about nothing. A couple years ago, Garry Meier took a job at WGN, talking to old people about nothing. He washed out in May 2014, moved to a tech saavy internet-only show on wgn.fm
Today’s news is that Cumulus media has ended the services of Roe Conn and Richard Roper, the afternoon team following Rush Limbaugh. Roe Conn has been on the station for 25 years and is what Chicago radio used to be. Steve Dahl will be replacing them – offering Cumulus partial ownership of his podcast, which he has been doing while sitting out a noncompete with CBS radio. Perhaps Cumulus will get to place some Sweetjack ads in the podcasts.
If you haven’t paid attention, the Cumulus stock is in a freefall. all of the major market former ABC radio stations are in serious trouble. Disney (who used to own ABC radio and still has a financial relationship with Cumulus) just ended its local operations of the Disney Channel AM radio stations and put up “for sale” signs, but no announcements let anybody is going to buy them.
Don Wade – the morning Drive host with his wife Roma died of a brain tumor. Jake Hartford, a very personable weekend guy who took over from Don Wade and Roma died suddenly of a heart attack. Wacky liberal Jay Marvin is out in Denver now, stuck in a bed with a constant flow of pain medication to make his life slightly bearable.
A big part of why I did not stay in Chicago was the reality that you can’t go home again – and a year of living in Chicago, I listen to WLS for maybe three hours, mostly Roe Conn. The WLS that I loved listening to no longer exists, and Cumulus radio seems to be hell bent on destroying all major market radio. Chicago is not Tupelo Mississippi.