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WLS Michael Damsky.jpgMike Fowler was abruptly removed from his post as general manager of news/talk WLS-AM (890) on Friday. WLS-AM and oldies WLS-FM (94.7) are both owned and operated by Citadel Broadcasting, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection. Fowler also had served as market manager for Citadel's two Chicago radio properties.

Fowler was immediately replaced at WLS-AM by Michael Damsky, who most recently was director of sales for Citadel's two Chicago radio stations. The move, announced to Citadel's Chicago staff Friday morning by Citadel CEO Farid Suleman, took Fowler by surprise. "I didn't see it coming; the stations were in better shape than they've ever been," said Fowler, who had been with Citadel in Chicago for the past two years. Fowler said Suleman told him his axing was a "downsizing" of the company. Fowler had recently moved his family to Chicago from Atlanta.

Fowler's exit comes as WLS-AM was making moves to boost the station's all-important afternoon drive show hosted by Roe Conn and Cisco Cotto. The show had been slumping badly in the ratings in recent months, and Cotto's arrival earlier this week as co-host was intended to give the show a lift. According to a WLS-AM spokesman, Damsky gave the staff no indication on Friday of any immediate changes he might make at WLS-AM.

Prior to joining Citadel Broadcasting two years ago, Damsky spent 24 years at classic rock WXRT-FM (93.1), where he ultimately rose to become general manager. Damsky also participated in the launch of sports talk WSCR-AM (670). Both WXRT and WSCR are CBS Radio properties.

PX00160_7.JPGNews/talk WLS-AM (890) General Manager Mike Fowler confirmed Friday that he has tentatively worked out a new two-year contract with WLS afternoon drive host Roe Conn, whose Arbitron ratings have slumped badly in recent months. A source close to developments said Conn, who had been one of the last couple of so-called "million-dollar mouths" still working in Chicago radio, would be making around $250,000 a year under terms of his new contract. Fowler said that figure wasn't "even close," but declined to say what he has offered Conn.

Fowler also said he has an offer out to news/talk WIND-AM (560) morning co-host Cisco Cotto to come on board as Conn's co-host. "Cisco is a conservative, and we're a conservative radio station," said Fowler. Cotto previously worked as a news reader at WLS-AM. Before Cotto can join Conn, however, Fowler must wait to see if WIND will match WLS's offer. Fowler said he currently has no plans to change the rest of the talent line-up around Conn, including Amy Jacobson, who does traffic and weather and some reporting, and news anchor Jim Johnson.

The decision to renew Conn's contract represents a big gamble for WLS and Fowler. In the most recent November, 2009, Arbitron book, Conn's afternoon drive show ranked a lowly 26th among adults 25 to 54, a miserable showing for a talent that Fowler insists is a major star in Chicago radio. But Fowler believes Conn is about to rebound. "We've seen some upward movement in the ratings in recent weeks," said Fowler, adding "I think that Roe is starting to have fun again on the show."

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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