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The August Arbitron book released Friday made clear the ratings news is only getting better for the "Roe Conn with Richard Roeper Show" on news/talk WLS-AM (890). The program on the Citadel Broadcasting station catapulted into the top 10 afternoon drive programs in the market in the key 25 to 54-year-old demo, after languishing for many months many rungs further down in the ratings.

Some eight months ago WLS general manager Michael Damsky and his operations director Drew Hayes said their top priority was to revive the Roe Conn franchise -- a goal management appears to be handily accomplishing. But even as the Conn program is moving in the right direction, Damsky and Hayes still have issues to address at WLS-AM, which could do no better than a 22nd place finish overall in the August book. WLS's ranking was pulled down by weak ratings performance in the evening and on weekends, where the station is now tied for 30th in the rankings. But Damsky said he isn't overly concerned. "The media buyers make most of their ad buys during the key weekday time periods, and that's where we must be competitive," explained Damsky.

WLS-AM archrival news/talk WGN-AM (720) pretty much held steady in August in a tie for 14th place overall, though the daypart ratings breakdown indicates the Tribune Co. station took a huge hit in afternoon drive -- dropping from sixth place in July to 12th place in August. That drop is no doubt tied in part to the poor performance of the Chicago Cubs, whose games air on WGN. The ratings falloff could accelerate with the baseball season rapidly drawing to a close.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the August book was CBS Radio Chicago's Top 40 WBBM-FM (96.3), which leaped from 19th place in July to 8th place in August in the 25 to 54 demo, which isn't even the station's target demo. WBBM-FM was No. 1 in August the 18 to 34 demo, which represents its core audience. CBS Radio Chicago market manager Rod Zimmerman said the station's playlist has been tweaked recently, but he thinks a lot of the station's newfound ratings strength simply has to do with the popularity of the music the station plays and its line-up of on-air personalities.

Otherwise, the August ratings book showed a lot of the familiar top stations still going strong. Bonneville's classic hits WDRV-FM (97.1) did leapfrog over its sibling perennial front runner WTMX-FM (101.9) to claim the No. 1 spot in the rankings. The regional Mexican music powerhouse WOJO-FM (105.1), which was at the top of the rankings for a while, seems to be fading just a bit. It wound up in seventh place in the August book in the 25 to 54-year-old demo.

Roe Conn signs new deal with WLS-AM

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Roe Conn has signed a new contract at WLS-AM (890) that will keep him the host of the politically-conservative radio station's afternoon drive show at least through the end of 2011. Conn's new contract comes despite his show having shown little strength in recent months in the key 25 to 54 adult demo in the Arbitron ratings. In the most recent January ratings book, Conn ranked a disappointing 23rd in afternoon drive.

In announcing Conn's new contract, WLS-AM general manager Michael Damsky said Conn adds a "dimension of leadership and continuity" to the staff that is critical at any radio station. But one detail left out of the contract announcement was any mention of Conn's salary under the new deal. A source close to developments told us Conn's base salary in the new contract is in the neighborhood of $250,000 a year, but Damsky insists it is significantly more than that. When the radio business was in much better shape financially, Conn was one of Chicago's so-called million-dollar mouths in the industry. But that select group of radio talent has shrunk dramatically just in the past year.

Damsky and his new operations director Drew Hayes are working feverishly behind the scenes to give Conn's show a lift. They began by adding Cisco Cotto as Conn's co-host in January, but then quickly moved Cotto to a mid-morning slot. Now possible new co-hosts and/or sidekicks are being given a chance to work with Conn now, and in the near future, Conn is expected to have another partner to work with. Other tweaks and talent additions could come in the weeks and months ahead. But Damsky seems confident, at this juncture, that Conn's show will make a comeback in the ratings.

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."

We don't envy the task facing Bill Leff. The ex-sidekick of WLS-AM (890) afternoon drive host Roe Conn has been tapped to host a new morning show on Tribune Co.-owned WGN-AM (780) called "ChicagoNow Radio," debuting Nov. 14. The program, which will air on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon when sports programming doesn't interfere, will feature a rotating cast of bloggers from www.chicagonow.com, the Web home for no fewer than 126 bloggers that is part of the Chicago Tribune Media Group's efforts to appear in sync with the times.

In announcing the new program, WGN Program Director Kevin Metheny obviously had to reach more than a bit to come up with a basic description of the concept: "This will be a crazy collision of experiences and perspectives." Perhaps. But it also sounds as if the program will be chaotic and hard to follow, with so many different bloggers with different areas of interest talking amongst themselves while Leff tries to tie it all together.

Obviously, the Tribune Media Group is trying to use its radio outlet to promote the ChicagoNow venture. It's called synergy. But "ChicagoNow Radio" may very well prove yet another irritant to tens of thousands of formerly loyal WGN listeners who have turned off the station in recent months as Metheny has tried to update and modernize the sound to attract a younger audience.

Beginning today, two of news/talk WLS-AM's (890) popular syndicated talk shows will begin an hour earlier. That means the locally-originating afternoon drive "Roe Conn Show" will now sign off on weekdays at 6 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. "The Sean Hannity Show" will air from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, and Mark Levin's syndicated show will run from 9 p.m. to midnight. According to Talkers magazine, Hannity is the second most-listened-to talk show host in America after Rush Limbaugh, whose syndicated show also airs on WLS-AM. Starting in early May, former WMAQ-Channel 5 reporter Amy Jacobson will join Roe Conn as his latest sidekick.

WLS-AM is owned and operated by Citadel Broadcasting, the nation's third largest radio group with stations in more than 50 markets.

It's official. As first tipped here Wednesday, WGN-AM (720) has named veteran Chicago radio talent Garry Meier as the host of the news/talk radio station's mid-afternoon show from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. He will begin his new show Friday, Apr. 3.

Meier is no stranger to tens of thousands of avid radio listeners. For 15 years he was half of one of the most successful of all radio on-air parings when he co-hosted the "Steve & Garry Show" with Steve Dahl, who is no longer on air. Meier also worked for eight years alongside Roe Conn on the "Roe & Garry Show."

In announcing Meier's hiring, WGN Vice President and General Manager Tom Langmyer described the new mid-afternoon host as "contemporary, smart, hip and fun." Most importantly, though, Meier is likely to attract a somewhat younger demo to WGN, which has a large, loyal, but somewhat older listener base.

X00023_7.JPGThis just in. Longtime Chicago radio personality Garry Meier will return to the airwaves for one day only on Wednesday, Feb. 25, as he sits in with John Howell on WIND-AM (560) from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Meier will fill in for Cisco Cotto, the other half of the "John and Cisco" morning show. Meier is best known for his stints at WLUP-FM (97.9), WLS-AM (890) and WLS-FM (94.7) with Steve Dahl and his show with Roe Conn at WLS-AM. Most recently, Meier hosted a show on WCKG-FM (n 2007. John Howell and Cisco Cotto have hosted mornings on WIND since October of 2006. Recent guests on their show have included Gov. Pat Quinn and embattled Sen. Roland Burris. WIND is owned and operated by Salem Communications.

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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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