Chicago Sun-Times
Lewis Lazare follows Chicago media and marketing news

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The holidays were really good to Clear Channel Radio's WLIT-FM (93.9). And January wasn't bad either, according to the Arbitron ratings report released Monday.

WLIT lost a big chunk of the huge rating that catapulted it to the top in the key 25 to 54 adult demo in the holiday Arbitron book, but the station held on to enough of its massive holiday audience in the January Arbitron book to remain in a tie for fifth place in the rankings with all-news WBBM-AM (780), which had the Chicago Bears broadcasts and a lot of lousy weather to attract listeners during the month.

It appears many listeners who flocked to WLIT for holiday music weren't as quick to abandon the station this time around after the seasonal music stopped. As recently as the October book, WLIT was in a tie for 11th place.

But WLIT's numbers were trending downward at the end of the January book, so the station could end up several notches lower in the rankings when the February book is released.

Elsewhere, Bonneville International's three Chicago outlets all made it into the top 10, with hot adult contemporary WTMX-FM (101.9) in first place, classic hits WDRV-FM (971) in third and adult contemporary WILV-FM (100.3) in a tie for seventh place. Bonneville has sold all of its top-performing Chicago outlets to Hubbard Broadcasting in a deal that is expected to close in late April or early May.

The Mix has just introduced a new format from 8 pm to midnight, the station's weakest daypart, ratings-wise. The new format, called "U-Mix-It," allows listeners to interactively create the playlist each evening at the station's website. Station executives are calling the format an "experiment" that could disappear as quickly as it surfaced if it doesn't generate a significant ratings boost.

Both of the city's major news/talk outlets, Citadel Broadcasting's WLS-AM (890) and Tribune Co.'s WGN-AM (720) are struggling to gain traction. Despite the news hook of a mayoral race, WLS-AM wound up in 24th place overall in the 25 to 54 adult demo in January, down from a stronger 16th place showing as recently as November.

With the Citadel radio station chain said to be in talks to be acquired by Cumulus Media, WLS general manager Michael Damsky was making no predictions about the future on Tuesday. "I'm just happy to have survived the blizzard and the Bears," he said. WGN-AM was only marginally better than WLS in the January book, winding up in a tie for 22nd place overall among adults 25 to 54, with CBS Radio Chicago's adult contemporary WCFS-FM (105.9).

Observers continue to suggest WCFS could be a prime candidate for a simulcast of sports talk WSCR-AM (670), which proves the popularity of a sports format in a sports-obsessed town like Chicago. WSCR got a bump up to 12th place in the January book from 15th in the holiday book among adults 25 to 54. The station was in 2nd place in January in the target 25 to 54 male demo.

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.

Assistant program director Tracy Slutzkin has been promoted to program director at Citadel Broadcasting's news/talk WLS-AM (890), effective immediately. In announcing her promotion Wednesday, WLS-AM general manager Michael Damsky said Slutzkin's new job is "merely a reflection of the role she has played at our station for the last few months." Operations director Drew Hayes had been handling many of the PD responsibilities since he came to WLS-AM earlier this year.

Slutzkin had overseen much of the day-to-day operations at WLS -- helping with guest bookings and lining up other contributors. Damsky also indicated Slutzkin was a key player in developing a strategy to revitalize the station that has been implemented in stages since the beginning of the year. "She was particularly instrumental in the decision to hire Richard Roeper," said Damsky. Sun-Times columnist Roeper became a co-host of Roe Conn's afternoon drive show in April. Slutzkin is in her second stint at WLS-AM. She started as an intern and eventually became an executive producer of WLS's morning drive show with Don Wade and Roma. Slutzkin will now report to Drew Hayes.

Joe Bohannon and Eddie Volkman, two of Chicago radio's ex-million-dollar-mouths, are returning to the airwaves on Citadel Broadcasting's conservative news/talk WLS-AM (890). Starting this Saturday, Bohannon and Volkman will be on air from 7 to 9 p.m. once a week. Not exactly prime time in the radio world, but WLS management believes the two radio talents who spent 20 years at WBBM-FM (96.3) deserve to be heard again. "They are true voices of Chicago, and we think there is an interest in hearing them," said WLS general manager Michael Damsky.

For two on-air radio talents who were used to talking to a youngish Top 40 audience at WBBM-FM for decades, the new gig at WLS will involve a big learning curve, at least according to Bohannon, who says he's not sure what kind of audience he and Volkman will have now that they are on a primarily conservative talk station. "We're going to spend the whole of our first show taking phone calls, just so we can find out who is listening," explained Bohannon. Neither he nor Volkman have ever done talk radio, so it will take some time for them to figure out exactly how they will fill the two hours allotted them each week. Bohannon said he expects they will talk more about pop culture than politics in the early going. "I always believe you should go with your gut, and I think pop culture has always been our strong suit," said Bohannon.

It's also safe to say Bohannon and Volkman will no longer be working as million-dollar mouths at WLS. Both on-air talents were making well in excess of a million dollars a year in their last seven-year contract at WBBM. But both were abruptly dropped from the station in November, 2008, with several months still left on their contracts. At the time of their exit from WBBM, Bohannon and Volkman were caught up in a sharp cost-cutting binge that swept through the entire radio industry as ad revenue began to plummet.

In an interview with this newspaper late last year, Bohannon said he would love to work again in Chicago radio, and that money wasn't a key issue for him. It certainly isn't what made him and Volkman commit to the new show at WLS. "We're working for minimum wage," said Bohannon, only half jokingly. But if they find their new legs -- and an audience -- at WLS, it could lead to bigger things at the station. Damsky declined to say what other jobs might be in the offing for the two hosts at the station, except to note that Bohannon and Volkman could become regular fill-ins on the "Roe Conn Show with Richard Roeper" in afternoon drive.

But for now, Bohannon is focused on getting the new Saturday night show done right and trying to give the WLS sales department some ratings that will make their job easier. "If we are able to make some noise, I believe good things will happen," said Bohannon.

WLS-AM isn't making an official announcement, but it has brought on board chatty Bruce Wolf to co-host with Dan Proft two hours of airtime from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Wolf, who apparently has never bumped into a topic or a breaking news story about which he didn't have an opinion, is the latest talent to be brought into the fold at Citadel Broadcasting's news/talk outlet, as management is undertaking what has turned into a massive overhaul of the station.

WLS-AM general manager Michael Damsky said the hiring of Wolf is but one of several changes the station will make in its weekend programming line-up. WLS also has made numerous adjustments in its weekday line-up, most notably the addition of Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper to the afternoon drive show hosted by Roe Conn, and the insertion of Cisco Cotto into the mid-morning slot previously occupied by Mancow Muller and Pat Cassidy.

Is the outspoken Mancow Muller headed for a berth at Tribune Co.-owned WGN-AM (720)? Rumors swirled Thursday that Muller and WGN were talking. But WGN general manager Tom Langmyer dismissed the rumor. "We talk to a lot of people all the time," said Langmyer.

For more than a year, WGN program director Kevin Metheny has been busy making numerous programming and talent changes at the station. In so doing, he has angered a number of longtime WGN fans, many of whom have said they no longer can relate to the station. But Metheny also has been adamant about trying to woo a younger 25 to 54-year-old listener base, and he maintains much of what he has done at WGN was done with that goal in mind.

Muller was unceremoniously cut loose earlier this year from Citadel Broadcasting's news/talk WLS-AM (890), where he had been paired with Pat Cassidy, who has since returned as morning drive co-anchor at all-news WBBM-AM (780). Cisco Cotto was moved from afternoon drive, where he was briefly paired with Roe Conn, to fill the mid-morning slot vacated by Muller and Cassidy at WLS-AM. At the time of his dismissal from WLS, Muller was vocal about the raw deal he believes he had gotten from the station.

On May 2, 2010, the legendary radio DJ Dick Biondi will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first broadcast on WLS-AM (890). In honor of the occasion, Biondi will host a special broadcast on WLS-FM (94.7) on May 2, from 7 pm to 12 am. The broadcast will be simulcast on news/talk WLS-AM (890) and will feature stories and highlights from Biondi's career, along with special guests. Biondi fans can call 312-984-5350 and congratulate him or share a story about listening to Biondi at some point over the past five decades. Some of this messages will be played during the special May 2nd broadcast.

Biondi began his broadcasting career in New York City, but moved to Chicago in 1960, and worked at WLS-AM. In the early 1960's, Biondi was the nation's No. 1 disc jockey, averaging a 60 share of the national audience. Biondi has been inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame and the radio wing of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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.

Drew Hayes has been named operations director for news/talk WLS-AM (890). Most recently, Hayes served as operations director for all-news WBBM-AM (780) and sports talk WSCR-AM (670), both CBS Radio properties. Newly-named WLS-AM general manager Michael Damsky said Hayes has a sense of urgency, an ear for what people want to hear and a vision of what a radio station should sound like.

This marks Hayes' second stint at WLS-AM. He was previously at the station when it flipped from a music to a talk format back in 1989. But perhaps most tellingly, Hayes hired WLS-AM's current afternoon host Roe Conn during his first stint there. And Conn, needless to say, was quick to call Hayes "one of the great architects of modern talk radio" as his return to the station was announced late Tuesday. Conn's show, of late, has been a major trouble spot for WLS-AM. Conn apparently hopes Hayes will be able to solve whatever is hampering the afternoon drive show's success.

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.



About the blogger

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

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the WLS-AM category.

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