Sunday’s edition of The New York Times underscores what many in the midwest have been talking about for many months. WGN radio is hell-bent on self-destruction. There are some that say any PR, is good PR. When it comes to WGN radio that is not the case. No one….and I mean NO ONE….is applauding the changes to on-air talent on the once powerhouse Chicago radio station. There is nothing but scorn and dismay at the ripping apart of a once proud and much-loved radio station. The fact is the management at the station gets a hefty check to destroy a name brand institution. That perhaps is the most baffling part of all of this.
The folksy banter from talk-show hosts — who in some cases have stayed with the powerhouse station for more than 20 years — helped build a special bond with an audience that became the envy of others in the industry for the long hours Chicagoans spent listening each day. Until recently, WGN was the city’s most lucrative and widely listened to station, one that seemed to deserve its familiar tag line “The Voice of Chicago.”
But a spate of changes — the recent ouster of a well-known daytime host, the hiring of a former jailed politician to replace a popular sports show at night, and an unfamiliar name from out of town occupying its prized morning slot — has produced a negative response. Some observers question whether the city is witnessing the beginnings of one of the biggest radio blunders in Chicago media history.
“At some point, this will be a case study of how to dismantle a radio station,” said Paula Hambrick, a longtime local radio media buyer. “People were such loyal listeners, 10 hours a day. They’re upset and angry, and they are going to look for places to park themselves.”
Last year, WGN was the only Top 5 station in Chicago to lose market share. It dropped to 8.1 percent of advertising dollars billed from 8.5 percent, good for second place in the market, according to data compiled by BIA/Kelsey. At the same time, the news station WBBM-AM 780, the No. 1 biller in the city, increased its share of the advertising pie to 8.9 percent in 2009 from 8.6 percent in 2008.
WGN’s 2009 advertising revenue was $36.5 million, compared with $44.5 million in 2008, an 18 percent decline in a year when the overall market was down.