Will Steve Cochran Return To WGN Radio?

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The never-ending saga of who will have air-time on WGN radio continues with news that will delight many in radio land.  For years I have had more than one opinion on both the management of the station, and the on-air talent.  WGN was the main station I turned to for decades when listening  to radio.  As such I have been sad at the state of affairs at that legendary place on the dial in the past few years.  This news today would be a major step in the direction the station needs to head to once again appeal to the broad middle portion of radio land.

Lets make this happen!

Former WGN-AM personality Steve Cochran is looking to return to that station’s airwaves for the first time in just over three years. He is now available to work there once again, after his contract with WIND-AM expired over the weekend.

In August 2011, Steve Cochran agreed to join WIND-AM working a two-hour, late afternoon/early evening shift. He began officially in that role in October 2011. Station officials confirmed that Cochran’s contract ended on June 30th. It appears the decision to not renew that contract was a mutual one, although the parting of the ways was amicable.

Cochran was brought in to Salem Communication’s WIND-AM/AM 560 The Answer to help increase ratings, revenues, and awareness of the struggling AM station. By all accounts, that did not happen in Cochran’s almost two years there. This was despite the station placing billboards along highways in its reception areas promoting him and having Cochran do live remotes regularly in the city and suburbs.

Cochran’s more light-hearted views on current events and moderate views on politics did not mesh well with the station’s more hardcore conservative base, nor was it able to attract non-hardcore conservative listeners over to the station. Both sides seemed to give it their best shot, but it just wasn’t a good match.

WIND-AM will have an announcement to make about how they will fill that vacancy left by Cochran’s exit in the next day or so. In the meantime, another former WGN-AM host, Dan Deibert will fill-in for the 5:00pm-7:00pm shift. He was already at the station this week filling in for morning show co-host Big John Howell, who is on vacation.

All this means that once again, Steve Cochran is a radio free-agent.

Tombstone For Kevin “Pig Virus” Metheny, The Man That Murdered WGN Radio

Former WGN on-air talent Steve Cochran, whose contract was not renewed this year, has posted this image on his website.   Story and image from Chicago Sun Times.
 
 

Why Kevin Metheny Had To Be Fired From WGN Radio

Here is a list of some reasons that Kevin Metheny, WGN’s former program director, had to be fired this week.  As I stated earlier on CP “never before has a power-house of a radio station been so rocked with bad decisions and arrogant and incompetent leadership.”  Why the firing took so long to happen is the only question not answered.

 Soon after Kevin Metheny was brought on board to be WGN’s Program Director, he went on Steve Cochran’s radio show and said on the air, “I like you. I just don’t like your show.” With Cochran well-liked by other WGN staffers, it was not the best way to endear oneself to the new staff…
– On Metheny’s first week at WGN, John Williams took over the morning slot as the retired Spike O’Dell’s replacement, but Metheny’s chopped up format with almost non-stop breaks did not allow Williams to do his type of intelligent talk show and ratings fell. Metheny then took the morning show away from him just a few months later.
– A complete unknown to Chicago audiences was brought in to be the morning show host. While Greg Jarrett is a competent, talented voice and has an impressive resume, his lack of connection to Chicago made it an odd choice for the important morning show slot, as opposed to an afternoon slot first. (To be fair, Kevin Metheny did not hire Jarrett — Randy Michaels did. Jarrett & Metheny supposedly had disagreements on how to do the morning news show on numerous occasions.)
– Kathy & Judy, the beloved, longtime female hosts of the mid-morning show were removed from the air with almost a full year left on their contract, to make room for John Williams, who they yanked off of the morning show. There was no attempt to move the duo to a different time shift, angering fans, many of whom have not listened to the station since. While K&J’s ratings were on the decline, their harsh removal from the airwaves was terribly handled by Metheny.
– When John Williams moved to the morning show, his shift was left with no host for almost four full months. A seemingly unending roster of fill-in hosts, many of whom had no business on Chicago’s airwaves took over, plummeting ratings and angering fans even more.
– Garry Meier was finally hired to take over the early afternoon spot. While this move brought a new audience to WGN, it took a long time before the WGN faithful finally warmed up to his style of humor. (To be fair, Garry Meier’s hiring was started long before Metheny came aboard, by former PD Bob Shomper and GM Tom Langmyer. Metheny did approve of the hire, though.)
– Wes Bleed, the talented News Director who had loyally been with the station since the 80’s was let go after he voiced concerns about Metheny’s “combative” ways of engaging with the listening audience.
– Many weekend shows where cut from the schedule, including Steve Dale’s popular Pet World program and the weekend edition of Sports Central.
– These weekend shows were replaced by divisive political agenda shows, hosted by Jerry Agar, Shawn Wasson, and Simon Badinter.
– The usual fill-in hosts, such as Nick Digilio and Dan Deibert, were then passed over for fill-in duties to give the controversial political talkers more air time on weekdays.
– Dan Diebert, a popular weekend and fill-in host, was among those unhappy with Metheny’s style and decisions, so he exited the station to take a position as an afternoon host in Madison, WI.
– Some on air hosts were shaken up when their longtime producers were fired with no notice and replaced by newer producers who had to learn quickly what the on-air talent needed.
– Like his Father before him, Kevin Metheny was a voracious memo writer. Numerous memos were often sent to staffers, angering them to the point the memos were ridiculed on the air and leaked out to journalists like Chicago Public Media’s Robert Feder and this website. These memos micromanaged every aspect of the on air staffs’ every breath, telling them how they could & could not talk with callers and even telling them to not worry about being truthful, just to be “edgy.”
– Metheny attempted to hire some familiar Chicago media talents for the station in Jonathon Brandmeier and Richard Roeper. Both rejected Metheny’s offers, mainly due to their reluctance to work with Michaels & Metheny. Roeper instead signed on with rival WLS-AM, while Brandmeier chose instead to stay out of radio until a better fit for his show comes along.
– A new weekend show was added that was little more than a three-to-four hour infomercial for the Tribune Company’s blogsite, ChicagoNow, featuring mostly non-radio people talking on the radio and plugging their blogs. It was a critical and ratings mess from the start.
– Comedian and Chicago radio veteran Bill Leff was hired on a part-time basis for fill-ins and as host of the ChicagoNow infomercial show, a hire that was pretty universally cheered. However, after being passed over for many fill-in jobs for the political talkers and not being happy as hosting a show where he had to constantly train (and in at least one case, fight with) non-radio people, he abruptly quit. Leff was also friends with Steve Cochran, who was routinely treated badly by Metheny.
– Metheny hired a sports blogger, Sarah Spain to host ChicagoNow Radio, even though she had no real radio experience. She was hired as a freelancer to work at the station because Metheny thought she was cute. She soon after left to take a salaried radio job as a sports anchor with WMVP-AM.
– Since some of the ChicagoNow bloggers had experience behind a microphone, those were given tryouts as host of ChicagoNow Radio. Metheny accidentally stumbled upon radio magic when former Q101 host Alex Quigley and Tribune columnist Amy Guth teamed up and found great radio chemistry together, dramatically improving the otherwise poor ChicagoNow Radio show. (According to some sources, Metheny also found Guth to be cute, reminding him of an actress he finds attractive, which is why he pushed for her to be host.)
– The weeknight Sports Central show with David Kaplan, the longest running sports show on Chicago radio, was abruptly yanked off the air, angering the longtime fans of that program. Kaplan has since been reduced to occasional sports specials and sometimes pre- and post-game shows for sporting events broadcast on WGN-AM. The move was given a great spin as it being a way for fans to hear more of David Kaplan, but fans immediately knew the truth and that there has been dramatically less Kap on the radio since Sports Central’s cancellation.
– Metheny hired Chris Duffy to take over imaging and production duties for the station. Duffy was yet another ex-Jacor/Clear Channel crony of Michaels & Metheny. Though not old by any means, his elderly sounding voice and inflection has upset many station fans and reportedly some advertisers. By many accounts, WGN-AM’s imaging has suffered since this hire.
– 15 year employee, Wendi Power, quit her position as Sales Director toward the start of this year. Reportedly, sales revenues have taken a surprising downturn for the station this year.
– Metheny refused to talk about a contract renewal with Steve Cochran or his agent earlier this year, assuming that he would be replacing Cochran shortly. When that replacement was not yet ready, he gave Cochran a four month contract extension, with a verbal promise to renegotiate a new contract long before the four months was up. There was never another renegotiation.
– Garry Meier was moved to afternoons this spring, from 3:00pm-7:00pm. While this move angered some Cochran fans, it has helped boost afternoon ratings some for the station.
– Steve Cochran was then demoted down to only two hours a weekday (assuming there was no Chicago Cubs broadcast to preempt or cut into that time), giving him very little time to connect with the audience.
– Metheny, along with Randy Michaels and Tribune Broadcasting President Sean Compton, attempted to bring controversial ultra-conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham from WLW-AM in Cincinnati to WGN-AM to replace Steve Cochran. Michaels & Compton had already given him a television show that will be taped here in Chicago. At the last minute, Cunningham changed his mind and renewed with WLW-AM. (Michaels, Compton & Metheny all worked at WLW-AM in the past.)
– At the same time, Metheny, along with Randy Michaels and Sean Compton, attempted to bring controversial conservative talk show host Mike McConnell from WLW-AM in Cincinnati to WGN-AM to replace John Williams. Unlike Cunningham, McConnell took the WGN-AM job. However, instead of replacing Williams, Williams was moved into Steve Cochran’s spot and McConnell was given John Williams’ spot.
– When McConnell was not having callers to his show, Metheny sent out a memo to numerous WGN & Tribune employees, asking them to listen and call in to give the illusion that the new show was popular. In truth, McConnell’s show has been a ratings and fan flop since he first started in August.
– WLS-AM’s General Manager and Program Director/Operations Manager had been making appearences of their station’s afternoon show, taking questions from callers and making an enjoyable segment out of it. WLS fans clearly enjoyed having the bosses honestly answer questions on Roe Conn’s show. WGN-AM’s Kevin Metheny thought he would try doing the same thing on Garry Meier’s afternoon show one day. It was a disaster. Caller after caller was angry at Metheny for his moves and he handled the upset callers poorly, sometimes insulting them with his attitude. On this segment, he lied about Kathy & Judy’s departure, saying the pair wanted to leave when they did and how they did. Kathy & Judy, who did not choose to be yanked off the air in the manner they were, then held an interview with columnist Robert Feder exposing Metheny’s lies from the day before.
– To make room for McConnell, Metheny grabbed the arm of Steve Cochran as he was exiting the restroom, a few minutes before his show was to end, pulled him aside and told him he was no longer needed at WGN. Cochran still had a week to go on his contract, but he was fairly sure it wasn’t getting renewed at that point. Metheny would not give Cochran a chance to say good bye to his longtime fans.
– Metheny altered the show times, having the shows in the first half of the day end on the half hour, instead of the hour, as is customary in radio. Greg Jarrett’s morning show now ends at the odd time of 8:30am. McConnell goes from 8:30am to 12:30pm. Williams goes from 12:30pm until 3:00pm. Ratings for McConnell and Williams have dropped since the odd time changes.
– Noon Show host Bob Sirott was let go as a staffer. John Williams replaced him as host of the Noon Show. Sirott continues to do occasional fill-ins for Greg Jarrett and hosts a pre-recorded one show on WGN-AM on weekends with his wife, Marianne Murciano. Sirott has since become the 9:00pm news anchor on WFLD-TV.
– The longtime hour-long look at news & financial reports, The Noon Show was dissolved to give McConnell more air time.
– Milt Rosenberg’s Extension 720 show, one of the longest running radio talk shows in Chicago, was trimmed down to only four days a week and pushed back to 10:00pm to give more air time to an unpopular Metheny pet project. (More on this below.).
– Steve King & Johnnie Putman’s popular overnight show was also trimmed by one hour this year, with shows beginning at Midnight instead of 11:00pm.
– Although WGN-AM is a talk station that offers periodic news breaks, Metheny re-named and re-branded the station as “News 720” in a thinly-veiled attempt to cut into WBBM-AM’s ratings. Since the re-branding of the station, WBBM-AM has greatly INCREASED their ratings lead over WGN-AM in every single possible demographic Arbitron offers. There certainly is an AM station that Chicagoans turn to for news, but it is not “News 720.”
– Assistant Program Director Dan Zampillo left the station this summer to take a programming position with Sirius/XM. Like Metheny, Zampillo often had difficulty relating to staffers and was disliked by some at the station, according to many insiders.
– Kevin Metheny was among those photographed smoking cigars and gambling within the offices of former Tribune boss Col. McCormick, in a now-infamous party, described by a friend of Metheny’s as they “pretty much desecrated (McCormick’s office) with gambling, booze and cigars.”
– There were some reports of wild mood swings within the halls of WGN by Metheny, after many of his controversial programming moves were criticized publicly by journalists, bloggers, columnists, Facebook pages, Sirius’ Howard Stern and WGN fans. He could be seen laughing and joking with a person one minute and then the next minute yelling & screaming “Do you want to criticize me too? Everybody else is!”
– Of course, there was the icing on the Metheny cake: the hiring of one particular non-radio person to be a radio show host for the historic WGN radio: convicted felon and disgraced Chicago politician, Jim Laski.

WGN Radio Sees Light, Fires ‘Pig Virus’ Kevin Metheny And Jim Laski, Listeners Can Smile!

WGN radio, a station that has been my home on the dial since a teenager, has finally seen the light.  I am pleased to learn that there has been a shake-up at Tribune Towers and the ‘pig virus’ has been flushed down the toilet.  (Hopefully the sewer does not throw him back into the street.)

The station that I heard as I fell asleep at night as a teenager, traveled with during the many hours back and forth to Sturgeon Bay, and have programmed on all my radios at home and in the car, is returning to their senses.  Like many I feel very attached to this station, an 86-year-old Chicago broadcasting institution, and have long cared for it.  After all, WGN was there in all the major events, elections, and long nights when I was not feeling well.  How could I not care for it?

How many folks around the country are as gleeful as I am over the news today?  Countless numbers to be sure. 

And all for one reason.

Kevin Metheny, the WGN-AM 720 program director whose abrupt moves to grow the audience grew a well of resentment among some long-time listeners, is leaving the station along with his most controversial hire, convicted former Chicago City Clerk Jim Laski.

Laski is of course, a story all to himself.

Laski served time in federal prison after pleading guilty to one of the two bribery counts against him, admitting he accepted nearly $50,000 to steer city trucking business to cronies. Some of those who might have forgiven that transgression were unable to overlook his choppy on-air style.

Of course the damage to so much of WGN still lingers.  On-air talents like Kathy and Judy and Steve Cochran have been ruined, and listeners have strayed.  Over the past many months I have posted many times on the sadness many feel about the blows this station has taken due to the jackasses that took over management.    Never before has a power-house of a radio station been so rocked with bad decisions and arrogant and incompetent leadership.

The mess was not only what we heard on the radio, but also the ones taking place right at the head of the Tribune Company.  I was pleased when Randy Michael’s , Tribune Company CEO, was fired recently.  He will be less fond of breasts, I suspect, in the future.

As one who worked in radio I know the bond that can develop between listener and on-air talent.  What has troubled me about the WGN moves over the past months is that the bond should not be in only one direction.  The radio station must care as much about the audience, as the audience does for the broadcasters.

WGN Radio forgot that lesson.

And paid a price.

When WGN hired Greg Jarrett  (a man I have said is at his best when the volume of the radio is off) from San Francisco, and midday host Mike McConnell from Cincinnati it was clear what they wanted.  There was less of a Chicago feel to the station.  Lacking was the inside knowledge and love of the city that morning on-air talent or mid-day hosts should bring to the air.

Today we can only hope that the end of the ‘pig virus” Kevin Metheny era will bring back sanity and good taste to a radio station that has been a broadcasting icon.  Lowering standards into the gutter with trash talk is not good for ratings.  It is not good for the industry.  It is not good for America.

The old-fashioned ideals that I have over the relationship that radio has played, and should continue to play in our country, has not dimmed due to the insanity of  Kevin Metheny and others who undermined  WGN.

I am confident that the lesson has been learned, and that a brighter day will return to WGN radio. 

Every WGN listener can smile today.