WUSN loses its prime attraction; personnel loses their jobs
For CBS-owned WUSN-FM, everything suddenly isn’t so beautiful.
As first reported by Robert Feder Wednesday, WUSN morning personality Ramblin’ Ray Stevens, shocked the radio world yesterday by streaking over to WLS-AM to join former co-worker Big John Howell in morning drive starting Monday.
Stevens (who is not related to the novelty song hitmaker) spent 26 years at WUSN, branded locally as US 99.5.
The move set off a chain reaction of events. Shortly after Stevens’ announcement, WUSN let the rest of his morning staff go, including Stevens’ sidekick Lisa Dent. Also out is WUSN evening personality Joel Lisinski, better known as Jax.
Earlier this year, the station’s afternoon personality (Shila Nathan) left to take a radio gig in New York City.
The changes at WUSN come as the once-dominant country radio station is losing ground to new competitor WEBG-FM, branded as Big 95.5 FM. Ratings surged for the frequency after owner iHeartMedia replaced a failing Spanish-language Regional Mexican music format.
WUSN has been Chicago’s dominant country station throughout its 34-year existence – mainly due to a lack of competition: ABC Radio’s failed WKXK (Kicks Country) from 1996-97 was WUSNs only challenge. But Big 95.5’s success caught WUSN off guard, and the station should have taken them much more seriously. For one, WEBG had a bigger marketing budget at launch than “Kicks Country” ever had. And WEBG is skewing younger than WUSN is.
Recent ratings reports show WUSN finishing a still potent 12th overall and WEBG coming in 19th. But WEBG has shown growth in every ratings report for the last four months.
WUSN plan to “refresh” the station with details being released soon. While the station is expected to keep its country music format, changes in branding and execution are likely.
And all of this is happening with CBS Radio’s proposed spin-off or sale as a backdrop.
It’s nice to have friends in high places
Meanwhile, it’s a reunion between Stevens and Howell, who worked beside each other at WUSN between 2002 and 2006. The two men are friends on and off the air – and Stevens’ relationship with Howell may have been a key factor in encouraging him to head to the Cumulus-owned talk station. Like Howell, the transition from a country station to talk radio was an appealing one for Stevens. And so starting August 8th, WLS’s morning program is being renamed The Big John & Ray Show, airing weekday mornings from 5 to 9 a.m.
For WLS, this is another sign the station is moving away from conservative talk to a more mainstream format, similar to WGN-AM. The station this year started airing White Sox telecasts and will begin airing Bulls basketball this fall. Rush Limbaugh’s daily talk show remains on WLS for now as Premiere radio Networks announced this week a new four-year renewal deal.
WLS’ revamp so far has not meet with the ratings success it has hoped. Neither Howell’s or Steve Dahl’s afternoon show rank in the top ten and White Sox baseball hasn’t boosted WLS at all, thanks to yet another subpar season for the South Siders. Bulls basketball (which is not exactly a great fit) isn’t expected to boost ratings, either.