WEBG dumps Country music for Rock

[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated Sept. 6 with more information.]

In a surprise move Thursday morning, iHeartMedia-owned WEBG-FM – known as Big 95.5 pulled the plug on its country format after five underperforming years.

The change came at 11 a.m., followed by hours of stunting, including numerous rock songs – which basically pointed to the next direction the station would take. By 5 p.m., it was official: WEBG became a mainstream rock station and re-branded itself as “Rock 95 Five” as the first song played on the station was Metallica’s Enter Sandman. For a lot of listeners, it brought back memories of Metromedia’s former rocker WMET-FM, which was on the frequency from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s with an album-oriented rock (AOR) format, who mainstream rock is a direct decedent of.

“I am thrilled to bring Rock music back to Chicago,” iHeartMedia Chicago President Matt Scarano said in a press release. “These songs haven’t been played on the air for years. I am looking forward to hearing the soundtrack of our lives on Rock 95 Five.”

This is the first major format flip in Chicago since March 2018 when WLUP-FM The Loop closed up shop as it was sold to the Educational Media Foundation and went to Christian music. In fact, the arrival of Rock 95 Five fills a void left by the demise of the longtime station. 

No on-air personnel has been named as of yet as the fate of the personnel of the previous format has also not been revealed, though now-former Big 95.5 personality Lisa Dent said Friday she won’t be part of the new station.

Of note is Bobby Bones’ syndicated morning show now no longer has a terrestrial home in radio’s third-largest market as it was dumped with the country music format.

The radio trade website All Access classified WEBG as mainstream rock, but unlike sub-genres Alternative and Active Rock, there is no chart or a panel of stations to report as the format heavily relies on classic rock songs from the 1970s to the 1990s, with very few currents. In addition to Metallica, heard on Rock 95 Five in the last two days were Alanis Morrisette, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses, and Pearl Jam.

Saturday afternoon, Rock 95 Five played at least two ’80s rock tracks: The Authority Song from John Mellancamp and Panama from Van Halen.

This marks the fourth format change at the 95.5 frequency since 2009, when the former WNUA ended its long 22-year run as a smooth jazz station and flipped to Spanish Pop as Mega 95.5. In 2012, WNUA became ElPatron 95.5 and flipped to Regional Mexican and in 2015, became country with the Big 95.5 branding and changed the call letters to WEBG. In those five years, Big 95.5 was unable to compete with Entercom’s WUSN (US 99). Ratings for both have slid in recent years.

In addition to WMET, the 95.5 frequency has been home to WDHF under a variety of formats from 1959 to 1976 and the short-lived WRXR from 1986 to 1987.

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