WLS-AM cuts Cochran, local programming

Cumulus station goes all in on syndicated programming

As first reported by Axios Chicago Friday, Cumulus’ conservative talk WLS-AM has decided not to renew Steve Cochran’s contract. Replacing Cochran in the 5:30 a.m.-9 a.m. slot is Ramblin’ Ray Stevens, formerly of US99 (WUSN-FM.)

The decision to cancel the longtime radio personality’s show is part of budget cuts at the low-rated station. WLS also decided to end live afternoon shows The Closing Bell and PM Chicago, replacing them with syndicated talk shows hosted by conservatives Matt Walsh and Michael Knowles.

The station declined to comment. 

Closing Bell and PM Chicago debuted only last October airing in a 3-to-5 p.m. block. Bell recapped the day’s business news and PM Chicago dove into issues affecting the city such as the ongoing migrant crisis and crime. The article did not specify if the hosts associated with both shows would be retained but did note WLS parted ways with Jane Clauss and Andrea Darlas, who will continue with her weekend show and podcast. 

But like Cochran’s show, both programs failed to attract an audience. In the recent PPMs, WLS-AM finished in 27th place with a 0.7 rating, making it the lowest full-signal station in the Chicago market. 

After stints at WPNT-FM, WLUP-FM, and WGN-AM, Cochran arrived at WLS in June 2022. But any chance of Cochran’s contract being renewed took a hit after he revealed recently he fell victim to several phishing scams, as he told Better Business Bureau of Chicago President Steve Bernas: “I never talked about me, as you know, but we’re gonna start with phishing scams. I set a Cumulus record for this $4 billion company, in that I clicked on six different phishing scams,” Cochran told Bernas. “And, apparently, no one’s ever been close. I’m quite proud, as you would imagine. I spend all that time this weekend going through court-ordered training,” he joked. (Full disclosure: I worked for the Better Business Bureau under Bernas between 2008 and 2016.)

Of course, Cumulus wasn’t laughing and fired him, as they decided his show no longer fit the station’s plans as WLS is going all-in on syndicated conservative talk, competing with Salem’s WIND-AM which doesn’t report ratings because they are not Nielsen subscribers. 

The layoffs continue a pattern of cutbacks at Chicago radio stations in recent weeks, with WBEZ laying off fourteen, canceling shows and eliminating on-air talent at Vocalo, and the elimination of jobs at WBBM-AM, whose owner Audacy is trying to come out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. With the cancellation of WLS’ afternoon block, Stevens’ show is the only live, local content at the station throughout the entire day. 


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