Steve Dahl out at Jack FM

(Editor’s note: I apologize for the lateness of this post, as I had Internet connection problems that knocked me offline for awhile this evening. – T.H.)

The ax swung again at CBS Radio at a highly-paid radio personality – and this time – and to no one’s surprise – it was Steve Dahl.

The venerable and legendary personality left WJMK-FM (Jack FM) after his show ended at 9 a.m. this morning, ending speculation about his future at the CBS-owned station. Dahl had two and a half years left on his contract.

Dahl anchored afternoons at the old WCKG-FM, where he did very well in the male 25-54 demo. But the station did not draw an audience outside of his show, and Dahl agreed to move to the morning drive at the struggling WJMK on November 5, 2007 after CBS decided to flip WCKG to adult contemporary.

Dahl’s new morning show actually got off to a good start in late 2007, when his morning show finished did well among key demos under the old diary system. But when the new Portable People Meters became active in this market, the new measurement showed Dahl’s ratings plummeting among those same key demos.

The move was disastrous, as his audience didn’t follow him to his new time slot – similar to what Larry Lujack went through- only in reverse, as he moved to afternoon drive in 1986 after years of being in morning drive at WLS-AM (he retired from the station a year later.) The conversion to PPMs and Dahl’s show being shortned by a hour last August were apparently the final nail in the coffin.

Rumors have circulated about Dahl’s future at the station ever since Ed Volkman and Joe Bohannon were fired from sister station WBBM-FM two weeks ago. All three personalities made huge salaries, which were clearly being cut from the company. The evidence of his possible departure was piling up more and more during the last 48 hours, as message boards were buzzing.

At the end of today’s show, Dahl said he was “being pulled from the air” and management asked him at least to finish out the year. Dahl declined and left, mentioning that he wasn’t retiring. He said “Aloha” and the last song he played was “If You See Me Getting Smaller, I’m Leaving.” by Jimmy Webb.

Also out was Dahl’s entire staff, including Buzz Killman and producer Mary Van Deele.

Thought: Personally, I can’t really comment about the quality of Dahl’s program in recent years since I’ve never really listened to it. But I’ll say this: the way Dahl’s bosses handled this – from the WCKG format flip to his move to the mornings – was quite poor. Dahl clearly was not the perfect fit for the WJMK-FM’s music format, as he could not connect with the music they played, especially if he didn’t want to talk about Huey Lewis, Rick Astley, or Def Leppard (and who here really does?)

With Dahl gone from Jack FM, the future of the station is up the air. With WJMK in sixteenth place in the core adult 25-54 demo and sinking, the axe is getting ready to swing. Despite his poor ratings, Dahl was basically the only attraction to the station. And because of those ratings, he was being pulled off the air – with nobody going in. Without Dahl, the station is back to being a terrestrial MP3 player, playing anything it wants. We saw how that worked out for Nine-FM here and WCBS-FM in New York, which dumped “Jack” last year to return to an oldies format.

CBS clearly wasn’t getting a ROI with Dahl, so they cut him loose. And now they’re stuck paying the man for the next two and a half years, with a buyout unlikely for the cash-strapped radio conglomerate. But the bad news for Dahl is, his active contract keeps him off the air for the next 36 months, or so.

And of course, the recent axings at the network’s radio division locally shed some light on the business practices at The Church of Tisch, a place more known for cost-cutting than for hiring and nurturing talent. It’s been that way since 1986, when el cheapo Larry Tisch bought CBS and has had the stigma ever since. I was surprised Steve Dahl wasn’t hit up for a “mandatory donation” to pay for former WBBM-TV boss Joe Ahern’s lavish lunches and marble showers.

With the ghost of Larry Tisch showing up more often, it’s little wonder we never see the ghost of legendary CBS founder William Paley. It’s probably because Tisch has Paley locked in a Public Storage locker somewhere in heaven.

As for Dahl, his career in radio was indeed a great one – and quite interesting. From Disco Demolition to his often turbulent relationship with Garry Meier, if he ever writes an autobiography about his career, his readers would never get bored. It’s too bad this chapter of his story turned out to have a very bad ending. But at least he has time now to work on that book.

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