Jacked out: WJMK dumps Variety Hits format

Eddie & JoBo return to Chicago radio to new “K-Hits”, which replaces JACK-FM.

WJMK will not be “jacking” their body any longer.

In news that was circulating ferociously for the last 48 hours, it is now official: CBS Radio’s WJMK-FM – known for the last six years as rock-leaning Variety Hits (a.k.a. Adult Hits) JACK FM – is flipping to a Oldies/Classic Hits hybrid known as K-Hits 104.3, with former WBBM-FM (B96) duo Eddie Volkman and Joe Bohannon (also known as Eddie & JoBo) at the helm in morning drive. The moves are in effect starting Monday.

News of this story was first reported late Wednesday night on Robert Feder’s blog at Time Out Chicago. Earlier in the day, industry website Radio Insight reported that two domain names were registered: KHitsChicago.com and 1043KHits.com. While it was reported that WJMK and WCFS (Fresh FM, 105.9) were targeted for the switch, it was obvious JACK FM would be the one to flip.

In Feder’s blog Wednesday, Eddie & JoBo alluded to a possible deal with an unknown radio station for a gig, but did not say whom with due to legal reasons. For the past year, the duo have been doing Saturday nights and fill-in work at WLS-AM.

WJMK also revealed today in Phil Rosenthal’s Tower Ticker blog the other personalities scheduled for airshifts at the station: former B96 radio personality Gary Spears (who was at B96 from 1982-84 and 1990-94 and was previously at CHR powerhouse KIIS-FM in Los Angeles) will take the midday shift, while another former B96 alum (Bo Renyolds, who was at the station from 1987-90) is expected to take the helm in afternoon drive. More live and local personalities are expected to be added over time.

The tagline for the new WJMK is K-Hits 104.3: Chicago’s Greatest Hits of the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, and ‘80’s, and the K-Hits format is similar in style to sister station WCBS-FM who it and WJMK flipped to the JACK FM on the same day (June 3, 2005.) In New York, the JACK FM flip was a complete disaster, sending WCBS right to the ratings basement, and was even criticized by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On July 12, 2007, WCBS returned to its Oldies roots as a Oldies/Classic Hits hybrid (for the record, the last song played on New York’s JACK FM was Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey – ending abruptly at the same point when it was played during the Sopranos finale. You can hear the aircheck here.)

In Chicago, WJMK’s JACK was a little more successful, but still languished in the ratings. For the month of January, Arbitron showed WJMK tied for 19th overall and finished 17th in the key 25-54 adult demo. With the notable exception of Steve Dahl’s thirteen-month stint as morning personality, WJMK was jockless, as is most JACK FM stations.

One must wonder – why did it take WJMK and The Church of Tisch’s radio division so long – nearly six years to be exact – to ditch the format, especially in a town where radio listeners are very passionate? Part of the reason was running the station jockless was indeed more cost-efficient. But it reduced the station to nothing more than a soulless, bland, automated jukebox without live or local or even voice-tracked personalities (unless you count Howard Coogan’s one-liners) – not  to mention the competition from other Chicago radio stations who played the same type of music.

And while there was a huge outcry from WCBS-FM listeners in New York over the ill-fated format change, the Oldies void in Chicago was filled in only a few months by WLS-FM when it launched the True Oldies Channel on September 26, 2005, replacing WZZN-FM’s “The Zone” Active Rock format.

And the Variety/Adult Hits format had already been struggling in Chicago with Nine FM’s “We Play Anything” format never really gaining a foothold in the market (the plug was mercifully pulled in October 2008.)

So what will JACK FMs final song be on Monday before the 1:04 p.m. switch? Good suggestions would be Don’t Stop Believin’ or Boyz II Men’s End of the Road, but I’ll go with one most Chicago radio listeners would definitely want to hear: