WGN Radio brings back some of its personalities; station hopes listeners return as well; Brandmeier moves online – for now
Hoping to undo the damage done by years of mismanagement, WGN-AM general manager Jimmy DeCastro is retooling the station’s lineup nearly from top to bottom, bringing back familiar names and hoping to reconnect with Chicago listeners.
As first hinted by Robert Feder on Facebook, Steve Cochran, who was rehired by WGN a few weeks ago, is the station’s new morning morning personality, getting the 5 to 9 a.m. shift now occupied by Jonathan Brandmeier, who moves to live streaming broadcast (more on that later.) Cochran begins on Sept. 3.
The rest of the lineup is unofficial, but is likely shaping up like this in the next few weeks: overnight personality Bill Leff gets the late morning 9-Noon slot, but will be paired with a co-host, followed by Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano from noon until 3 p.m. Pete McMurray and Nick Digilio will rotate the overnight shift.
Garry Meier remains from 3-7 p.m., although he’ll likely be paired with a partner. David Kaplan also retains his 7 p.m. – midnight sports program.
But that’s not all. Though unofficial, WGN is bringing back the “Girlfriends”: Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey, who held the early afternoon slot from 1989 to 2009, would return – but in a late Saturday morning slot. Also being planned for weekend shows include Dean Richards, Rick Kogan and a Sunday morning show with Chicago Tribune political writer Rick Pearson.
DeCastro is hoping these changes reserves the ratings slump WGN-AM has been in for years, which accelerated when Kevin Metheny came aboard as program director, whose moves made listeners flee for the exits. Recent PPM numbers from Arbitron showed WGN in fifth place overall, but ranked 21st among adults 25-54 (a key radio demo for advertisers) and took in just $30.2 million in 2012 according to BIA/Kesley, down $5 million the year before.
WGN is also unveiling a new slogan, according to the Chicago Tribune, calling itself Chicago’s Very Own, the same byline co-owned WGN-TV uses. Decastro also said he is looking to integrate the TV station with WGN Radio more.
Also, look for Tribune to rename the “N” in WGN from newspaper to new media, encompassing radio, television, social media, Internet, and more. Makes sense, given Tribune is selling off its newspaper chain. Also on tap is a new logo, which should be unveiled sometime this fall.
Meanwhile, look for Jonathan Brandmeier to resurface on a new “FM stream” the station is planning to launch. Similar to what Clear Channel did in 2006 by launching an online “format lab” (which evolved into iHeartRadio), Tribune plans a similar strategy and move Brandmeier to an online stream, fill it with personalities, then launch a terrestrial version once Tribune acquires an FM outlet – which is not out of the realm of possibility, since Merlin Media has just two stations left in its portfolio (plus one in a management agreement), after the recent sale of its Philadelphia station.
The oddity behind this? The person who currently runs Merlin Media into the ground is the same guy who ran Tribune as CEO – and especially WGN Radio – into the ground. Yep… the ol’ Court Jester himself, Randy Michaels.
But the question is, will Randy and his beleaguered investors sell his stations to his former employer? That’s the $100 million (or more) question.