We’ll find out for sure soon enough as one of Chicago’s radio legends returns to the airwaves Monday for the first time in five years.
The last time Steve Dahl was regularly employed at WLS-AM, the artists the station had in rotation were Whitney Houston, Tears For Fears, Mr. Mister, Prince, and Pat Benetar. The Cosby Show was the top-rated TV show, the Kansas City Royals went to the World Series (just like they did recently), the Bears were en route to the Super Bowl (which isn’t happening this year), and Miami Vice was setting our fashion trends.
Now can he make a comeback on The Big 89?
Starting Monday, Dahl begins his second tour of duty at WLS-AM in afternoon drive after a nearly 29-year absence. He’s hoping to recapture the same radio magic he (and former partner Garry Meier) once had. Dahl has not been on terrestrial radio since 2008, when WJMK-FM dropped his morning show.
Dahl had a successful afternoon show at the former WCKG-FM but moved to WJMK after owner CBS decided to flip WCKG’s format in November 2007.
The deal is for three years, and Dahl hopes to improve on the anemic ratings of his predecessors, Roe Conn and Richard Roeper.
Dahl’s return to WLS continues a trend in the media industry of bringing back familiar names for another go (such as NBC recently signing Bill Cosby for a sitcom project), hoping for a ratings boost – though it always doesn’t work (ask Arsenio Hall, whose late-night return in 2013 after 19 years was a disaster, and current WGN.FM/The Game morning guy Jonathan Brandmeier, who was unable to translate his past ratings success to WGN-AM.)
You know the story – after being fired from WDAI in December 1978 after flipping from rock to disco, Steve Dahl jumped to WLUP-FM and was paired with Meier. He waged an anti-disco campaign, cultivating in Disco Demolition Night between games of a Tigers- White Sox doubleheader at Comiskey Park on July 12, 1979 and you know how that turned out.
Dahl and Meier left WLUP in 1981 for an afternoon slot at WLS-FM, where they dominated the ratings, especially in young demos. According to Billboard Magazine, the duo were switched to the AM band in September 1984, and when Larry Lujack exercised an option in his contract to switch from morning to afternoon shift in January 1986, Dahl and Meier were shifted to middays. In their new daypart, Dahl and Meier lasted just two days and exited on January 7, 1986, returning to WLUP shortly thereafter.
A well-publicized blowup between the two in 1993 grinded their show to a halt, and each went their separate ways, holding various solo gigs. The two would not talk to each other again until 2006 during an impromptu reunion where it seemed both had buried the hatchet. But whatever peace between the two evaporated a year ago when both were inducted into the Radio Hall Of Fame, whose ceremonies Dahl skipped and Meier attended, failing to acknowledge him in his acceptance speech.
With Garry Meier now on WGN.FM’s Internet feed , Dahl would now compete head-to-head with his former partner at least until 2015, when Meier’s contract is up (and if any of you thinks of proposing Meier re-unite with Dahl on WLS, I’ll personally come over to your house and knock your computer or laptop over.)
As for Dahl’s podcasts, those will continue, only now as a partnership with Cumulus Media, owner of WLS-AM. The $9.95 a-month-subscription plan is still in place.
Regardless of what a lot of people say about AM radio (it’s dying, it’s skews too old, etc.), it’s still a prominent topic of conversation in Chicago media circles, especially with the troubles surrounding WGN and WLS. And Steve Dahl’s move to WLS still proves the old guard still wields a lot of clout in Chicago media, despite a diminished presence.