Robert Feder reported Thursday that Tribune Media has swung the ax of the sports talk format known as The Game (WGWG-LP), the sports station on 87.7 FM after nine months on the air. The move comes as the station was losing busloads of money on the venture.
The station is closing its doors on December 31. It is not immediately known what would replace sports talk on the 87.7 frequency (also a low-powered analog station on Channel 6) as Tribune is leasing it from Venture Technologies until early next year. Recently, the frequency got a stay of execution as the FCC has postponed indefinitely the deadline to switch all low-power analog stations to digital, effectively shutting down the station.
The listener and critically panned station was virtually left at the starting gate, finishing in 34th place in the most recent ratings report. The station never achieved over a one share and never posed a threat to established sports talkers WSCR-AM and WMVP.
Compounding the problems of The Game was no viable morning show, and outside of David Kaplan and David Haugh’s late morning talk show (which is expected to continue on Comcast SportsNet Chicago), had an overall amateurish atmosphere to the station. Even the branding lacked originality as The Game is used as the moniker for other sports stations around the country, giving the station a decidedly generic feel.
The Game is also used in other media, including the stage name of a Compton, Calif.-based hip-hop artist, and the nickname of WWE professional wrestler Triple H, and TWO TV shows (Oddly enough, one of them – a sitcom airing on BET which had its own history of Jimmy DeCastro-like missteps, ends its run in 2016.)
In a interview with the Chicago Tribune, president Jimmy DeCastro had no choice but to pull the plug on the venue, and on Internet radio station WGN.FM, which as of January 2015, becomes WGN Plus.
And with the end of WGN.FM includes the departure of morning personality Jonathan Brandmeier (whose show was also heard on The Game – a rare instance where a terrestrial radio station simulcasts an Internet show.) and Garry Meier. Initially, Jonathan Brandmeier was in morning drive on WGN-AM, but disappointing ratings led him to be banished to WGN.FM and to be replaced by a returning Steve Cochran. Despite strong ratings in afternoon drive, Garry Meier was also banished to WGN.FM. and was replaced by Bill and Wendy. The move was a disastrous one as ratings plunged more than 30 percent.
While Brandmeier is expected to do his show on Friday, Meier – who was basically fired – is out immediately. His last show was Wednesday, and remains under contract until next fall. (UPDATE: Jonathan Brandmeier is sticking around after all – via a new online channel in conjunction with WGN Radio. More details here.)
To show you how much management treated them, The Game staff – including its on-air hosts – found out from on social media and from Feder. Afternoon host Ben Finfer went on an epic rant, pointing out he and the rest of the staff were kept in the dark on the news that The Game was going under.
Also odd is the timing of the announcement – it is rare a station would announce its demise ahead of time. What The Game basically told its audience (or what little it had) they were giving up – giving little incentive for anyone to tune in and making it harder for salespeople to sell advertising. What company would want their products to be associated with this lame duck station now?
With the decision to nuke both Meier and Brandmeier from the air, there is no doubt Chicago-area radio listeners- who were already critical of the moves made by DeCastro and PD Todd Manley on message boards, social media, and blogs, will even be more vocal now.
The irony is if you were one of the few listeners of The Game, you would hear callers rip into Bears management for the inept way the team has handled matters this season.
You could also apply the same scenario to The Game, WGN-AM, and Chicago radio in general.