Report: WLS-AM looking to drop Limbaugh; Cumulus denies it

Is the end of Rush Limbaugh’s show near in Chicago? A report Thursday by Robert Feder stated Cumulus’ WLS-AM was looking to drop the controversial show as the station is looking to revamp its image by adding more mainstream talk.

The report didn’t sit well with Cumulus execs; in fact, John Dickey, EVP of Content and Programming, said his company denied WLS was dropping Limbaugh in a interview with an online radio publication (In a follow up article, Feder noted that Cumulus denied the report.) Limbaugh – which is distributed by iHeartMedia’s Premiere Radio Networks, is contracted to WLS until next year.

But the cat seems to be out of the bag. In a Facebook post, Limbaugh admitted he is out of the 25-54 demo, and doesn’t see the world the same way other people does, referring to younger audiences.

Limbaugh has been in national syndication since 1988 and on WLS since 1989. At his peak, Limbaugh ranked in the top ten middays in the Windy City. But the show continues to skew older and older, with the majority of its audience over the age of 55. In the first Feder article, a Cumulus source stated the show was “impossible to sell”.

In addition, the Chicago area has seen a notable shift in demographics over Limbaugh’s lifespan. For example, much of the Chicago-area have shifted their political solidarity to the blue (liberal) camp. Notable demo shifts over the years (notably on Chicago’s once-conservative Northwest and Southwest sides and south suburbs) have diminished Limbaugh’s audience.

But some of Limbaugh’s problems have been his own doing. The Sandra Fluke controversy and the way he treats women hurt his standing among advertisers. He’s also made occasional racist comments.

And what happens when you put all of this together? A sizable drop in revenue. Feder noted WLS fell in revenue to $9.5 million last year from $13 million. In order to turn things around and to appeal to more mainstream audiences, WLS hired reliable standbys Steve Dahl and Jonathon Brandmeier, the latter launching a syndicated radio show based out of Chicago later this month. On the executive side, Peter Bowen was recently named to replaced Donna Baker as Cumulus’ vice president and market manager of the Chicago cluster.

If Limbaugh does leave WLS (keep in mind all contracts can be modified with a little negotiation), he’ll likely wind up on conservative talker WIND-AM (560), where there is an opening from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. as Dennis Miller is ending his show in three weeks. If WLS can get out of its contract with Limbaugh (despite what Dickey says) to run the full three hours of Brandmeier’s show, then Limbaugh can shift over to WIND, where he would be surrounded by other conservative talkers.

This is not the first time the issue of a syndicated program produced by a distributor airing on a station owned by a competitor has come up: a few years back, The Tom Joyner Morning Show – owned by Reach Media and Radio One – was jettisoned from iHeart (then Clear Channel)-owned WVAZ-FM, where it aired for years and replaced by The Steve Harvey Show, which is syndicated by Premiere – owned by iHeart/Clear Channel. Joyner later relocated to WSRB-FM (Soul 106.3).