Steve Dahl exits WLS-AM

Longtime Chicago radio host steps down as station changes direction

In a move that comes as no surprise, WLS-AM afternoon host Steve Dahl has decided to leave the Cumulus-owned station after four years amid low ratings.

As first reported by Robert Feder Tuesday, WLS is looking to revamp its talk schedule, targeting sometime in January for the changes. While the station did not say what specific changes would take place, it was a given Dahl’s show would be affected as the station is likely shifting back to a full-time weekday conservative talk show format.

In an e-mail published on Feder’s site today, Dahl told him: “I love radio and will miss being on the air every day. The last four years have flown by, and I think Dag, Brendan and I have been doing good solid work, both on the radio and on our podcast. I would have liked to finish with some better radio ratings, but that didn’t happen.”

Even though Dahl is exiting WLS-AM, his subscription podcast continues and Cumulus remains as a financial partner in his podcast network. His last day at the station is on December 21.

Dahl returned to WLS-AM in 2014, when the station was looking to attract a more mainstream audience to compete with rival talker WGN-AM. But since the 2016 Presidential Election, WLS-AM drifted back to conservative-talk with the hiring of former WIND-AM host Big John Howell in the mornings and adding syndicated conservative talker Chris Plante to late mornings, leading into Rush Limbaugh’s. Not surprisingly, Dahl’s program – which is not a political talk show, floundered in the ratings ranking 25th in afternoon drive (from 2 to 6 p.m.)

In fact, Dahl’s show is the only non-political news/talk weekday show on the station between 5 a.m. and midnight.

The moves are indented as an overall effort to boost sagging ratings as WLS ranked 23rd overall in the last Nielsen report. As part of its evolution back to conservative talk, it pulled the plug on Bob Sirott’s and Marianne Muricano’s general-interest midday show last December and dropped Bulls and White Sox games from the schedule in January due to Cumulus’ bankruptcy. This comes as its FM counterpart  is seeing record-breaking ratings with its Classic Hits format, with the station ranking second overall and even topping several dayparts.

Whehter this is the end for Steve Dahl on terrestrial radio is unknown. But if it is, it caps one hell of a career, starting locally at the old WDAI-FM and winding through WLUP-FM and WLS-AM/FM (with Garry Meier), WCKG-FM, WJMK-FM, and back at WLS-AM.