“Big” John Howell out at WLS-AM

Big John Howell

Move takes place the same day ratings were released

With all the attention lately focusing on the decline of linear TV hastened by labor disputes and retrans blackouts, let’s not forget terrestrial radio – especially on the AM side of the band – is also in the fight of its life. 

The latest evidence of this came Wednesday as Cumulus Media’s WLS-AM announced it had parted ways with afternoon talk show host “Big” John Howell after eight years. The news was announced on the station’s Facebook page

“[Tuesday] was John Howell’s last show on The Big 89. He has been a staple of 890 WLS for over a decade. His wit, political prowess, and focus on Chicago conversations has given our audience a destination for smart, local radio in the afternoons. Thank you, John, for being a part of the fabric of The Big 89.” As noted by Rick Kaempfer’s blog Friday morning, WLS plans to replace Howell with the syndicated Mark Levin show from 5-8p.m. starting Monday. 

A post from Sun-Times’ Neil Steinberg’s blog Thursday morning suggested Howell was no longer a fit with the station’s shift to the right of the political spectrum, although WLS was labeled as a conservative talk outlet for quite sometime. Over the years, WLS tried to bring in personalities with a more neutral point-of-view on topics (think Bob Sirott and Marianne Muricano in 2016-17), but without much success. Steinberg noted Cumulus plans to make WLS “the most conservative station in the country”, but could be very tough to pull off in a solidly blue metropolitan area like Chicago – even with the presence of WIND’s Dan Proft, who doubles as a political operative. 

Howell is a longtime journeyman in local Chicago radio circles, with stops at WCKG, US 99, WIND, and as host of a syndicated country show, Country Gold. Howell’s been with WLS since 2015, when he did morning drive and was paired with with Ramblin’ Ray Stevens a year later. Howell moved to afternoons in 2018. 

In the latest Nielsen PPM rankings released Tuesday for August, WLS-AM ranked 24th with a 1.5 share according to numbers obtained by Radio Insight – half of the ratings WGN-AM had. WLIT-FM finished first with a 7.7 share. 

This comes as the future of the AM band has come into question as select carmakers are looking to drop AM radio from their newest models, generating outrage from listeners and generating a considerable amount of press. 

The news is certainly a big loss for local talk radio, whether your listened to him or not as more syndicated programming is taking over talk stations. With a stable of conservative hosts through syndicator Westwood One, Cumulus feels its cheaper to replace Howell with a national out-of-town voice than a local one.

For the time being, Steve Cochran remains as morning host. 


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