New WLS-FM jingles pays tribute to station’s iconic past

Mirrors station’s success as a Classic Hits outlet

Back some time ago, format changes at WLS-FM were similar to Chicago’s weather – quite frequent and varied.

The 94.7 frequency went through more format changes than a singer’s wardrobe on stage through disco, rock, contemporary hit radio, talk, oldies, alternative, and even country over the years. But a decade ago, WLS-FM finally succeeded with a format – and all it had to do was phase out a bunch of 1960s records.

The format change took place in October 2012, after the station dropped Scott Shannon’s True Oldies format and was masterminded by station boss Jan Jefferies, who was fired three years later. WLS added more 1970s and 1980s rock music to its playlist and years after a very slow start, saw its median age drop as it attracted younger listeners. In October 2022, WLS-FM surprisingly finished first among adults 18-34 – achieving this feat with music that existed before much of the demographic did (keep in mind most music listeners in this demo mostly stream content on services such as Spotify or YouTube Music.)

Today, WLS-FM is a constant performer, regularly appearing as one of Chicago’s top ten radio stations – something that couldn’t be said throughout much of its existence (in February numbers just released today, WLS-FM tied with WGN-AM for eighth place with a 3.5 rating.) By comparison, WLS-AM – now known as a low-rated conservative talk outlet – was a major influential Top 40 station, staying in the format for nearly thirty years in an impressive run. The station’s peak years came in the 1960s and 1970s, battling WCFL for Top 40 supremacy in Chicago – one WLS would eventually win, being heard in 38 states at night.

So last week, WLS-FM introduced a new jingle package from Dallas-based TM Studios paying homage to WLS-AM and FM’s past:

The jingles were too loud and annoying for my tastes, but that wasn’t the conscious elsewhere. Industry expert Sean Ross praised the effort on Radio Insight Monday, stating “[T]he new jingles add vibrancy and variety to WLS-FM, keeping it from, among other things, overtaxing the station’s imaging in an era of only four jock breaks per hour. Here’s hoping that WLS can “sing it and win” again.”

Also, it is nice for a station to bring back jingles in rotation, especially in the PPM era.

Amazingly, much of the music surrounding the jingles came from an era when WLS’ time in the Top 40 format wasn’t as memorable. While WLS-AM had some success with its rock-leaning format in the early 1980s, ratings eroded after WBBM-FM flipped to the format in 1982 as “Hot Hits” (it would adopt the “B96” branding a year later) especially when the soaring popularity of Michael Jackson and Prince helped diversify the format as listeners drifted away from the AM band.

In 1986, WLS separated its AM and FM with the former keeping the calls and the FM side becoming Z95. After two or three years as a low-rated AC and later middle-of-the-road station, WLS-AM gave up on music and went all-talk on August 23, 1989. After early success competing with B96, Z95’s ratings collapsed in 1990 and after disastrous branding attempts such as “Hell 94.7”, gave up on the CHR format on October 27, 1991, and flipped to…you guessed it, talk.

Ironically, WLS-FM’s success as a somewhat 80’s music station came 23 years after a similar attempt with “The Zone” in 2001, but the plug was pulled after seven months and became an alternative rock station to compete with Q101 (WKQX-FM), lasting until October 2005 when they flipped to True Oldies. Today, WLS-AM/FM and WKQX are owned by Cumulus Media which recently hired former B96 exec and on-air personality Todd Cavanah as program director of WLS-FM.

Fortunately, WLS’ history isn’t lost. As mentioned in a recent post, former Alpha Media radio personality Scott Childers maintains a WLS history page, and there are other tribute projects in the works.


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