Former US99 personality Drew Walker heads to Free Country

Alpha Media lures him away from Audacy – despite ongoing layoffs across the company 

As first reported by Radio Insight, Alpha Media announced Friday it was flipping its Hot AC WXLC-FM (102.3 FM) to Country and simulcasting the signal of WCCQ-FM (98.3 FM), based in southwest suburban Crest Hill and Joliet, now branded as “Free Country Radio”.

The new Country cluster lured veteran radio personality Drew Walker from Audacy’s US99 (WUSN-FM) after a twenty-year career and installed him as Assistant Content Director and Music Director. Said Walker: “I’m elated to be part of Free Country 98.3 and 102.3. What an incredible opportunity to bring the best Country music to even more fans across all of Chicagoland. The team at Alpha Media is truly special.”

Walker announced a few weeks ago he was exiting US 99, as the company is currently in bankruptcy and Walker’s shift was reduced to two hours a day. 

The move is designed to compete with US99 in the suburbs and drain revenue from the longtime station. But this is easier said than done, given US99 has a full-market signal and unlike Alpha’s stations, can be heard in the city proper. 

So why the name “Free Country Radio”? 

“Radio’s greatest benefit is often overlooked – it’s completely free”, said Phil Becker, EVP of Content for Alpha Media. “Free to listen, free to win, and free to subscribe. While streaming services and tech companies are charging for music and content, Free Country at 98.3 and 102.3 is dedicated to providing Country music and fan experiences to Chicagoans at no cost.”

Becker is obviously taking veiled shots at SiriusXM, who continues to lose subscribers and streamers Spotify and YouTube Music, acknowledging their competition is more than just US99. 

The move to hire Walker comes as Alpha Media has laid off staff across the country, including parting ways with two longtime Chicago radio personalities last week, dumping WERV midday host Leslie Harris and WCCQ’s Maura Myles, also a midday host. Alpha also made layoffs at its stations in four Midwestern states this week. A few months ago, WCCQ parted ways with afternoon host Chris Miles and longtime Chicago radio veteran Scott Childers. 

Over a year ago, WXLC and sister stations WSSR-FM Joliet and WZSR-FM in Crystal Lake rebranded as “Star”. They consolidated to reach suburbia’s female residents – and two weeks before this move, Alpha also announced some layoffs, eliminating ten positions. Now, there’s a change in strategy as WXLC has separated from the two and now simulcasting WCCQ to bring Country music to the northern suburbs. Both WSSR and WZSR are retaining their Hot AC format. 

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