Tribune’s WGN-AM Chicago radio is returning to its roots in an extensive shakeup of its lineup under new GM Jimmy de Castro. The station plans to roll out a new but familiar lineup beginning 9/3, bringing back alumni that include Steve Cochran and Kathy & Judy.
WGN recently had its share of challenges amid personnel changes and revenue declines, culminating in the departure of longtime general manager Tom Langmyer in October. The station ranks fifth in the most recent Arbitron ratings for Chicago with a 4.6 share, and took a big hit in revenue last year, dropping by more than $5 million, to $30.2 million, according to BIA/Kelsey.
Morning man Jonathon Brandmeier, who joined WGN two years ago, is being shifted to a new virtual FM station — wgnfm.com — while the station looks to buy an FM frequency in the next year.
“We’re doing a lot of innovative stuff, but we’re also honoring the tradition and expectations of WGN,” de Castro told the Chicago Tribune.
While the new AM lineup is not set, morning drive will go to Cochran, a former afternoon drive host at WGN who was let go after a decade during a 2010 shakeup by short-lived PD Kevin Metheny. Cochran joined low-rated crosstown WIND-AM in 2011, exiting there to return to WGN on a freelance basis in July.
Longtime Chicago radio and TV veteran Bob Sirott announced Monday that he is leaving Fox 32 (WFLD-TV) to host a weekday radio show on WGN with his wife, Marianne Murciano. The most likely timeslot is noon to 3 p.m., according to de Castro, the former architect of heritage Rocker WLUP-FM in that city. de Castro also ran Chancellor Broadcasting, which became AMFM Broadcasting. Clear Channel bought AMFM and deCastro parted ways not long after for AOL. He then formed Nothing But Net and The Content Factory.
Former Loop personality Garry Meier will remain in afternoon drive from 3 to 7 p.m., but will be partnered with a co-host, according to de Castro.
Overnight man Bill Leff will likely take the reins from 9 a.m. to noon, also paired with a co-host.
Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey, the popular “Girlfriends” midday duo ousted after 20 years in 2009, are also coming back to host a weekly Saturday show from 10 a.m. to noon.
De Castro began his new role 6/3, reporting to Larry Wert, Tribune’s head of local broadcasting in February.
Next month, WGN Radio will also unveil a new but equally familiar slogan. Borrowing from WGN-TV, the radio station will begin calling itself “Chicago’s Very Own,” shelving the “Voice of Chicago” in favor of the TV station’s branding for the past 30 years. De Castro also plans to borrow talent from WGN TV as well, employing Dean Richards, Tom Skilling and others on the radio, with much greater frequency.
RBR-TVBR observation: Here’s a station not beholden to outside syndication. It’s live and local and all Chicago. deCastro’s hands are not tied here by an owner that also has syndicated product to hand him. Focusing on social media will hopefully draw younger demos in the mix, and adding an FM (we wonder if it would be a Merlin Media station) will only help give WGN bigger wings.