New WGN lineup adds Williams, subtracts Meier

John Williams

John Williams

Breaking news: John Williams will return to middays and Garry Meier will lose his afternoon slot in a new weekday program lineup to be unveiled Wednesday at WGN AM 720.

Williams, a mainstay of the Tribune Broadcasting news/talk station for 15 years before he left in December 2012, will be heard from 10 a.m. to noon on WGN, starting Tuesday. He’ll broadcast from Minneapolis, where he continues to host afternoons at WCCO.

Garry Meier

Garry Meier

Meier, who has occupied afternoons on WGN since 2009, is being reassigned to WGN.fm, the “freeform media” online streaming portal, where he is expected to fulfill the remaining year and a half of his contract. Replacing Meier from 3 to 7 p.m. on WGN will be the duo of Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder, who currently co-host from 9 a.m. to noon.

Effective Tuesday, the new weekday lineup will be: Steve Cochran from 5 to 10 a.m.; Williams from 10 a.m. to noon; Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano from noon to 3 p.m.; Leff and Snyder from 3 to 7 p.m.; Pete McMurray from 7 to 11 p.m., Patti Vasquez from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and Nick Digilio from 2 to 5 a.m. The changes are expected to be announced by Jimmy deCastro, president and general manager of WGN, and Todd Manley, vice president of content and programming.

Williams, 54, hosted daily shows on both WGN and WCCO for more than two years before he cut ties with WGN and moved permanently to Minneapolis. He recently extended his contract with the CBS Radio news/talk station through 2016, making it clear he has no plans to move back to Chicago. So other than the money, why is he returning to WGN?

“Jimmy. And Todd,” Williams told me. “And Steve and Maureen and Judy and Dave and all the other people there. I don’t think they even realize what a transformation that place has undergone in the last year. You almost have to go away and then come back to see how happier everyone is. And you can hear it on the radio. So yeah, would I like to come back and talk with my friends in an environment like that? You bet.”

A Joliet native and Southern Illinois University graduate, Williams once worked as a college intern for WGN morning superstar Wally Phillips. After stops in Plano and Peoria, he spent four years in the Twin Cities at WCCO. In 1997, he returned to WGN, where he hosted middays, afternoons and (for six months between Spike O’Dell and Greg Jarrett) mornings.

The return of Williams to WGN is the latest in a series of comebacks for popular personalities who jumped or were exiled during the prior regime of general manager Tom Langmyer and program director Kevin Metheny. Under deCastro and Manley, WGN also has welcomed back Cochran, the team of Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey, Rick Kogan, and Milt Rosenberg (as a podcaster), among others.

Meier, 64, a suburban Chicago native, was one-half of the legendary radio team of Steve Dahl and Garry Meier before they broke up in 1993. Meier later worked with Roe Conn at WLS AM 890 before severing that partnership in 2004. Since then he’s been working solo, including the past five years on WGN.

Although Meier will continue to be the highest-paid personality on WGN’s payroll, his move off the 50,000-watt broadcast station can only be seen as a demotion. He was given the news by deCastro and Manley when he got off the air Tuesday, which turned out to be his last show for WGN. (Update: Meier will appear on WGN AM 720 Thursday.)

Patti Vasquez

Patti Vasquez

On WGN.fm, Meier will be on from 3 to 7 p.m. He’ll join a lineup that includes Jonathon Brandmeier, Kevin Matthews, housing guru David Hochberg and Ken Rutkowski’s “Business Rockstars” in a prototype for what deCastro plans as an FM talk station. Tribune Broadcasting previously used the site as an incubator for The Game 87.7 FM, the sports/talk format that migrated to WGWG LP 87.7 (along with Brandmeier in mornings).

Officially joining WGN’s weekday lineup under the new schedule is Vasquez, the nationally renowned standup comic who began at WGN as weekend personality in May 2013. She’s been filling in on late-nights since McMurray was promoted to evenings last February.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, WGN tied for fourth place overall with a 4.5 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 945,400. Among listeners between 25 and 54, WGN ranked 15th with a 2.9 share.