Norm Winer quits WXRT after 37 years

Norm Winer

Norm Winer

Chicago radio legend Norm Winer, who’s been the heart and soul of WXRT FM 93.1 for 37 years, resigned Wednesday — just weeks after he lost his position as program director of the CBS Radio adult album alternative station.

“I have decided to leave WXRT and CBS Radio,” Winer wrote to his staff. “I have been exceptionally fortunate to have been here, surrounded by people who mean so much to me.”

Since January 13 Winer had been relegated to a vaguely defined role as director WXRT music initiatives and special programming. The job of program director was eliminated, and Winer’s former duties were divided between operations director Mitch Rosen and music director Kelly Ransford.

Winer, 67, never publicly embraced his new position and declined to comment when it was announced in a statement by Rosen. Sources said Winer was unhappy with the change and chafed in the diminished post under Rosen.

On Wednesday Rosen had nothing but praise for Winer: “When you think of the Mount Rushmore of ’XRT, Norm will always be front and center,” Rosen said.

The Brooklyn-born, Brandeis-educated Winer joined WXRT in 1979 after stints at progressive rock stations in Boston and San Francisco. For nearly four decades, the loyalty of his staff and the depth of his connections to the music community were unequaled.

“Few program directors are as closely identified with a major market commercial radio station,” the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events said of Winer in awarding him its prestigious Fifth Star Award last fall. “While others regularly change format and personnel, [WXRT] has remained remarkably consistent, while staying at the forefront of new music in Chicago and the world, and no one is more responsible for this than Winer.”

Long the crown jewel of rock radio stations, WXRT has been facing tough times. In 2015 — a year when overall Chicago radio revenue was flat — WXRT’s sales declined more than 21 percent to $13.3 million. In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, WXRT tied for 12th place overall with a 2.6 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 959,600.

Here is the text of Winer’s letter to staff:

I have never attempted anything like this.

For me, this is uncharted territory.

There is only so much that I can express in words.

I have decided to leave WXRT and CBS Radio.

I have been exceptionally fortunate to have been here, surrounded by people who mean so much to me.

People with whom I have shared so much.

For many, many years, we have stood together, defying conventional “wisdom” governing the way we execute our collective responsibilities. Against all odds, our positive impact has been indisputable. Few in our industry have chosen to relate to their audience with the style, humanity and lofty ideals to which we have aspired.

I am grateful that our employers, first Dan Lee at Diamond Broadcasting, then Westinghouse, CBS, Infinity, and, of course, CBS, appreciated and supported our efforts and acknowledged our successes. The inspirational leadership that they provided us has made this all possible. And has enabled us to have so much fun in the process!

It would be impossible to summarize all the thoughts and memories that are racing through my mind right now. Luckily, I’ll soon have plenty of time to start writing my memoirs while I can still remember all the names, places, and punchlines that have given me so much pleasure – or at least adrenaline—for so long.

Honestly, I never imagined I would be here for even three years – let alone three dozen!

But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I’ve chosen to keep this brief, because, like I said, I’m a few years behind schedule.

Before closing, I want to express my profound gratitude and abundant respect for XRT listeners, colleagues, clients, co-conspirators, all the immensely talented artists we’ve discovered and supported, and even our competitors, who certainly helped elevate our game if we ever lacked motivation. (Though I don’t believe we ever did.)

In some ways, I still like to think we made it up as we went along, with mutual support from the people of Chicago and each other. With honesty, humility, and humor.

So proud to have been a part of this station and this great city!

Wishing you happiness and good health in the future.