No one could have imagined all the twists and turns in Steve Cochran’s remarkable radio odyssey at WGN AM 720. Least of all Cochran himself.
As the morning star of the Tribune Media news/talk station marks his latest milestone — a contract extension through December 2020 — he can only look back with wonder and gratitude.
“When I started at WGN in 2000 I thought it would be for good, and I was wrong,” Cochran said. “When I was thrown out in 2010 I thought I would never be back, and I was wrong. When I came back in 2013 I thought I would be lucky to have just a three-year run, and I was wrong. So no more predictions. I’m glad I’m here for as long as it lasts.”
Cochran, 55, still had more than two years left on his last deal — a four-year agreement signed in September 2014. The additional two-year extension, expected to be announced Monday, signals another vote of confidence from Jimmy de Castro, president and general manager of WGN. (The station also recently extended the contracts of afternoon personality Roe Conn and vice president of programming and content Todd Manley.)
“Steve makes it look easy with his affable brand of intelligence, but nobody works harder to gather and share the stories Chicagoans care about,” Manley said of Cochran and his show. “He’s got the raw talent and work ethic we need for many years to come.”
From the beginning of his tenure as general manager, de Castro said, Cochran’s contribution has gone far beyond his performance on the air. He’s been an integral part of management’s inner circle. “Steve has been lock step in every single move that we have made,” he said. “He’s been a total advocate.”
Cochran returns the compliment, saying: “There has never been anyone better at running stations than Jimmy de Castro. He’s an innovator, a cheerleader, an ass kicker, and a good time.
“People don’t understand how bad things were when de Castro took over. He made a million tough decisions. He hired the right people. He learned what WGN was and what it could be. So with his leadership we continue to ‘honor the past, fix the present and build the future.’ ”
Now the consummate insider, Cochran couldn’t have been more of an outsider when his initial 10-year run ended in 2010. He lambasted the Tribune Co. bosses who fired him, calling them “the worst kind of management” — including chairman Sam Zell, CEO Randy Michaels, WGN program director Kevin Metheny and WGN general manager Tom Langmyer.
“They have no respect for the audience,” Cochran said at the time. “They simply don’t seem to care what the listeners think. Imagine that attitude in any other business. . . . The current Tribune Co. appears to be run by a club of Randy and friends who only talk to each other and really seem to think they are the smartest guys in the room.” All of them are gone now.
“I said a lot of really hard things about the Zell, Michaels, Metheny, Langmyer regime,” Cochran acknowledged. “I don’t regret any of it because it was all true.”
Despite the relinquishing of Chicago Cubs broadcast rights by WGN, ratings have held steady for Cochran’s morning show, which ranks third in the market with a 5.6 percent share and cumulative audience of 345,000, according to the latest Nielsen Audio survey. That’s equal to Cochran’s rank and share in May 2014 (when WGN still aired the Cubs) and up more than a full share point from May 2013 before Cochran signed on.
Airing from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday on WGN and streaming on WGNRadio.com, TuneIn and iHeartRadio, Cochran’s show features an ensemble of contributors, including co-anchor and reporter Andrea Darlas, news and business reporter Steve Grzanich, sports anchor Dave Eanet and traffic reporter Mary Van De Velde.
“The show is funny, informative, and Blackhawks-filled, and I’m proud of that,” Cochran said. “But with the mess the world is in, I promise we will talk about that, too, everyday. I think the audience has responded to that, and it’s a direct reason we have had ratings success. You may not agree with what I say, but you will get the truth and you won’t be bored. . . . I think I have a responsibility to this audience and the legacy of Wally Phillips, Bob Collins and Spike O’Dell to work harder and be better everyday.
“I’m blessed to have this show and very happy that I’ll be doing it for another few years.”