The Drive takes a turn for the better

Brian Sherman and Steve Tingle (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

While all eyes were on hot adult-contemporary WTMX FM 101.9 and the strange saga of Kathy Hart that played out over the summer, another Hubbard Radio Chicago station was quietly on a roll.

WDRV FM 97.1, the classic rock purveyor that’s been on the air since 2001, is enjoying an outstanding resurgence in the ratings. In the Nielsen Audio quarterly survey released last week, The Drive ranked No. 1 among men in three age groups — 18 to 49, 25 to 54, and 35 to 64. With a cumulative weekly audience of 1,450,500, it tied for fifth place among all listeners with a 3.9 percent share.

For a station that program director Rob Cressman said was in “a position of struggle, chaos and disarray” barely two years ago — and had fallen as low as 18th place in one key demo — it’s a whole new day.

The Drive

The most conspicuous change at The Drive was the hiring last October of Brian Sherman and Steve Tingle as morning personalities. The duo worked together years ago at alternative rock WKQX FM 101.1 under Emmis Communications, but had gone their separate ways before Hubbard Radio came calling. At the time, The Drive was just coming off the ill-fated pairing of Dan McNeil and Pete McMurray.

Today Sherman & Tingle are riding high. Their show ranks third in mornings among men between 25 and 54 — behind only Raúl “El Pelón” Molinar on Univision regional Mexican WOJO FM 105.1 and Eric Ferguson’s “Eric in the Morning with Melissa & Whip” on The Mix.

Rob Cressman

Cressman, who signed on as program director in January 2016, attributes the revitalization to a grand plan.

While retaining The Drive’s classic rock music format (along with veteran on-air staffers Bob Stroud, Steve Seaver and Phil Manicki), Cressman and his team adopted a more aggressive approach to promotion, marketing and presentation. A station founded on the premise of “respecting the music” and steering clear of contests, call-ins and other gimmicks underwent a “paradigm shift” in strategy and philosophy, according to Cressman.

“Considering the radio station and the tenets on which it was built, it required a major collaborative effort to turn this organization around,” he said. “The audience was practically screaming for some tactile relationship with the station — for someone to engage with them, to answer the phone, to get out and shake hands. . . . Now it’s a much more electric, interactive experience for the listener.”

Sunday’s best comment: Mark Quinn: Outstanding job, Daily Herald! Why do we have to know these guys’ names? What does it add to the story? Why do the media inisist on fulfilling these a..holes’ most fervent desire…to go down in history as yet another misfit with an addle-brained cause and/or a genuinely sick view of life and humanity? Why tend the seeds already growing in the fetid and febrile minds of potential copycats?