WGN Radio gets down to basics

Jimmy deCastro, Bob Sirott, Marianne Murciano and Todd Manley (2014)

Jimmy deCastro, Bob Sirott, Marianne Murciano and Todd Manley (2014)

Even as WGN AM 720 was bidding farewell to Bob Sirott, Marianne Murciano and David Kaplan last week, the Tribune Media news/talk station was reaffirming its place in the market and its commitment to drive-time stars Steve Cochran and Roe Conn.

Cochran just started the second year of a four-year deal as morning host, and Conn just agreed to a contract extension through January 2017 to continue as afternoon host.

Roe Conn and Steve Cochran

Roe Conn and Steve Cochran

“I’ve never felt more comfortable about the personalities and talent that we have on WGN Radio at this time,” Jimmy deCastro, president and general manager of WGN, said. Referring specifically to Cochran and Conn, he added: “I’m lucky to have them. I feel very fortunate that I’m able to work with them and have them be part of what we’re building.”

DeCastro scoffed at intimations in some quarters that a sale of the station might be in the offing. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Out of the question.”

Despite the loss of Chicago Cubs baseball broadcasts, ratings are up this summer. Among adults between 35 and 64, WGN ranks third in mornings and fifth in afternoons, according to the latest Nielsen Audio figures. More than 553,900 listeners tune in each week.

By all accounts, the decision to cut the husband-and-wife team of Sirott and Murciano after two years on the midday shift was purely economic. “This move has nothing to do with the show’s ratings or revenue,” Todd Manley, vice president of programming and content at WGN, told the staff. Which is another way of saying that if Sirott and Murciano weren’t getting paid so much in the first place, they might not have been targeted.

David Kaplan

David Kaplan

The same is true of Kaplan, who turned down an overture from CBS Radio sports/talk WSCR AM 670 last February for a hefty renewal from WGN. Once Kaplan’s contract became a financial albatross for the station, ESPN Radio sports/talk WMVP AM 1000 was only too happy to pick him up.

Added to recent cuts among traffic reporters and associate producers at WGN, the savings from the three big salaries will go straight to the bottom line. If deCastro has his way, the money will be plowed back into advertising and promotion for Cochran and Conn early next year and into the new digital and video initiatives he and Manley have been championing.

Unlike earlier cuts at WGN, most notably the firings of Garry Meier and Jonathon Brandmeier and the demise of sports/talk on The Game 87.7 FM last year, the latest moves seem utterly free of rancor. That may be because the genuinely likable Sirott and Murciano went out of their way to be gracious and professional despite their disappointment.

It would be hard to imagine a better fit for Sirott than WGN, where he was a member of the family since 2007. Even after his first noon show was dropped in 2010, he continued to host Sunday nights with Murciano, a franchise they began in 2001 at the former WCKG.

It’s not clear what’s next for Sirott, one of the best broadcasters ever to work in our town. Over a nearly 50-year career, he has anchored and reported for four stations here and co-hosted a network newsmagazine show. All that was after more than a decade as a great Top 40 radio personality. He’s too talented, creative and versatile to be idle for long.

Here is WGN’s new Monday-through-Friday lineup, effective September 8:

  • 5 to 10 a.m. The Steve Cochran Show with Andrea Darlas, Dave Eanet, Orion Samuelson and Mary VanDeVelde
  • 10 a.m. to noon Bill Leff & Wendy Snyder
  • Noon to 1 p.m. The Wintrust Business Lunch with Steve Bertrand
  • 1 to 3 p.m. Bill Leff & Wendy Snyder
  • 3 to 7 p.m. The Roe Conn Show with Anna Davlantes, Judy Pielach, Connor McKnight and Sarah Jindra
  • 7 to 11 p.m. The Download with Justin Kaufmann
  • 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Patti Vasquez
  • 2 to 5 a.m. Nick Digilio