New morning show coming to ‘refresh’ US 99.5

Ramblin' Ray Stevens

Ramblin’ Ray Stevens

CBS Radio blew up the morning show on country WUSN FM 99.5 Wednesday after 26-year veteran Ramblin’ Ray Stevens rambled over to Cumulus Media news/talk WLS AM 890.

Lisa Dent, who has co-hosted mornings with Stevens on US 99.5 since 2006, was forced out. Her last day on the air turned out to be Friday — before she left for vacation.

Lisa Dent

Lisa Dent

Stevens starts Monday on WLS as morning co-host with Big John Howell. The two previously hosted mornings together on US 99.5 from 2002 to 2006.

“We were not surprised,” said Todd Cavanah, vice president of programming for CBS Radio Chicago. “We knew Ray’s contract was ending, and we knew he had expressed interest in doing something else. We are happy for him and wish him well.

“We want to thank Lisa and Ray for all they’ve done for this radio station,” Cavanah said. “It was ‘The Lisa and Ray Show.’ With Ray leaving, we thought it was best for our listeners to come up with a new morning show. We’ve been working behind the scenes for the past couple of months on some exciting new changes coming to US 99.5.”

Announcement of a new show is expected next week. Drew Walker, midday personality on US 99.5, is expected to continue to fill in during mornings until the new show debuts.

Sources said the plans are part of an effort to “refresh” the station, now in its 34th year on the air. No changes are expected in the station’s format, call letters or heritage branding.

The shakeup comes as US 99.5 faces stiff competition from iHeartMedia’s WEBG FM 95.5, which launched a competing country format in January 2015.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey released Monday, US 99.5 ranked 12th with a 3.0 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 1, 227,200, while Big 95.5 tied for 18th with 2.4 share and 966,400 weekly cume. Among listeners between 25 and 54, the measurement tied most closely to revenue, the two stations were separated by only one-tenth of one percent — with a 3.0 share for US 99.5 and a 2.9 share for Big 95.5.

Dent, who joined US 99.5 in 2002 after working in Minneapolis, San Diego and Seattle, moved up from middays to mornings alongside Stevens in 2006. Earlier this year, she was named to the Country Radio Hall of Fame.

As of noon Wednesday, Dent did not respond to a request for comment. She is expected to be paid for the remainder of her contract, which expires at the end of the year.

Jeff Kapugi continues as program director of US 99.5.