Published on Friday, 02 December 2011 11:23
WGN-AM announced this morning that it has made some big changes with their weekday schedule starting next week. The changes include adding veteran Chicago radio talents Jonathon Brandmeier and Bill Leff, releasing morning host Greg Jarrett, releasing producer Jim Wiser, cutting time from Mike McConnell's show, re-arranging some show times, and re-shuffling some news anchors.
The biggest news is the addition of Chicago radio superstar Jonathon Brandmeier. Word of his considering joining WGN-AM had leaked out a few months ago and hints of today's announcement had been repeatedly on the CRM News Page and CRM Message Board over the last couple of months, long before anywhere else had the news today.
Brandmeier started in radio as a teenager in his home town of Fond du Lac, WI. He worked in a few small towns in Wisconsin, found work at a station in San Jose, CA and then found his way to doing mornings at Phoenix, AZ's KZZP-FM. It was there that his fame began to skyrocket. Coming out of nowhere, this then-unknown talent took Phoenix by storm. Fans proudly called themselves "Loons." If Brandmeier was doing a live remote, lines of fans would wrap around blocks just to get in. He started his band Johnny & the Leisure Suits there and the bars in which the band would play would have throngs of people waiting outside the door, hoping to squeeze in. His quick fame in Phoenix caught the eyes and ears of Chicago's WLUP-FM. Less than two years later, he was in Chicago.
Starting here in 1983, his morning show on WLUP-FM, and later also on WLUP-AM, rapidly grew in ratings. Within a just a few years, Brandmeier became the new king of Chicago radio, dominating in the ratings and adored by hundreds of thousands of fans. He rebuilt his band here, released albums and toured around town. The band first sold out bars and rapidly moved on to selling out Chicagoland's outdoor stadiums. Brandmeier set the all-time attendance record at Poplar Creek Music Theater, easily beating out ticket sales of some of the biggest names in music.
Brandmeier stayed with WLUP-FM until 1997. From there he held a midday shift at WCKG-FM, did radio sows at a pair of stations in Los Angeles, CA, and attempted syndication -- none of which had a fraction of the success Brandmeier achieved on morning radio in Chicago. Johnny B triumphantly returned to Chicago radio and WLUP-FM in October 2005. Unhappy with the management and direction of the station, Brandmeier had a parting of the ways with WLUP-FM in November 2009 and then requested to be let out from his contract, which still had three more months on it. He has been the most talked about "free agent" since then.
The nationally highly-regarded Brandmeier has previously won the Marconi Award for Major Market Personality of the Year, multiple Billboard Magazine Radio Personality Awards, and was named one of Talkers Magazine's "100 Most Important Radio Hosts in America."
In addition to his radio work, Brandmeier has dabbled in television a few times in the past. In the spring of 1986, he made his first-ever local television special called "Johnny B on TV." The success of that locally-produced 60-minute program led to more local TV specials, which led to guest-hosting national talk shows (Arsenio Hall), a made-for-TV movie for NBC-TV, a national special for NBC, and then his own short-lived nationally syndicated television show, "Johnny B On The Loose" in 1991. In 2009, he had a two-show experiment on WMAQ-TV called "Almost Live with Jonathon Brandmeier." Johnny B is currently nearing the end of a 10 week run of his newest TV show, "Brandmeier," with airs weekends on WMAQ-TV and its digital sub-channel, Chicago Nonstop.
This is not the first time Jonathon Brandmeier has considered joining WGN-AM. In late 2008/early 2009, Brandmeier was strongly considered joining the station, but ended up resigning with WLUP-FM for one year. After leaving The Loop for the final time, Brandmeier was in talks with WGN-AM in early 2010, but ended up walking away from the offer. The third time was the charm, though. Tom Langmyer, WGN Radio's Vice President & General Manager, a longtime fan of Brandmeier's work, had been in discussions with him for the last few moths trying to make a deal happen. As of this week, that deal was finally signed.
Tom Langmyer said today: "Jonathon Brandmeier is a Chicago superstar and we're thrilled to have him on the air, at the station where he belongs. Johnny's high energy, humor and unique Chicago experience make him an exceptional fit as 'The Voice of Chicago' evolves with another generation of listeners."
Jonathon Brandmeier will start on WGN-AM one week from today, next Friday morning, working the newly created 5:30-9:00am shift. He will be in WGN-AM's street-side Showcase Studio, so fans can see the "hyper rooster" at work from Michigan Avenue. Brandmeier was supposedly seen inside the Showcase Studio late last night, getting a feel for it. WGN News Anchor Steve Bertrand will move to mornings to join Brandmeier. It has not yet been announced who the morning show producer will be. Terms of Brandmeier's contract are not being disclosed.
In addition to the big Jonathan Brandmeier news, WGN-AM has announced that it is creating a permanent weekday morning slot for radio funny man Bill Leff. Leff, who has been a semi-regular fill-in & weekend host for WGN in the last few years, finally gets his own program. Fans of Bill Leff will have to get up early, however, since his new show will only be on from 5:00am-5:30am, as a lead-in for Brandmeier's show. He looks also to be the main fill-in for Brandmeier, when vacation/sick days happen. Insiders are hinting that there may be bigger plans for Leff in the near future.
Bill Leff has previously hosted or co-hosted radio programs on WLUP-FM, WKQX-FM, WTMX-FM and WLS-AM. In late 2009, Leff hosted the WGN-AM experiment "ChicagoNow Radio," which had him interviewing bloggers from the Tribune-owned blogsite ChicagoNow. The show was a ratings and critical flop. Leff quickly abandoned the show just over three months later. About a year later, he began doing fill-in work for the station again, which eventually led to this weekday morning slot.
In addition to his radio work, Bill Leff is a stand-up comedian with an improv background, an actor and a writer.
One of today's announced changes happens to deal with WGN-AM news anchors. With Steve Bertrand moving to mornings to work with Brandmeier, Jim Gudas will now shift to middays and early afternoons. Gudas first joined WGN-AM as a news writer in 1986, before moving on to other stations and markets. In 2006, he returned to WGN Radio as a news anchor, where he has been ever since. Steve Bertrand has been with WGN-AM since he was an intern back in 1984, working first with sports and then with news. The quick-witted Bertrand has also filled in for other hosts on the station periodically.
With the additions, come the subtractions. Bringing Jonathon Brandmeier to WGN mornings means that the station has taken Greg Jarrett off the air, releasing him from the last few month of his contract. Jarrett, who just celebrated his 41st anniversary in radio, joined WGN-AM in June 2009. An unknown to Chicago audiences, Jarrett was given the position due to his vast resume of news experience, including many years at San Fransisco's KGO-AM and as a news correspondent for ABC News. Though he had greatly improved the ratings over the two morning shows that preceded his, more in the beginning than lately, his news-based approach to the show never quite caught on with the WGN loyalists who wished for less of a departure from the more lighter personality-type of morning show that WGN-AM was long known for. The new addition of Brandmeier to mornings is more along the lines of the famous WGN-AM morning shows hosted by Wally Phillips, Bob Collins and Spike O'Dell.
Regarding Greg Jarrett's departure, Tom Langmeyer said today: "We're thankful for the contributions Greg has made to the station for the past two and a half years and we wish him nothing but the best."
Perhaps the biggest shock today is the release of veteran radio producer Jim Wiser. It was first believed that Brandmeier's coming to WGN-AM would reunite him with his longtime producer Jimmy "Bud" Wiser, who produced his "showgram" in the 80s, when Brandmeier first soared to fame here. That turns out to not be the case, though. Jim Wiser had been a producer with WGN since November 2002 and was the head producer for the station. He had joined the station after a few years in television production, to work as producer for Spike O'Dell's morning show, where he helped make it a huge success. He was widely regarded as one of the very best radio producers in the business. No reason has been publicly given for the release of Wiser.
Another subtraction from the station will be time from the low-rated Mike McConnell show. McConnell's time slot had been from 8:30am-12:30pm. Starting next week, the show is shortened by one hour, chopping away 30 minutes from the beginning and end of his shift. Brandmeier's shift will take 30 of those minutes and the other 30 minutes is being added to John Williams' midday show. McConnell will now air from 9:00am-Noon on weekdays.
The new WGN-AM weekday schedule will look like this:
5:00am-5:30am Bill Leff (New show)
5:30am-9:00am Jonathon Brandmeier (New show and new shift)
9:00am-Noon Mike McConnell (New show times)
Noon-3:00pm John Williams (New show times)
3:00pm-7:00pm Garry Meier (Unchanged)