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Steve King & Johnnie Putman To Exit WGN-AM After Almost 27 Years

Veteran Chicago radio stars Steve King & Johnnie Putman are exiting WGN-AM after nearly 27 consecutive years on the air for the station. The duo made the official announcement of the move on their radio show early this morning, shortly after Midnight. Their last show will be Thursday night/Friday morning, this week.

WGN-AM is in the process of altering its programming this month. It is bringing in Jonathon Brandmeier to work mornings and has hired former WGN freelancer Bill Leff to a contract, while firing morning host Greg Jarrett and morning producer Jim Wiser. Other cuts, some due to financial reasons and some due to programming reasons, continue to take place. Among those painful cuts is the removal of the top-rated Steve & Johnnie Show -- a decision that was first made secretly last month.

Steve & Johnnie spoke on the air and wrote in their blog that they suspected this day was coming for close to a year. They said that last month they were able to create an exit strategy & agreement with WGN-AM management which "worked things out in a way that, you should know, we're MORE than OK with."

As a sign of deep respect to the longtime radio stars and their fanbase, station management allowed Steve & Johnnie to make the announcement first themselves, as well as doing a full week of "farewell" shows. The shows will all be live, not pre-recorded segments, as friends & fans salute the hosts, and they in turn, salute their friends & fans.

Steve & Johnnie insisted today that they are NOT retiring. Fans will have plenty of other ways to connect with them in the near future, as they have numerous projects coming up, including on television, in written form and recorded form.

Steve and Johnnie's exit announcement from earlier today, along with their light-hearted conversation with former WGN-AM morning show host Spike O'Dell, can be heard on the CRM Audio Page at this link HERE.

The loss of Steve & Johnnie is a devastating one to their legion of fans. For many years, their overnight show has been the #1 most listened radio program in Chicago, by far. The husband and wife team put on the finest overnight radio program in Chicago radio -- easily the best of the last three decades, and arguably, one of the very best in the history of Chicago radio. Steve & Johnnie's fans aren't just Chicagoans, either. With its strong signal at night, WGN can be heard in well over 30 states and up into Canada, not to mention being heard worldwide via the Internet. They get calls, emails, and postings on their Yahoo Group & Facebook accounts from people listening from all over the country and world.

Together, Steve & Johnnie did over 6,200 shows for WGN-AM, most of which ran between 4-6 hours in length. An incredible feat that will not soon be matched.

Steve King joined WGN-AM on Christmas Eve, 1984, filling in for WGN-AM legend Bob Collins on his then-afternoon show. Less than two months later, on February 14th, 1985, Johnnie Putman joined her newlywed husband on a special Valentine's Day show. The audience reaction was strongly positive. Through the radio, the listeners felt the natural chemistry between these two, a chemistry that had started when they would do events together for WIND-AM before either of them joined WGN, and a chemistry that would lead to a long, loving marriage. Based on that great show together, WGN-AM then hired Johnnie Putman to work for the station, first as a traffic reporter for the Wally Phillips morning show and the Bob Collins afternoon show, but soon after, she was placed at her husband's side and the Steve & Johnnie Show was born. The WGN program director at that time, Dan Fabian, had long wanted a male/female broadcast team for the station. It is hard to find a more appealing male/female team than a husband/wife team. Listeners loved being welcomed into Steve & Johnnie's lives, and in turn, welcomed them into their homes via their radios.

Both Steve King and Johnnie Putman were radio veterans long before either joined WGN-AM.

Steve King had worked at radio stations in Indiana and all over Chicago. After spending ten years as a rock musician, cutting singles and touring with a band, he was ready for a change of pace. He took radio courses from Chicago's Midwestern Broadcasting School and started on a new career path. He probably first became widely known as the nighttime DJ on WLS-AM from 1973-1978, although his radio career had started seven years before joining that station, working for stations in Indiana, and then afternoons at WBBM-FM. After his five years as a star at WLS-AM, he jumped over to WIND-AM to do a talk show, where he worked for six years (except for quick jump to WDAI-FM and then back to WIND-AM). He also did some weekend and fill-in work at WKQX-FM.

Johnnie Putman also knew her way around a radio studio. Right after graduation from Columbia College Chicago in 1977, she started at a pair of radio stations in west suburban Aurora (WMRO-AM & WAUR-FM), doing a talk show on one and then a music show on another. In 1982, she joined WIND-AM as a talk host. (Female talk show hosts were as rare then as they are again today.)

It was at WIND-AM that Steve met Johnnie and they first appeared on the air together. After the two had escorted a group of listeners to a Joan Rivers concert, which was not very well received, Steve joined Johnnie on her talk show to talk about the not-so-funny comedy show they both experienced. That would just be the first of many thousands of times these two would be together on the radio. In fact, radio is so intertwined with their lives, that even their engagement happened at a live remote for WIND-AM. The two were the honorary King & Queen at a broadcast from "King Richard's Renaissance Fair" in Bristol, WI. The "King & Queen" were riding on top of an elephant for the broadcast. When WIND cut to a commercial break, Steve turned to Johnnie and proposed. By the time the station cut back to them and before they could get off of that elephant, the two were engaged to be married. They have been "King & Queen" ever since.

In the early 90s, WGN-AM asked Steve & Johnnie to take over the overnight show, replacing the very popular "Chicago Ed" Eddie Schwartz. The married couple were able to not only maintain Schwartz's audience, but build upon it.

Their overnight show not only gave a voice to late-night radio listeners, letting them call in to offer their opinions, but it also entertained those listeners on possibly the widest variety of subjects on radio. In addition to news stories and news makers, Steve & Johnnie's show covered movies, television, automobiles, computers & technology, books, comics, live events, local businesses, food, and photography.

Perhaps most importantly, Steve & Johnnie's show turned the spotlight on music better than any show on radio, including shows on FM music stations. For a great many years, Steve & Johnnie gave a platform for numerous Chicago musicians to come on and promote their projects, talk about their careers and play live in the studio. Occasionally, Steve King would tap into his musical past and play guitar along with the in-studio musicians. Numerous national acts would make sure they spent extra time in Chicago, just so they could pay a visit to the WGN studios and Steve & Johnnie. In addition to the many live acts, Steve & Johnnie would regularly review new record releases and keep fans up on the latest music industry news. (Steve & Johnnie's upcoming television and recording projects will also be music related.)

One of those musical acts that enjoyed visiting with Steve & Johnnie was guitar legend Les Paul. King, Putman and Paul developed a deep friendship, lasting nearly 20 years. Les Paul even presented his friend Steve King with an incredible gift live on the air: the guitar that he learned how to play on -- the very instrument his mother bought him as a child from a 1920's Sears catalog. Les Paul passed away in August, 2009, but Steve & Johnnie continued to honor their friend and musical legend by doing weekly segments on him.

Another subject brought up from time to time over the last ten years was that of gluten-free foods & recipes. In January 2001, Steve King was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. As Steve & Johnnie usually allowed the listeners into their lives, increasing the bond between hosts & audience, the two worked in Celiac-related features into the show, increasing awareness of celiac sprue. King has also become involved with local and national Celiac organizations, helping many others who deal with this increasingly common & dangerous ailment.

Pat Quinn, Governor of Illinois, a fan of King & Putman's, honored the pair by officially proclaimed May 14, 2010 as "Steve King and Johnnie Putman Day" in the State of Illinois.

As this week's "Farewell Celebration" continues on for the next few nights, Steve & Johnnie will reveal more about their future plans, including their TV hosting project. This will not be the first time the married couple have dabbled in television. For three years in the early 80s, Steve King hosted the interview show on WFLD-TV called "Chicago." Johnnie Putman produced the program. Steve & Johnnie have hosted the local portion of WGN-TV's Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon. They also wrote and hosted a WTTW-TV special on Elvis Presley.

As for WGN-AM's future plans for overnights, Bill Leff will be taking over that shift, beginning next Sunday night/Monday morning at Midnight. His overnight shift will be 30 minutes longer than Steve & Johnnie's, going from Midnight-5:30am each weekday morning.

Tom Langmyer, WGN Radio's Vice President and General Manager issued a statement that said: "Steve and Johnnie have been an integral part of WGN Radio's rich history and trusted friends and voices to thousands of listeners over the years. We are so thankful for their dedicated companionship and service to our listeners. They will be missed."

This move is much more than just the changing out of overnight show hosts. This is truly an end of an era for Chicago radio.

Photo credit: Will Crockett

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