Blame game: Cumulus-owned WLS-AM's ratings continue to plummet

Chicago, Illinois, July 17, 2013 - With the national DOJ scandals and ongoing investigations into the IRS targeting of Tea Party swirling, WLS-AM should have been able to eke out respectable ratings for June.

But it didn't.

The national controversies were ideal fodder for the station's hungry right-leaning audience. But, instead, the news talker is battling three consecutive periods of declining ratings. WLS-AM went from a 2.7 share in the April ratings period, dipped to 2.5 in May, and down to only a 2.1 share in June. In contrast, competitor station, Tribune-owned WGN-AM pulled a 4.8 share in April and climbed to a 5.3 share in June, buoyed, in part, by Blackhawks' coverage.

The once popular WLS-AM now doesn't even break the top 10 and is in danger of falling out of the top 20. The station's swan-dive was the talk of the radio chat boards last week.

Stripped of its popular morning duo lead-in, Don Wade & Roma, is the station losing favor with its conservative audience?

Back in May, Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey blamed nationally-syndicated radio power house, Rush Limbaugh, for millions in company's losses. Dickey claimed advertisers have left after Limbaugh made insulting remarks about law student, Sandra Fluke, last year.

Seeking Alpha's Gary Bourgeault doesn't necessarily see Limbaugh as the culprit for Cumulus' recent losses.

"Cumulus Media Inc. just came off a poor quarter, although it was largely the result of losses in political advertising and the runoff of legacy Citadel barter transactions, which accounted for $3.2 million of the pro forma revenue loss," Bourgeault says. "The remaining loss of $2.4 million was from the syndicated talk segment of the company."

So can Dickey blame Limbaugh for the overall ratings decline of his stations like WLS-AM in Chicago? Or are stations like WLS-AM in decline due to overall station strategy and talent shortcomings in the line-up?

In 2011, company honchos also fired popular Christian conservative radio host Cisco Cotto. No reason was given. Cotto's ratings and revenue were excellent. Some insiders say the reason for Cotto's firing was the influence of political donors over the station's programming.

Is WLS-AM relying on political donors to prop up its bottom line as its ratings continue to bottom-out? How much longer will it be before heads roll?

And if political donors are influencing programming decisions, how does that bode for the radio industry in Chicago and around the country?

Here is how the Chicago Arbitrons looked for the April - June ratings period,  Monday-Sunday 6:00am-Midnight:

WVAZ-FM Urban Adult Contemporary     7.0  6.9  6.9
WTMX-FM Modern Adult Contemporary 5.9 6.4  5.6
WGN-AM News Talk Information                 4.8  4.3  5.3
WBBM-AM All News                                           5.4  4.5  4.5
WUSN-FM Country                                             3.7  4.1  4.2
WGCI-FM Urban Contemporary                   4.2  3.6  4.1
WKSC-FM Pop Contemporary Hit                3.8  3.9  4.0
WLUP-FM Classic Rock                                     3.5  3.7  4.0
WBBM-FM Rhythmic Contemporary Hit   3.7  3.9  3.8
WDRV-FM Classic Hits                                      3.6  3.8  3.6
WLS-FM Classic Hits                                          3.0  3.1  3.2
WXRT-FM Album Adult Alternative          2.4  2.4  3.1
WOJO-FM Mexican Regional                        2.9  2.9  3.0
WILV-FM Adult Contemporary                  2.7  2.6  2.6
WLIT-FM Hot Adult Contemporary          2.8  2.9  2.6
WPWX-FM Urban Contemporary               2.5  2.4  2.6
WSCR-AM All Sports                                        2.8  2.7  2.5
WJMK-FM Adult Hits                                       2.6  2.4  2.3
WLS-AM News Talk Information                 2.7  2.5  2.1
WNUA-FM Mexican Regional                       2.6  2.6  2.0
WPPN-FM Spanish Adult Hits                       2.5  2.7  2.0
WKQX-FM Alternative                                     1.9  1.9  1.9
WBEZ-FM News Talk Information              1.4 1.7 1.8


How much lower can WLS-AM go? Stay tuned.


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  • You didn't give any numbers on day parts, i.e. are Roe and Roeper holding their own, and would have Citadel have shot itself in the foot if it had replaced Roe with Cisco, as it had tried to do (including according to Roe)?

    Rabid conservatives have WIND. Personally I got tired of El Rushbo when his drug addiction (and getting oxycontin through questionable means) and serial divorces came out. I never had any use for Hannity, in that I didn't care about Hillary Clinton or his rantings about Hillary Clinton.

    Also, I don't think John Kass is going to hold onto a radio job.

    What may be the real indicator is that WLS seems to be changing into a sports format, with the "Pre Game Show" and giving Canellis and Stone contracts. Not being affiliated with ESPN 1000 any more, maybe Cumulus management thinks it can go after some the The Score's sponsors. Wait for Roeper to say "I go to the Industrial Strip in HAMMOND, and recommend that you do, too."

  • In reply to jack:

    Arbitron wouldn't give up the dayparts. The stations pay for detailed data and release it. If you notice, Bob Feder and the rest don't publish the detailed info anymore - because they don't have it.

  • In reply to jack:

    I don't disagree with your analysis. Incidentally. I think Cisco's ratings were better and more consistent than what they have now and I think that is telling. Putting two shows with hosts that were largely untested in morning drive always seemed to be a very high-risk proposition. I don't think it is one that is paying off for WLS. You needed a very strong set to replace Don Wade & Roma. Bucking a popular Christian conservative host, in retrospect, also wasn't wise - especially if - as I understand it - he was pushed out because political donors tossed some cash WLS-AM's way.

  • In reply to williamjkelly:

    While Cisco was good and missed by many, I also think you need some good repartee when you use a dual host format. Dan and Bruce and Roe and Roeper often are too similar and it winds up a "yeah, me too" sort of show with no back and forth....

  • In reply to williamjkelly:

    I thought that Dan and Bruce were too wonky in their post-election analysis show to make it generally.

    Obviously, they were thrown into that time slot by the abrupt retirement of Don and Roma.

    In response to Doug Booth's point, the controversy between Don and Roma was contrived, in that they suppressed for some years that they were married, and when that came up, the controversy declined.

    Anyway, I listen to Mully and Hanley (which usually is with Rosner) in the morning, so I don't count in WLS's ratings one way or the other. There are also reports that Brandmeier is not working at WGN, and the few times I had it on my clock radio, his program was too disjointed to wake me up.

  • What made Don and Roma work was not his politics, but his ability as a broadcaster and his commitment to his craft.

    Don Wade was enormously successful _before_ WLS went the conservative talk route because he honed his craft. Even as a single host on weekend nights he was engaging, funny, smart and had a total knack for the ridiculous. In short, he was the genuine article.

    The problem with Bruce and Dan - particularly Dan - is the lack of broadcast acumen - What makes for an interesting radio show. For example, Mr. Proft won't ask opponents questions that will gain an interesting answer. Rather, he'll tank the interview in order to argue his own case. Don Wade had a much better sense of how to build a rapport before getting into the debate - which made the whole exchange far more interesting.

    I think there's a place for Proft's sheer horsepower intelligence - but I don't think it's hosting the show. WLS would do themselves a favor by having Cochran and Wolf host mornings and using Dan Proft in a way similar to how WMAQ used to use Dick Kay.

  • Don't forget, the reason Proft-Wolf were fast-tracked at WLS is because Dan's big political donor essentially bought him the spot -- look at all of Proft's political D-2s and PACs and you'll see that's the MO. That's also why Cisco got fired - also to make room for them. There was no other reason. Before Bruce Rauner got in the race, the thinking was that Dan was going to re-run for governor even though he came in almost last in 2010. Dan didn't have political standing prior to WLS - other than his success with Larry Dominick in Cicero. So there you go.

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