|WGN's Jonathon Brandmeier|
Whenever I hear 55 year-old Jonathon Brandmeier or 62 year-old Garry Meier on WGN Radio (AM-720) in Chicago, I wonder how long management will keep them on the air. Both Johnny B. (morning drive) and Garry (afternoon drive) operate in prime time radio slots, and WGN management has made no secret of the fact that the station is striving for a younger demographic. This despite the fact that Baby Boomers have more money than any other prior generation of senior citizens.
Despite 87 year-old Milt Rosenberg’s 39 year run on “Extension 720,” which is not a prime-time show, WGN has practiced age discrimination for years so Brandmeier and Meier had better pull big ratings for the station.
|Steve King and Johnnie Putman|
When I rolled over at 3:00 a.m. the other morning and hit the snooze button on my clock radio, I forgot that Steve King and Johnnie Putman were gone--fired last fall by WGN. Their replacement, Bill Leff, was having listeners call in and play parts in a radio play, something Norman Mark did 40 years ago. It was pretty lame.
Yeah, Steve and Johnnie could sometimes be insipid, but I first heard about the Japanese earthquake on their show, and when that huge train derailment occurred near Tiskilwa, Illinois last year, the duo had on-the-spot interviews live from the scene. When Illinois experienced that earthquake in 2008 that rattled my Galesburg house in the middle of the night, Steve and Johnnie were right there by my bed telling me the latest.
WGN’s unceremonious dumping of Steve and Johnnie is only one in a long line of instances where the radio station made a personnel move based on an employee’s age.
|Kathy and Judy|
The May 2009 dumping of Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey after a 20 year run on WGN by former program director Kevin Metheny (aka "Pig Virus") was a huge blunder. My neighbors in Galesburg used to talk all the time about “Sex Day” on the Kathy and Judy Show. It was hilarious hearing these senior citizens retelling at the neighborhood picnic what had been said on the show that morning, and Galesburg is 185 miles from Chicago. Just imagine Kathy and Judy's popularity in the six-county metro area. Kathy and Judy were an institution in Chicago radio, but WGN dumped them and then tried to say they “retired.” Metheny said Steve and Johnnie retired too, but they didn't. They were fired.
More? O.K., how about Wally Phillips, the king of Chicago morning radio for over 30 years, who was dumped in 1998 from WGN at the age of 72. There was NO ONE better than Phillips. I was driving a cab in 1970 when Wally was in his prime so I got to listen to his entire show every morning. Wally was amazing with his innovations on the WGN morning show. His crank phone calls were legendary, and look at what he did for the Neediest Kids Fund.
Steve Dahl and Meier used to make fun of Wally on their show. Dahl's parody "Oh, Wally" is a classichttp: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgVqL4jFuPM, but when WGN dumped Phillips, Dahl stepped up on his own show and took the radio station to task for forcibly “retiring” Phillips. Wally was exiled to WAIT in Crystal Lake, a low power AM station in the northwest suburbs where he worked until Alzheimer’s Disease forced him off the air. Wally Phillips died in 2008.
|Lou Bodreau and Vince Lloyd|
And look at what WGN Radio did to Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau. Vince and Lou were an institution when they were pushed off the air in 1987 to make way for younger blood.
The radio station also dumped Eddie Hubbard to make way for Wally Phillips in the 1960’s, and Spike Odell walked away in 2008 rather than wait around for the axe to fall.
Turds like Metheny and his partner in crime, Randy Michaels, are a main reason why radio will never crawl out of the slime and become a viable medium again. These guys are like used car salesmen. Luckily, they're both gone now from WGN.
Last semester when my students were reading a short story about a shoemaker, I asked them what other professions have become obsolete. “Radio,” one of the kids said.
What a shame!