Monday, April 9, 2012

Age Discrimination & WGN Radio

WGN's Jonathon Brandmeier
Garry Meier

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.

Wally Phillips
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: //, 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!


  1. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck ...

  2. Love this! Exactly why I don't listen to WGN anymore. I used to be a loyal listener, but now I'm NPR or XRT. I do miss the good old days of WGN though...

    1. As much as I like WXRT and Lin Brehmer, radio today is a disappointment. I listened to that station working nights in the grocery store in Hangover Park, between the hours of midnight and 5:00 a.m. when the station turned to Spanish language for much of the day. On some evenings before midnight (and later 10:00), the station broadcast in Polish. XRT between midnight and 5 was underground radio on the real air. Years later, rock took over 24/7.

      But now, I listen to XRT in my car when I'm out of range for WONC--the college radio station from North Central. If XRT happens to be on when I sit down behind the wheel, I'll listen until the first barrage of crappy commercials. Of course, I do enjoy the spots done live by the dj's, (thanks Lin!)but those are few and far between. Corporate bean counters are killing what used to be good.

      Yes, I hear some stuff I hate on WONC, but I will probably never hear that again. These days on XRT, I know I'll hear the same stuff over and over, and if the music's good, I will learn to detest listening to the same song--again.

      A long time ago,I remember calling into XRT to hear "Lady Eleanor," a song I find haunting. The dj. at the time told me, "Not that song again; We already played that this month." I know XRT has a great library; they need to use more than 30 songs from that.

      I will give props to Lin and Terri for playing pieces recently that I hadn't heard in years (and probably only on XRT, too). John Hartman's "Hey Babe, You Wanna Boogie" and Long John Baldry's "Don't try to Lay no Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll."

      Maybe the days of commercial radio are going the way of the dinosaur. But maybe good music will return--or at least remain alive on small radio stations like WONC.

    2. Same as you, I too miss the old WGN (no pun intended). I haven't listened since they let Steve & Johnnie go...

    3. maybe management is getting smart they brought Steve Cochrn back, and i think got rid of ms Roth i hope