As in every city, Chicago has experienced great changes in radio. First, longtime oldies station WJMK-FM (featuring legendary DJ Dick Biondi) was unceremoniously forced off the air, relegated to online streaming. The latest fad, JACK-FM, replaced the station with great fanfare, with the Powers That Be (PTB) declaring the jukebox format as the next big thing in radio.
Next to fall prey to trends was WCKG, the leader in the 80s' “classic rock” genre. Having changed its format several times (the last being largely talk with shock jocks like Steve Dahl and pre-Sirius Howard Stern), the station's latest incarnation is adult contemporary, although television ads stress that the music selection is neither “old” nor full of “kid stuff.” As part of the TV ad campaign, a “cool” soccer mom clad in jeans talks about how she wants to hear Rob Thomas and the Goo Goo Dolls, not Debbie Boone or hip hop. You may be getting older, FRESH-FM wants you to know, but you can still rock!
The most current controversy involves WXRT-FM, a largely independent station that appeals to diverse music fans. They became famous for playing artists no other station would touch, both so-called “classic rock” artists and newcomers who don't fit into a particular format. However, in 1995, Westinghouse purchased the station, causing longtime listeners great distress. Could WXRT remain true to its independent, indie roots? Now owned by CBS Radio, the station recently announced that they were moving from their hip Lincoln Park studios into the decidedly corporate NBC Tower in downtown Chicago. In the local media, station personnel expressed great dismay at the change, wondering if this was CBS' way of enforcing other format changes.
Some argue that radio has undergone transformations for decades. While this may be true, these recent changes in Chicago alone demonstrate a general disconnect between media conglomerates and radio listeners. Due to popular demand, oldies returned to radio in the form of WZZN-FM (formerly hard rock, then adult alternative). Obviously, these radio controversies extend beyond Chicago. For instance, JACK-FM has not become the smash success the PTB predicted — in fact, New York's WCBS-FM recently ditched the format to “New York's Greatest Hits.” According to a recent Associated Press article, the ratings then skyrocketed back to number three.