Today marks the three year anniversary of Mike McConnell’s Chicago radio debut on WGN-AM 720. There won’t be any celebration or acknowledgement however because he won’t be on the air.
McConnell has been off the air since early last week, and everyday so far this week. Scheduled to fill in for him again today is the husband-and-wife duo Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and Steve Cochran from 12 to 3 p.m. (which has been the primary substitute arrangement during his absence). The station’s website notes that McConnell will also be off on Monday.
The last post on McConnell’s Facebook page was July 31, indicating he would be on “vacation for a few days.” Since then, many of his fans have commented with concern on the possibility that he will not be coming back. Radio hosts taking a one or two week vacation isn’t abnormal. Such length of absences typically shouldn’t be used as reason to speculate that a vacationing host is on the way out.
In this case the uncertainly may be just. Larz at ChicagolandRadioandMedia.com has hinted that WGN will soon have a schedule overhaul that likely will not include McConnell. His more serious “news of the day” format seems to conflict with how the rest of the station sounds. While the exact length of his mutli-year contract was never made public, it has been speculated to be somewhere between three to five years. In the three years since his debut, his ratings have often been the anchor weighing down the rest of the station’s daypart (though McConnell isn’t the sole blame since other talent surrounding him have also earned low numbers; also not helping is bad Cubs baseball).
With the pending debut of Sirott and Murciano as full-time hosts, it would seem, at the very least, that McConnell’s current shift will be shortened. Cochran is the wildcard, not knowing what the station’s long-term plans are for him. I don’t believe for a second that he left his 560 The Answer/WIND-AM show to only work part-time at WGN. I think he will eventually land during middays, even if that doesn’t happen simultaneously whenever Sirott and Murciano officially debut their new weekday show. Whether he winds up in middays or not, I hold out hope that the real long-term plan for Cochran is to replace Jonathon Brandmeier as morning host.
Though I typically enjoy the more serious news/talk format, McConnell isn’t my favorite host, primarily because I find some of his topics to be a little too boring or not that relevant. I certainly don’t harbor the same hostility towards him that his many critics do. I just happen to enjoy the style and topics from a John Williams (former WGN host, now at WCCO-AM 830 in Minneapolis) or Paul Lisnek (“Politics Tonight” host on CLTV and regular WGN-AM fill-in).
Prior to arriving at WGN, McConnell was a 25 year veteran host in Cincinnati, having worked at WLW-AM 700. Initially, McConnell’s WLW colleague Bill Cunningham was slated to come to Chicago with him, where the two would work back-to-back shows during the midday. Cunningham changed his mind and opted to stay at WLW.
Until McConnell does return, his fans will continue to speculate his future while his critics hope he’s busy packing up his Chicago residence, en route to a permanent move back to Cincinnati.
UPDATE MONDAY 8/12/13 at 5:54 a.m.
Adding fuel to the “where is Mike McConnell?” or the “Mike McConnell fired from WGN” speculation is this week’s program schedule now posted on the WGN website. McConnell is off again all week with various hosts filling in. Also worth noting is even though Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano are not scheduled to fill-in this week, they noted this past Friday that they would be on again next week (though no time was mentioned). What does that mean for McConnell?
His name is on the website still, and there are vague references to him mentioned on the air, but just barely.