Steve Dahl to WLS afternoons: Full analysis with added perspective on how Cumulus shafted Roe Conn

Since posting this entry earlier this morning, the WLS-AM website has removed Roe & Roeper from their program schedule. Earlier this morning, Conn appeared on ABC 7/WLS-TV’s “Windy City Live,” confirming that yesterday was their final show. It appears that Conn’s career at WLS radio has come to an end.

In response to the news that Steve Dahl is returning to terrestrial radio at WLS-AM 890, veteran Chicago radio executive Michael Damsky wrote on Facebook, “this is the radio story of the year. Only Robert Feder gets this scoop.”

The news broken last night by Feder was so big and surprising, that my mother-in-law texted and called me to discuss it.

Steve Dahl - New WLS Afternoon Host

Steve Dahl, the soon to be WLS afternoon host.

It’s been known that the contracts for Roe Conn and Richard Roeper, the current afternoon hosts at WLS, were expiring towards the end of this year. There wasn’t much optimism that either would be back.

While the station has not officially announced Dahl’s hiring or any surrounding details, Feder did not specify whether Conn or Roeper will continue hosting until the change takes place. The WLS website is still promoting their Friday, Oct. 31 Roe & Roeper’s Nightmare on Clark Street” event. [Update: All references to Conn and Roeper, including the “Nightmare on Clark Street” event, have been removed from the WLS website.]

The contracts for Bruce Wolf and Dan Proft, the current morning hosts at WLS, are also believed to be expiring near the end of this year. Does the Cumulus-owned station plan to reinvent the rest of the daypart or are they content at sticking with the status-quo? It’s not like mornings at WLS are setting the world on fire. Does a scenario exist in which Conn, with or without Roeper, moves to morning drive? At the moment, my initial guess would be no.

Roe Conn

Roe Conn, the iconic. and now seemingly former, WLS afternoon host.

Even though I don’t think it will happen, I think it’s worth mentioning when considering that WLS is still reeling from the loss of their iconic morning duo, Don Wade and Roma. While Conn’s afternoon ratings haven’t been good, he too is an iconic personality there, having just celebrated his 25th anniversary. Reasonable executives might understand that outside of the afternoon show, the station is an utter mess.

Despite Conn’s swelled ego in recent years, along with his rampant stammering and stuttering, he provides a highly intelligent and reasonable perspective that is also entertaining while discussing the news of the day. Unfortunately, the excessive commercial time and the horrendous traffic and weather on the fives format have made his show practically unlistenable.

Since we’re speaking of Cumulus, I suspect they have little care about station heritage or that their fingerprint smudges are largely responsible for Conn’s poor ratings performance. The notoriously cheap company will likely part ways with Conn, allowing him to resurface elsewhere, with WGN-AM 720 as the seemingly most obvious choice — which I would be more excited about if that were to happen without Roeper.

Putting the excessive commercial time and traffic and weather format aside, I haven’t been a huge fan of Roe Conn’s afternoon show since the arrival of Roeper as co-host. I don’t think he adds much as far as content to the overall show. Obviously, the loss of Garry Meier as co-host was significant, but I eventually became comfortable with the combination of Conn, Bill Leff, Jim Johnson, and to a lesser extent, Christina Filiaggi.

As for Steve Dahl, I’m not a fan. I don’t appreciate how unnecessarily vile he is when insulting someone — while the circumstances in which Dahl criticizes someone may be warranted, there is a fine line between constructive criticism and being excessively mean. His recent lashing at WGN and his choice words towards Leff and Wendy Snyder, the station’s afternoon hosts, are just recent examples.

I also don’t think that listening to Dalh talk to wife on the air or his personal musings to be of interest. As a previous paid subscriber of his podcast (which allowed me to better sample his product in hopes of finding an alternative to bad terrestrial radio), I was turned off at the excessive amount of such musings that dominate his show, drowning out some otherwise interesting content, such as discussion of a Blackhawks playoff game from the night before.

While I’m not a fan of Dahl, I of course will be listening to him on day one at WLS. And that is whole idea. Hiring Dahl will, at least at the beginning, re-energize the older radio audience, bringing in new listeners, whether they are a fan of his or not.

On the flip-side, such a hiring only reinforces just how damaged the radio industry is. Instead of grooming young radio personalities into superstars, radio companies every now and then resort to shelling out decent to big money towards such re-treads like Dahl.

A few added thoughts…

– For those criticizing Robert Feder for releasing this scoop on the first day that his blog is jettisoned behind a Chicago Tribune paywall, do you not have any idea how journalism works? The timing of specific news pieces happens all the time, whether you like it or not. I suspect that those criticizing Feder for releasing the WLS/Dahl news today are people who already have a beef against him.

– Feder is not perfect. I have previously criticized him for often making it too obvious who he’s friends or foe with in Chicago media — and how that has  shaped how he narrates certain stories (i.e. WGN’s mishandling of Garry Meier last spring) — also a common function in journalism. That said, such scoops such as Steve Dahl joining WLS is what makes him a must read if you have any care in the world for Chicago media. You just never know when Feder has an ace up his sleeve.

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  1. While I’m more of a Roeper fan than you, you’re absolutely spot-on with this one. Reducing or dropping the T&W updates could have saved R&R. I too will probably listen to Steve on day one, but I doubt this bitter old man will keep me entertained. I am curious, though. If Roe does wind up on WGN, is there a chance it might be with Garry…and would it be on WGN-AM or WGN.FM?

    • I don’t know any of the individuals involved, so I have no real insider knowledge. Would Roe be willing to work with Garry again? That is the million dollar question, which unfortunately, is probably a moot point. Based on all previous mentions by Garry Meier through the years, I would guess there’s no chance he’d ever work with Roe again, even under the most ideal scenarios. And if any such possibility did exist, WGN moving Meier to the .FM channel (which was an absolute demotion) probably killed it. If Roe goes to WGN, it has got to be on the AM. Asides from Brandmeier and Meier, the .FM channel is nothing but a garbage dump, in terms of programming, branding and marketing.

  2. I used to like the Roe Conn show, but I consider the Steve Dahl Show
    absolutely boring. I can not believe that the station would replace R & R
    with this new show, my husband agrees with me.

  3. Personal opinion is WLS made a completely wrong and stupid decision. I have NO interest in listening to Steve Dahl. I tried but he has no personality and is sooo boring. WLS lost me as a listener during that time slot.

  4. I tried to give Steve Dahl a chance, but he is absolutely boring and focused on himself – how he got to work, blah, blah. His interviews are flat. He comes across as an aging hippie. I now listen to Roe Conn on WGN.

    • Steve has always been boring and self focused. Listening to the sound of his lazy wive’s voice makes my skin crawl. In his hey day Steve might have been funny but only coupled with Gary as his side kick. Once Gary left it was just the boring and bully Steve talking. Any by way…who cares about his kids and grandkids….I don’t. Wendy Snyder….one of the worst and dumbest….

  5. WLS has gone from bad to worse, Occasionally I head out on vacation to Michigan on Friday afternoons and when I get out of Champaign’s stations range I tune to Chicago AM talk radio. This Dahl show was slow and boring and featured some guy in the studio strumming 10 second acoustic guitar riffs from worn out tired 70s “Classic Rock” songs. That is about the same as to what goes on at an airport when everyone is bored out of their minds waiting for the boarding call for some delayed flight.

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