Surprise changes at WGN: John Williams is back, Garry Meier moving online

Today was quite a newsworthy day for WGN-AM 720, the venerable Chicago news/talk radio station. As first reported by Chicago media blogger Robert Feder, a series of changes will impact its Monday through Friday lineup, starting Tuesday, May 27. The most prominent changes are the return of John Williams, who left the station in Dec. 2012, and the moving of afternoon host Garry Meier to WGN’s online-stream station, WGN.FM.

I’m super excited with the news of Williams’ return. While I’ll probably never get to listen to his show live, I look forward to listening to the podcast, either during lunch or on the way home from work.

I’m not as happy about the moving of Meier from AM 720 to online-only. While station management is attempting to portray Meier’s move as being a catalyst to jumpstart WGN.FM, it is very surprising that they opted to move their highest paid (according to Feder) and one of their highest rated personalities to a forum that may as well be “dead man’s land.”

Currently, WGN.FM houses Jonathon Brandmeier’s morning show –which simulcasts on WGN’s sister station, 87.7 The Game/WGWG-LP — a midday syndicated business show, and a weekly real estate/mortgage talk show. Talk about a real garbage dump of a station. I hope WGN does indeed show new commitment to WGN.FM, otherwise the Meier move is obviously just a convenient way to rid of him from the 720 AM until his contract expires towards the end of 2015.

While I’m bummed about the Meier move, I admit that such feelings stem from nostalgia. I probably haven’t listened to Meier for more than five minutes in about a year. Part of the reason is because I feel his act has gotten stale. Not helping are my new listening habits, which includes a lot more online-only podcasts and SiriusXM, at the expense of terrestrial stations, including WGN. After listening to such alternatives for any length of time, going back to terrestrial and dealing with excessive interruptions (long news segments, constant traffic and commercials) becomes harder to deal with.

One more note regarding the decision to move Meier to WGN.FM… is station president Jimmy de Castro really that down on him, or is that a vibe I get by reading Feder? Hmm.

Larz at Chicagoland Radio and Media nicely articulated that the way WGN has gone about moving Meier to WGN.FM is a huge slap in the face to him and his fans.

If they wanted to promote WGN.FM, why not have Garry Meier simulcasted on it for the past month, leading up to this move? Give fans of his (which are many) the chance to find how to access it and be prepared for the switchover. Instead, they yank Meier off the air, essentially flipping the bird to one of the largest portions of the station’s audience.
This may be a promotion for WGN.FM, but make no mistake about it, this is a slap in the face for Garry Meier, his team, and his fans. This cannot be spun in any other way.

Meanwhile, the current mid-morning hosts Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder move to Meier’s spot in afternoons. I’ve heard that the two of them together are laugh out loud hysterical. They had a good reputation dating back in the early to mid 1990s while at Q101. I haven’t had a chance to really sample them since they started on WGN together this past fall. While I haven’t been enamored in the small sampling of them thus far, I look forward to giving them a chance in afternoons.

Then again, even when attempting to listen to them live while driving home from work, I’ll probably still only hear a small sample of them — around WGN’s constant flow of news and commercial breaks.

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