What took them so long to whack Jack FM?

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Posted by jake barz on March 11, 2011 at 12:53:51:

Kudos to K-Hits — but what took them so long to whack Jack FM?

March 11th, 2011 @ 12:00 am
by Robert Feder

It’s a shame it took CBS Radio six years to admit it made a mistake with Jack FM. A lot of us knew it was doomed from Day One.

A radio station with no local identity, no on-air personalities, an ill-defined format, and a meaningless marketing slogan (“Playing What We Want”) had replaced a prized and profitable oldies franchise that had been in place for 21 years on WJMK-FM (104.3). On the afternoon of June 3, 2005, more than 722,000 loyal listeners and such beloved and legendary disc jockeys as Dick Biondi suddenly were cast aside like yesterday’s garbage.

I can still remember sitting across from Joel Hollander, the company’s chairman and CEO, just a few weeks after that, as he struggled to explain his unpopular decision.

“People want to put their goddam foot on your neck whenever you make a change,” he told me. “The problem is that there’s a lot people who don’t have the balls to make a change. OK? We’re on the offense. We’re not on the defense. OK? We might have made a mistake. Right now, I don’t think we made a mistake.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong: Jack FM not only wound up taking more listeners away from CBS Radio’s crown jewel of rock, WXRT-FM (93.1), than from any other station, but it opened the door for Citadel Broadcasting to claim the oldies mantle — and Biondi — for WLS-FM (94.7). In the latest Arbitron Portable People Meter ratings, WLS-FM ranked eighth in the market overall, while Jack FM languished in 19th place.

For blunders like that (and too many others to count), Hollander was forced to resign in 2007. But Jack FM lingered in Chicago until this week, when CBS Radio unveiled K-Hits, a new format featuring “the greatest hits of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.” It’ll all be delivered by live, local personalities, including morning stars Eddie Volkman and Joe Bohannon, who were mainstays of CBS Radio rhythmic Top 40 WBBM-FM (96.3) on and off for 20 years.

Starting at precisely 1:04pm Monday, the new K-Hits will showcase such core artists as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Earth, Wind & Fire, Rod Stewart, Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, U2, REO Speedwagon, John Mellencamp and the best of Motown. Though known in the industry as a classic hits format, fans of the old WJMK will be excused if they choose to think of it as a return to oldies.

“K-Hits returns WJMK to its roots as a station Chicagoans will remember for playing the greatest hits of the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s,” Rod Zimmerman, senior vice president and market manager of CBS Radio’s seven-station Chicago cluster, said in his announcement Thursday. “As much as the station is about the music, it will be equally about the local community and the on-air talent who give the station its personality. From launch, listeners will instantly feel a personal connection to K-Hits.”

In addition to Eddie & Jobo, other veterans of B96 include program director Todd Cavanah, midday host Gary Spears (who was on B96 from 1982 to 1984 and again from 1990 to 1994), and afternoon host Bo Reynolds (who was on from 1987 to 1990). Evening and weekend talent will be added soon.

“This is one of the most exciting days in our long history in Chicago radio,” Eddie & Jobo said in a joint statement. “To be rookies again, starting on a brand new radio station in our hometown is, well, who said ‘You can’t go home’? We knew when we walked out of the building in 2008 we weren’t done. We weren’t sure where we’d land, but we’re excited to have this opportunity to reinvent ourselves. Waking up Chicago once again is going to be great.”

Thursday marked Eddie & Jobo’s last day at Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890), where they’d spent the last year as part-time and fill-in hosts. They had been scheduled to substitute all this week for afternoon hosts Roe Conn and Richard Roeper, but when news broke of their move to K-Hits — a competitor to WLS-FM — they were bid adieu a day early.

Filling in for Roe & Roeper today will be Jake Hartford and Anna Davlantes.

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