WGN, 720 kHz, is a commercial AM radio station in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by Nexstar Media Group. The station's studios are located on the 18th floor of 303 East Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop, while its transmitter is located in Elk Grove Village. Since around 1990, WGN has maintained a news/talk format. WGN does not broadcast in HD.
|Broadcast area||Chicago market/Northern Illinois/West Michigan/Northwest Indiana|
|Slogan||Chicago's Very Own|
|First air date|
|Class||A (clear channel)|
|Callsign meaning||World's Greatest Newspaper (Chicago Tribune slogan)|
|Former callsigns||WDAP (1922–1924)|
|Owner||Nexstar Media Group |
(WGN Continental Broadcasting Company, LLC)
WGN is the only radio station owned by Nexstar Media Group, which primarily owns television stations; it had been one of the flagship properties of Tribune Media, through its Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary, prior to its 2019 merger with Nexstar, and was co-owned with the Chicago Tribune, whose "World's Greatest Newspaper" slogan served as the basis for the WGN call sign, from 1924 to 2014.
WGN is a clear channel Class A station operating with the maximum AM power in the United States of 50,000 watts, using a non-directional antenna. During daytime hours Illinois' mostly flat land and near-perfect ground conductivity gives WGN at least secondary coverage to almost two-thirds of Illinois (as far south as Springfield) as well as large slices of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Iowa. Under the right conditions, it can be heard as far as Windsor, Ontario, around 250 miles (400 km) away. During nighttime hours, it is audible over most of the eastern two-thirds of North America with a good radio, but is strongest in the central United States and Canada. The station also streams its programming on its website.
In addition to its talk programming (consisting of both topical and sports shows), WGN Radio broadcasts news headlines, weather forecasts supplied by WGN-TV, traffic reports and sports headlines every half-hour on weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and every hour on nights and weekends. Also during weekdays, the radio station simulcasts the 4:00 a.m. hour of the WGN Morning News. Business topics are covered on the Wintrust Business Lunch with Ji Suk Yi. WGN is one of the scant few news/talk radio stations in the country that broadcasts only locally produced talk shows, with a Sunday morning religious block featuring the only two outside programs on the station; Christ Church of Oak Brook's brokered Love Changes Life, followed by The Lutheran Hour as their sole syndicated program. It is the only all local talk station in Chicago, with WIND, WCPT and WLS all carrying at several nationally syndicated talk shows on their schedules. WGN salutes the golden age of radio every Saturday night from 10:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. with The WGN Radio Theatre hosted by broadcast historian, Carl Amari. Amari and his co-host, Lisa Wolf present classic radio episodes of Suspense, Gunsmoke, Jack Benny, Our Miss Brooks, Escape and hundreds of other 'theatre of the mind' radio broadcasts.
WGN serves as the flagship radio outlet for Chicago White Sox baseball, Chicago Blackhawks hockey and Northwestern University football and men's basketball telecasts. WGN was best known for its long association with the Chicago Cubs from 1925 to 2014—the last 56 years of that period as the exclusive flagship station. Following the 2014 season, Cubs radio broadcasts moved to CBS-owned WBBM. In 2018, WGN became the flagship station for Chicago's other MLB team, the White Sox. WGN was also the longtime Chicago outlet for Paul Harvey until his death on February 28, 2009. Shortly after Nexstar took control, the station began to broadcast national NFL play-by-play on Sunday afternoons from Compass Media Networks.
The station continues to utilize ABC News Radio for national news as the network's Chicago affiliate, even after the network was taken in-house at the start of 2015 after several years of ownership by Citadel Broadcasting/Cumulus Media at the start of 2015.
WGN was first licensed, with the sequentially issued call letters WDAP, on May 19, 1922 to Mid West Radio Central, Inc. in Chicago, which was headed by Thorne Donnelley and Elliott Jenkins. The station was originally located at the Wrigley Building, although it moved to the Drake Hotel the following July. In mid-1923 ownership was transferred to the Board of Trade, and the next year the Whitestone Company, managers of the Drake Hotel, took control.
This was the second Tribune-affiliated radio station to hold the WGN call letters. The original WGN began operating on the evening of March 29, 1924, after the newspaper took over programming of the former WJAZ. The WGN call sign had been assigned to a Great Lakes vessel, SS Carl D. Bradley, however the ship's skipper (and namesake) agreed to relinquish it in order to free it for adoption by the newspaper, and the ship's call letters were changed to KFSI.
Early programming was noted for its creativity and innovation. It included live music, political debates, comedy routines, and some of radio's first sporting event broadcasts, including the 1924 Indianapolis 500, and a live broadcast of the 1925 Scopes Trial from Dayton, Tennessee. In 1926, WGN broadcast Sam & Henry, a daily serial with comic elements created and performed by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. After a dispute with the station in 1927, Gosden and Correll took the program's concept and announcer Bill Hay across town to WMAQ and created the first syndicated radio show, Amos 'n' Andy.
By the fall of 1928, the owners of the Tribune company and its sister publication, Liberty magazine, controlled two stations in addition to WGN in the Chicago area: WLIB and WTAS. On September 1, 1928 the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) ruled that this was two stations too many, and ordered that their operations be consolidated. WTAS was deleted, and the other two stations were merged with a dual call letter assignment of WGN-WLIB, although the latter call sign would be rarely if ever used. On May 15, 1933, after the FRC requested that stations using only one of their assigned call letters drop those that were no longer in regular use, WLIB was eliminated and the station reverted to just WGN.
On November 1, 1931, WGN's network affiliation changed from NBC to CBS as a result of NBC's purchase of a half-interest in WMAQ, which then became Chicago's NBC station. During this period, Count Cutelli installed one of the most advanced sound effects system to date into the WGN studios, the same system used in Hollywood films. On 1934, WGN served as a founding member of the Mutual Broadcasting System. On April 5, 1948, sister station WGN-TV Channel 9 signed on the air.
In 1939, Carole Mathews, the "Miss Chicago" of 1938, launched her own WGN radio program Breakfast Time with Carole Mathews. She soon left for Hollywood, where she starred in films and television programs in a career that ended in 1968.
In November 1958, WGN became the first radio station in Chicago to broadcast helicopter traffic reports featuring Police Officer Leonard Baldy. Flying Officer Baldy was killed in a helicopter crash, while on duty, on May 2, 1960. Eleven years later, WGN suffered another helicopter-related tragedy when Flying Officer Irv Hayden and his pilot were killed on August 10, 1971, after their helicopter struck a utility pole in the Chicago suburb of Bellwood.
In 1961, the WGN radio and television stations moved to a studio facility on West Bradley Place in the North Center neighborhood, a move undertaken for civil defense concerns in order to provide the station a safe base to broadcast in case of a hostile attack targeting downtown Chicago. WGN radio moved back to North Michigan Avenue in 1986, relocating its operations to a studio in the Pioneer Court extension (WGN-TV remained at the Bradley Place facility, where that station operates to this day). The former WGN annex onto Tribune Tower is now used as a retail space containing Dylan's Candy Bar.
Over many decades, WGN was a "full service" radio station. The station played small amounts of music during the mornings and afternoon hours, moderate amounts of music on weekends during the day, aired midday and evening talk shows, and sports among other features. The station aired middle of the road (MOR) music until the 1970s, when its switched to more of an adult contemporary-type sound. Music programming was phased out during the 1980s, and by 1990, the station's lineup mainly consisted of talk shows.
Some former well-known personalities on WGN include longtime morning hosts Wally Phillips, Bob Collins, Spike O'Dell, Paul Harvey and Roy Leonard. Orion Samuelson has been the station's farm reporter since 1960. Late-night hosts over the years have included Franklyn MacCormack, Ed "Chicago Eddie" Schwartz, Don Vogel and the husband-and-wife team of Steve King and Johnnie Putman.
The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign holds the WGN Radio Station Studio Orchestra Music Library and Records, 1925–1956, which consists of scripts, programs, production notes, correspondence, music library rental records, sheet music manuscripts, and music scores with annotations that document the WGN Studio Symphonic Orchestra from 1925 to 1956.
WGN continues to recover from the controversial rule of former Tribune head Randy Michaels, who resigned under pressure in 2010 amid allegations of inappropriate and sexist behavior in the workplace, and former WGN Program Director Kevin Metheny. Industry observers described Metheny's tenure as one that nearly destroyed the venerable WGN, with staff moves that included replacing a popular evening host with radio rookie Jim Laski, a convicted felon.
In 2005, Tom Langmyer was appointed as vice president and general manager of WGN. On April 30, 2008, the station entered into a three-year deal to broadcast Chicago Blackhawks hockey games through the 2010–2011 season.
In October 2008, WGN-TV began to provide forecasts for WGN radio (prepared by Tom Skilling and other members of the sister television station's weather staff), after it ended a ten-year forecast partnership with The Weather Channel. That year, morning host Spike O'Dell retired from radio; WGN then moved the station's midday host at the time, John Williams to the morning slot. Williams' former timeslot, 1-4 p.m. was left vacant for several months, with the station's other radio hosts filling in on a rotating basis – including weekend host Nick Digilio, and Bob Sirott, who formerly hosted "The Noon Show" on the same station, in addition to a weekend program that is pre-recorded with his wife, Marianne Murciano (Sirott was also a prominent news anchor at NBC owned-and-operated station WMAQ-TV, channel 5, and later at Fox-owned WFLD, channel 32).
In March 2009, longtime Chicago radio host Garry Meier was given an audition for the 1-4 p.m. slot. Meier hosted four shows, which is believed to have caused a surge in interest among younger people, who traditionally rarely listened to WGN. Chicago media message boards exploded with traffic and posts, many excited over a possible permanent Meier presence on the station. After the four Meier auditions, Jerry Springer was given a four-day stint as "guest host", followed by Rita Cosby a few weeks later. On April 2, 2009, WGN announced that Meier would join the station full-time as host of a program in the 1-4 p.m. slot (airing most weekdays when the program is not pre-empted by Chicago Cubs broadcasts); his first official show occurred that same day. On May 22, 2009, WGN announced the cancellation of The Kathy and Judy Show effective after that day's broadcast. The final show was largely a retrospective of the program's 20 years on WGN radio; this occurred shortly after the replacement of much of the station's weekend lineup.
On June 15, 2009, the station announced that Greg Jarrett would become its new morning-drive host starting on June 22, with John Williams being shifted to Kathy and Judy's former late morning timeslot. In June 2010, WGN announced the hiring of longtime Cincinnati-based host Mike McConnell from WLW for the late morning (8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) slot, shifting Williams back to his original midday time slot (now from 12:30-3:00 p.m.) on August 9, 2010.
Coinciding with the hire of Jarrett, WGN dropped its "News/Talk 720" brand and began identifying itself simply as "Chicago's WGN Radio 720." This new identity was implemented in all station promos, and used by all on-air talent. On August 13, 2010, the station's branding changed again to "News 720 WGN." In November, after the firing of controversial program director Kevin Metheny, Tom Langmyer instructed staff to identify the station as "720 WGN." Weekend hosts Jerry Agar and the "News Junkie" Sean Wasson left the station, in a shift towards more general and less controversial talk programming.
On December 2, 2011, WGN announced that Jonathon Brandmeier was named the new morning drive time host, effective December 9. With Brandmeier's addition to WGN radio's weekday lineup, the morning drive timeslot shifted to 5:30-9 a.m., followed by Mike McConnell from 9 a.m.-12 p.m., John Williams from 12-3 p.m., and Garry Meier from 3-7 p.m. News anchor Steve Bertrand moved to mornings with Brandmeier and Jim Gudas shifted to the midday/afternoon slot. Former morning host Greg Jarrett was released from the station. Overnight hosts Steve King and Johnnie Putman left WGN on December 9 after a week-long series of live "Farewell Celebration" shows. Bill Leff took over the midnight to 5:30 a.m. slot on December 12. 2011.
In 2012, John Williams announced his departure from the station upon the December 31 expiration of his contract (leaving on December 21, 2012), in order to concentrate exclusively on his program on WCCO in Minneapolis instead of splitting time between stations. In October 2012, then back into Tribune Tower in October 2012. On December 17, 2012, WGN Radio executives announced that the long-running program "Extension 720", hosted by Dr. Milton J. Rosenberg, would end its 39-year run three days later on December 20.
In June 2013, Tribune Broadcasting CEO Larry Wert hired Jimmy DeCastro as WGN radio's president and general manager. In addition, Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano's program moved to the weekday lineup and Steve Cochran was announced to be returning to WGN. The changes are an attempt to shift WGN closer to the programming format it had prior to Kevin Metheney and Randy Michaels' tenure with WGN and Tribune, while placing more emphasis on new media; this included the move of Mike McConnell's program to the station's secondary Internet radio station WGN Plus (formerly WGN-2) until the remainder of his contract was bought out around October 10, 2013, the move of Jonathon Brandmeier's morning show to a new station branded "The G" (which has since launched as an additional Internet-only station but is planned to eventually move to an FM frequency to be acquired by Tribune) in favor of Cochran, and increased synergy with WGN-TV (including the replacement of WGN radio's "Voice of Chicago" slogan with WGN-TV's longtime slogan, "Chicago's Very Own"). On May 21, WGN Radio announced that their schedule would change again effective May 27, 2014, which includes the return of John Williams to the airwaves of WGN Radio that he will pretty much do the show live from Minneapolis, while still doing his afternoon show on WCCO 830. His time slot announced was 10:00 A.M to 12:00 P.M, which moved then mid morning hosts Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder to the afternoon drive from 3:00-7:00 p.m. Garry Meier would be moved to WGN.FM, with Steve Cochran's morning show getting expended by 1 hour, and Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano still having their 12:00-3:00 p.m. show.
On July 10, 2013, Tribune announced plans to spin off its publishing division into a separate company. Once the split was finalized on August 4, 2014, ending the station's co-ownership with the Tribune after 90 years, WGN-TV and WGN radio remained with the renamed Tribune Media Company (which retains all non-publishing assets, including the broadcasting, digital media and Media Services units), while its newspapers (including the Chicago Tribune) became part of the similarly named Tribune Publishing Company.
On June 5, 2014, the Chicago Cubs announced that radio broadcasts of its games would move from WGN to WBBM for the 2015 season under a seven-year deal. The deal ends the team's 90-year association with WGN.
On November 20, 2014, Chicago media blogger Robert Feder reported that WGN management planned to end operation of both WGWG-LP and internet station WGN.FM on December 31, 2014. Jonathan Brandmeier and Garry Meier were released and their programs canceled immediately, with repeat shows airing through the end of December. While Brandmeier was reportedly not under contract with Tribune Media at the time of his release, Meier's contract with Tribune continued through September 2015.
On December 31, 2014, the WGN.FM website was redirected to the WGN Plus website, where Tribune offers various digital media content. WGWG-LP began an interim simulcast of WGN radio at 10 p.m. on December 31, 2014. The Chicago Tribune reported that the simulcast would continue through January 2015, after which Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting was expected to assume operation of 87.7 FM; Weigel eventually began programming what is now WRME-LP on February 23, 2015.
On October 5, 2016, Jimmy DeCastro announced he was planning to leave WGN Radio at the end of the month. He told Robert Feder "I've done everything I can to respect and build on the legacy of this amazing place, and I believe I accomplished everything I set out to do." At the time of his leaving he had spent 31⁄2 years serving as the President and General Manager of WGN Radio. His last day at WGN Radio was October 31. He said he plans to focus on The Content Factory, his Evanston-based national syndication and new media company, and to expand into the area of sports representation. Larry Wert has said he has not decided on naming a successor to DeCastro, so for now the sales and programming operations will report directly to Wert.
On July 25, 2017, it was reported that WGN would leave Tribune Tower in 2018 and relocate to a new studio and office across the Chicago River. The station began using its new studios on Wacker Drive for news reports in May 2018, with the final show originating from Tribune Tower on June 18, 2018.
On February 14, 2018, WGN was named the new flagship station of the Chicago White Sox, who were left without a station after Cumulus Media voided their contract to air on WLS as part of their Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. The agreement is for three years.
Tribune Media was acquired by Nexstar Media Group for $4.1 billion in September 2019, marking the first time since 1924 that WGN radio would not be owned by any iteration of the Tribune Company. The sale made WGN the only radio property owned by Nexstar, which primarily owns television stations; in an interview with Crain's Chicago Business in December 2018, shortly after the deal was announced, Nexstar CEO Perry Sook stated that he "doesn’t have an allergic reaction to radio" and that there were no immediate plans to sell WGN radio, adding that he did not expect Nexstar to acquire additional radio stations.
Notable current on-air personalities
- "WGN Radio Timeline: 1920s-1930s". Wgngold.com. Chicago: WGN Radio. 2008-04-30. Archived from the original on July 22, 2012. Retrieved 2008-10-29.
- "Contact Us". wgnradio.com. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
- "A selection from a decade of visits to tower and studio sites in the Northeast and beyond". Fybush.com. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- "HD Radio station guide for Chicago, IL". Hdradio.com. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
- "WGN Cubs Partnership Ends". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
- Feder, Robert (14 February 2018). "Play ball! WGN Radio picks up White Sox". Robert Feder blog. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
- "ABC News Pres. eMails His Team With 'Great News'". AllAccess.com. 2014-12-23. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- "New Stations", Radio Service Bulletin, June 1, 1922, page 2.
- WGN: A Pictorial History, WGN, Inc., 1961, pages 9-16.
- "Alterations and Corrections", Radio Service Bulletin, July 2, 1923, page 10.
- "Alterations and Corrections", Radio Service Bulletin, June 2, 1924, page 7.
- "Alterations and Corrections", Radio Service Bulletin, August 1, 1924, page 6.
- The "World's Greatest Newspaper" slogan was first used in a February 1909 feature commemorating the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, which served as the motto from August 29, 1911 until December 31, 1976 ("'World's Greatest'--1911-1976". Chicago Tribune. Tribune Publishing. June 8, 1997. Retrieved March 26, 2019.).
- "W-G-N, Tribune Radio, Starts Tonight', Chicago Daily Tribune, March 29, 1924, pages 1, 11. Zenith had decided to move WJAZ to a suburban transmitter site. It sold the original WJAZ to the Edgewater Beach Hotel management, which changed the call letters to WEBH: ("Alterations and Corrections", Radio Service Bulletin, June 2, 1924, page 7). WEBH was eventually deleted in November 1928 when it was consolidated with KYW ("Strike out all particulars" Radio Service Bulletin, November 30, 1928, page 12.)
- Hilmes, Michelle, ed. (1997). Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922–1952. University of Minnesota Press. p. 384. ISBN 0816626219. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
- Annual Report of the Federal Radio Commission For the Year Ended June 30, 1928, page 162.
- "Strike out all particulars", Radio Service Bulletin, November 30, 1928, page 12.
- "Double Call Letters Are Being Eliminated", Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, June 25, 1933, Part 4, page 6.
- "WGN Joins CBS Net" (PDF). Broadcasting. October 15, 1931. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "Chicago Tribune - Historical Newspapers". Chicago Tribune. 17 July 1944.
- "Carole Mathews". Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
- "WGN Radio traffic reporter Len Baldy". Wlshistory.com. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- "Patrolman Leonard F. Baldy, Chicago Police Department, Illinois". Odmp.org. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- "The History of Chicago's WGN Radio 720". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2012-07-22. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- "Eight Chicago Police Stars Retired During Ceremony at Chicago Police Headquarters" (PDF). Chicagopolice.org. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- "Patrolman Irving Francis Hayden, Chicago Police Department, Illinois". Odmp.org. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- "The History of Chicago's WGN Radio 720". Web.archive.org. 2012-07-22. Archived from the original on 2012-07-22. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- "WGN Television: 2501 West Bradley Place, Chicago, Illinois, 60618". Chicagoarchitecture.info. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- Ibata, David (6 March 1985). "WGN Radio To Move Into Tribune Tower". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
- "WGN Radio Station Studio Orchestra Music Library and Records, 1925-1956 | The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music". Library.illinois.edu. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
- "At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-12-12.
- "'Pig Virus' quarantined: Metheny, Laski driven out from WGN". Wbez.org. November 11, 2010. Archived from the original on December 18, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
- Rosenthal, Phil (April 30, 2008). "Blackhawks skating over to WGN-AM". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 29, 2008.
- "WGN Radio to Partner with WGN-TV to Deliver Top Local Weather Reporting to Listeners". WGN Radio. October 10, 2008.
- "WGN Radio Announces New Morning Line-up". WGN Radio. wgnradio.com. June 15, 2009. Archived from the original on June 18, 2009. Retrieved June 17, 2009.
- "Some Answers To Some Questions | SteveAndJohnnie's "Both Sides Now" Blog". Steveandjohnnie.wordpress.com. December 5, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
- "Quitting time: Two jobs are one too many for WGN's Williams". TimeOut Chicago. timeoutchicago.com. October 23, 2012.
- McLane, Paul (8 February 2012). "Radio 720 WGN Moves Upstairs". Radio World. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
- "Report: Mike McConnell, WGN Settle Contract, Host Leaving". All Access. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
- Channick, Robert (August 20, 2013). "WGN Radio to return to its roots in station shakeup". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
- Channick, Robert (2014-05-21). "WGN Radio brings back veteran host John Williams". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2014-06-06. Retrieved 2014-11-14.
- "Tribune Co. to Split in Two". New York Times. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Channick, Robert. "Tribune Publishing targets Aug. 4 for spinoff". chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 June 2014.
- "Cubs, WBBM make radio deal official". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
- Feder, Robert (July 25, 2017). "WGN Radio leaving Tribune Tower next year". RobertFeder.com. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
- Feder, Robert (2018-05-15). "Robservations: WGN Radio is on the move — 18 stories up". RobertFeder.com. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
- "Thanks for the Memories! Nick D and The Final Broadcast From The Tribune Tower". wgnradio.com. 2018-06-18. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
- "New Owner Close At Hand For Chicago's WGN Radio". Inside Radio. September 16, 2019. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
- Marek, Lynne (December 7, 2018). "Nexstar CEO expects WGN will team with other Illinois stations". Crain's Chicago Business. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
- "Wintrust Business Lunch | WGN Radio - 720 AM". wgnradio.com. Retrieved 2019-12-09.
- "Nocturnal Journal With Dave Hoekstra". wgnradio.com. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
- WGN Radio – official website
- Query the FCC's AM station database for WGN
- Radio-Locator Information on WGN
- Query Nielsen Audio's AM station database for WGN
- FCC History Cards for WGN (covering 1927-1981)