WGN, 720 AM, is a radio station in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by Tribune Broadcasting (as the company's sole remaining radio station), and is one of several flagship properties owned by the locally based Tribune Media, which also owns flagship television station and the market's CW affiliate WGN-TV (channel 9), and regional cable news channel Chicagoland Television (CLTV). The station's studios are located at the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue in the Chicago Loop, while its transmitter is located in Elk Grove Village. Since around 1990, WGN has mainly maintained a news/talk format. WGN is not broadcast in HD.
WGN is a high-powered clear channel AM station operating with a power of 50,000 watts, during daytime hours, it can be heard as far as Windsor, Ontario, around 250 miles away, and during the nighttime hours, is often audible over much of the United States, parts of Canada, and sometimes as far away as Australia, EuropeSouth America and the Caribbean . The station also streams its programming on its website, with the exception of commercial breaks; public service announcements, station promotions, host-read commercials and alternate programming are played instead in those cases.
In addition to WGN AM 720's online stream, Tribune also operates two additional internet-only streams, WGN Plus (formerly WGN-2, not to be confused with WGN.FM, whose URL is wgnplus.com), which airs additional content from the primary station, and WGN.FM - Freeform Media (occasionally branded as "The G"), a talk-oriented internet radio station.
The WGN call letters originally referred to the Tribune (meaning "World's Greatest Newspaper"), following the pattern of other stations such as WLS ("World's Largest Store for Sears) and WSM in Nashville (for "We Shield Millions" – the slogan of the insurance company that owned the station).
The predecessor to the current WGN was WDAP, which signed on the air on May 19, 1922, and was founded by Thorne Donnelley and Elliott Jenkins. Originally based in the Wrigley Building, the station moved its operations to the Drake Hotel in July.
On May 12, 1923, the Zenith Radio Company signed on radio station WJAZ from the Edgewater Beach Hotel. However, after this brief period, the Tribune switched its operations to WDAP, and the Zenith station became WEBH, the license eventually being deleted on November 30, 1928. 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 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 (670 AM) and created the first syndicated radio show, Amos 'n' Andy. WGN served as a founding member of the Mutual Broadcasting System.
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).
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's music was easy listening/MOR-based 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, "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.
Metheny and Laski were both fired weeks after Michaels was forced to resign by a Tribune Board of Directors facing spiraling losses at the hands of Michaels' management style.
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 never 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 p.m.-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 (87.7 The Game) 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.
In addition to its talk programming (consisting of both topical and sports shows), WGN broadcasts news headlines, weather forecasts supplied by WGN-TV, traffic reports and sports headlines every hour. 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 (560 AM), WCPT (820 AM) and WLS (890 AM) all carrying at least one nationally syndicated talk show on their schedules. WGN salutes the golden age of radio every Saturday and Sunday night from 11 pm until 2 am 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.
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.
WGN serves as the flagship radio outlet for Chicago Blackhawks hockey and Northwestern University football and men's basketball telecasts. WGN was the longtime home of the Chicago Cubs from 1925 to 2014. Following the 2014 season, Chicago Cubs radio broadcasts moved to CBS-owned WBBM. WGN was also the longtime Chicago outlet for Paul Harvey until his death on February 28, 2009.
WGN is responsible for the activation of the Chicago metropolitan area Emergency Alert System when hazardous weather alerts, disaster area declarations, and child abductions are issued. 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.
In popular culture
- Steve Goodman's 1984 Cubs anthem "Go, Cubs, Go" includes in its lyrics "Baseball time is here again/You can catch it all on WGN."
- Bill Murray performed on Saturday Night Live as WGN host Dick Lanky twice in the 1978-79 season.
- Horses' Collars: a 1935 Columbia Pictures short subject from The Three Stooges contains a scene where Curly Howard attempts to open a safe. Spinning the combination lock, the safe suddenly proclaims "You are listening to station W-G-N. Our Memorial Day musical program continues". Brother Moe Howard exclaims "It's a radio! Turn it off!"