Friday, April 8, 2011

Is Chicago Losing Its True Oldies Channel?

It would certainly appear to be the case.

With new programming announced both in the press and on the air yesterday, WLS-FM claims they're going for a more "localized" feel to their broadcast day.  As such, Scott Shannon, who brought The True Oldies Channel to Chicago and literally SAVED the oldies format for The Windy City, is now being reduced to just a few hours on the weekend, paving the way for a full-fledged in-studio line-up that will include Tom O'Toole, Danny Lake, a new afternoon weekend "local host" still to be announced and John "Records" Landecker's syndicated "Into The '70's" program Sunday Nights.  Saturday Nights will continue to feature Danny Lake's very popular "Live '70's All-Request Dance Party" and Saturday Mornings will now feature rebroadcasts of Casey Kasem's popular "American Top 40" radio program from the '70's.  (I'm not quite sure what's "localized" about that ... in fact, by the mid-'70's, WLS wasn't even playing most of the songs on The National Top 40 List anymore ... they had 
cut their OWN survey down to about 15 tracks and many ... if not most ... of these were greatly "dated" by the standards of what was being played on the radio everywhere else in the country at the time.  It was truly a dark time for The Big 89, once the most successful AM Powerhouse Top 40 Radio Station in town.)

Truthfully, if a more "localized" sound was REALLY what they were shooting for, especially in the way of a "countdown" show, the station would have been FAR better served by bringing Ron Smith in on the weekends to do his Chicagoland Countdown Show, playing songs that were actually on the WLS Chart at the time but with the benefit of a "live", updated feel to the program.  (This guy literally wrote the book on the Chicagoland Music Charts!)

In fact, The "True Oldies" name seems to have disappeared from the station completely ... it now refers to itself as yet another "Greatest Hits of All-Time" station and / or "Chicago's Greatest Hits Station" ... about the ONLY time you'll hear "True Oldies" mentioned at all anymore is during Scott Shannon's shift, which has been DRASTICALLY cut to next to nothing with all these changes!

WLS President and General Manager Michael Damsky claims this new programming move will give the station "the chance to play songs that people would not normally hear during the week."  (Again, I'm confused ... isn't that pretty much EXACTLY what Scott Shannon's "specialty weekends" were all about?!?!?)

Immediate reaction has been overwhelmingly negative.  (This is taking NOTHING away from the fine jocks on board at WLS-FM, many of whom are regular Forgotten Hits Readers ... they're just playing what they're being told to play.  It's just that OUR idea of an "oldies station" has absolutely NOTHING to do with all the '80's and '90's music the station has been playing lately.  I fully expect to hear Katy Perry any day now!!!) 

In fact, I actually heard them play "Love Shack" by The B-52's the other day.  Now I don't know about you, but the very FIRST act I think of when it comes to oldies music is The B-52's.  (Some of you purists out there may guffaw at this comment and say "What about Elvis?  Or Chuck Berry?  Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis?  Rick Nelson? Fats Domino?  Nope ... sorry folks ... but artists like THESE have been missing from oldies stations for quite some time already now ... oldies TODAY consist of The B-52's, Bruce Springsteen and Sheena Easton.)

The BEST thing Scott Shannon could do is find another outlet for True Oldies here in Chicago ... because if and when he does, THAT station will TOTALLY kick the butt of every other station in town right now PRETENDING to be an oldies station.  (That means YOU, K-Hits and WLS-FM!!!)  With HUGE ratings scores thanks to the new People Meter, True Oldies leaped to the top of the ratings a while back ... but apparently Damsky wasn't paying attention or he wouldn't be "jack"-ing with the format.  (On a personal note, I'm going to HATE not being able to listen to Shannon's weekend programming unless I sit in front of a computer all day ... especially since we've helped to develop many of these specialty weekend themes.  I can't believe that I won't even be able to listen to some of my own handiwork in the car anymore!)

Shannon needs to re-think his True Oldies format and stop trying to mold it into what WLS wants it to be ... he's already been reduced to doing nothing more than giving the call letters during the week ... and now has to work even harder to record a program especially designed to air in the Chicagoland market.  Again, reaction has been universally negative ... listeners HATE it and want the OLD Scott Shannon back again.  Seriously, True Oldies on another station ... as long as Shannon remains "True" to the original True Oldies format ... would go over GANGBUSTERS here in town, where less and less and less '50's and '60's music is being played.  He needs to find another outlet here in town for such a station.  Yes, it'll be hard giving up the WLS flagship connection ... but they have TOTALLY destroyed your concept in the process ... and believe me, listeners are leaving left and right!

And this isn't just one man's opinion (although I would consider it to be a pretty valued opinion!!!)  Just check the posting board to Robert Feder's column where he broke this story yesterday:
In his own post, Damsky states:  What we are trying to achieve in this evolution is to make the station as local as possible, while preserving what many people enjoyed in listening to Scott Shannon’s “True Oldies Channel.” We’re very happy to have Scott continue contributing as long as the work load doesn’t interfere with his golf game. We’re also happy to give more airtime to the very popular Danny Lake and Tom O’Toole. As for Casey Kasem, PD Michael La Crosse and I think people will enjoy the unique historic perspective of hearing the context in which now-classic songs were first introduced. In any event, I believe people will appreciate the fact that we are still Chicago’s only “oldies” station.
Stay tuned, Chicago ... the shake-up ... and the fall-out ... has just begun!  (kk)