Tuesday, October 2, 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Forgotten Hits Interviews Scott Shannon

All the immediate media attention surrounding the big shake-up at WLS-FM has focused on the local legends who are left or have come back to the station ... but little if any attention has been paid to Scott Shannon, the guy who put WLS-FM back on the radio map a few years ago when he launched The True Oldies Channel after Jack-FM came into town and bumped our oldies station WMJK off the air in favor of their short-lived format.  

Honestly, it just doesn't make sense ... don't get me wrong ... the talent left at the station is top-notch to be sure ... and each of these guys is a local broadcasting legend ... but missing from the formula now is Scott Shannon, one of the most recognized and honored deejays on the planet.   

Shannon has won multiple Billboard Broadcaster of the Year Awards, and, in addition to hosting mid-days here in Chicago on WLS-FM, was still doing his New York morning show at WPLJ, as well as broadcasting 24/7 on his True Oldies Channel, carried live by over a hundred radio outlets across the country, as well as streaming worldwide over the web.  

Shannon's ratings were consistently the station's highest, often outscoring the station as a whole, meaning despite the fact that he was voice-tracking from New York (the most consistently negative thing said about him here in the media), he was still the highest-rated jock on the air!  

I had the chance to talk with Scott over the weekend and asked him if he wanted to say anything to his Chicagoland fans. (Far too often, in the world of radio, our favorite personalities are taken away from us without the chance to say goodbye ... when you're gone, you're gone, instantly old news in favor of the new team in place ... and while I've spent the better part of my life listening to great jocks like Brant Miller, Dick Biondi, Fred Winston and Greg Brown, I also had a deep affection for all that Scott Shannon brought to the party ... in my book, he single-handedly saved the oldies for Chicago ... and I've never met ANYBODY that loves the oldies more than he does.)

And ultimately they may have been what led to his downfall.  Program Director Jan Jeffries told radio media columnist Robert Feder on Monday that he is moving the station away from the oldies format, stating that the word won't even be used on the air anymore.  

“It is clearly a shift of format from oldies to classic hits. There will not be any radio station like this one.” He then pointed to a playlist spanning ’60s to ’80s rock featuring Bryan Adams, Journey, John Mellencamp, Chicago, Doobie Brothers, Eagles, Supertramp, Styx, Blue Oyster Cult, Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen“We still will play a lot of the music that we’ve always played, but it’s no longer oldies. We will not use that word.” 

"Above all, the presentation will be unique", Jeffries said. “We will be fresh to the market and will have instant relevance that is unduplicated. And that will be compounded by the fact that we have the most legendary [talent] lineup in Chicago — no question about it. Probably in the whole country.” 

What's particularly out-of-sync in Jeffries' comments is the fact that you will find this exact same format, playing these exact same artists, up and down the radio dial here in Chicago, ad nauseum.  What's the point in bringing back these legendary Chicagoland broadcasters and then not letting them talk on the air, other than to give out the station's call letters?!?!  And worse, this isn't even THEIR music ... this isn't the music these guys are associated with!  Asking industry icons like Dick Biondi and Fred Winston and John "Records" Landecker to play the music of the late '70's and '80's is ludicrous, and then limiting these legends to simply presenting the station i.d.'s and nothing more is the biggest waste of on-air talent that I've ever seen ... and in no way reflects the legacy that WLS has built and earned over the years as Chicago's landmark radio station, often with these guys at the helm.

And it gets worse.  Chicago Radio and Media reports this morning that:      

WLS-FM has done more than just change up its DJ lineup and branding today. Overnight, they also dramatically changed up their music selection playlist.

Despite being rated in the Top 5 as Chicago's only real Oldies station, Cumulus Program Director Jan Jeffries has decided to shift the music played to a playlist similar to that played on at least three other radio stations in town, WDRV-FM / WWDV-FM, WLUP-FM, and WJMK-FM, not to mention WERV-FM in the suburbs.

Gone from the station are most of the songs considered to be "Oldies." Also gone are non-Rock tracks. No more 60s & 70s R&B / Soul. No more Motown. No more Disco. No more Pop one-hit wonders. Almost no female artists. In its place are mostly male-sung Classic Rock tracks from the mid-70s to mid-80s.

Unlike the Classic Rock music selection on The Drive or The Loop, WLS-FM's selection tends to be softer, with no harder rock, no deep tracks, and no lesser-known artists. In fact, the station is staying with a limited selection of artists at this point.

Since the new musical direction started in earnest around 2:00 am, until just after 8:00 am, Elton John had already been played five times. Other repeat artists included Foreigner, Chicago, Tom Petty, Steve Miller, Billy Joel, and The Doobie Brothers. Dire Straits had their 1979 hit "Sultans of Swing" played twice within a few hours.

Even prior to today's change in musical direction, WLS-FM's personalities were barely allowed to talk on the air. Many fans were hoping that with the addition of Brant Miller and Fred Winston to the full-time DJ line-up, that the classic personalities would be allowed to showcase their ... personalities. So far, with new morning show host Brant Miller, it would appear that the DJs are still restricted to only speaking for a few seconds a few times an hour -- usually before and after breaks.

As mentioned here on Friday, the station has begin to call itself "Chicago's Classic Hits," instead of its previous branding of "Chicago's Greatest Hits." Makes one wonder if the old WLS-AM / WLS-FM slogan of "The Rock of Chicago"
wouldn't have been more appropriate.

GREAT!!! ... even MORE repeats!!! I love the "nothing else like it on the dial" logic ... where has this guy Jeffries been living for the past 20 years ... clearly somewhere where there is no radio ... because this is ALL we hear up and down the dial, non-stop, 24/7. What a COMPLETE waste of on-air talent not to let these guys do what they all do best ... COMMUNICATE with their audience.  (kk)


Meanwhile, as the other media outlets focus on what's wrong with what's left ... we're speaking today EXCLUSIVELY with what's missing ... this is our one-on-one conversation with Scott Shannon ... a true, broadcasting legend.

SCOTT SHANNON: Well, Kent, it looks like Forgotten Hits is back in the saddle again ... bigger and stronger than ever ... so I wanted to thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this. I wanted to make a statement first ... as this is kind of a sad ending to my stint on Chicago radio ... but let me tell you that the complete evolution of WLS is happening. I wanted to say for the record that I grew up in the Midwest and for as far back as I can remember, I ALWAYS listened to WLS ... you couldn't grow up in the Midwest and not be exposed to The Big 89 ... WLS ... and when I decided that I wanted to be in radio ... I was still a kid in high school at the time ... but my dream was to be on the air at WLS. Obviously back then it was the AM ... The Big 89 ... and it took me a long time ... but eventually my dream came true. I was on WLS but it was 94.7 FM and I had the distinct pleasure and privilege ... and the incredible experience of being on the air there for a little over five years ... and I'm proud to say that I even have my own WLS jingle! And all I can tell you is that it was a wonderful experience for me.    

kk / FORGOTTEN HITS: Now did this announcement come out of the blue? Were you pretty much blind-sided by this move or had you seen this coming or what?   

SS: No, I really didn't see it coming because most of the time I had the highest ratings on the station.   

kk: Yeah, that's the part that just doesn't make sense to me ... how do you get rid of the highest-rated guy and ... and I'm not patronizing here ... but a broadcasting legend who has won every broadcasting and radio award under the sun ... Broadcaster of the Year and on and on and on ... I mean, how do you do that to make this change? It's actually funny in a way ... when you said that you grew up listening to WLS ... and, as you know, I did, too ... well, all those guys are back again now! (lol) Everybody you listened to back in the day is back on the station again! 

SS: Yeah, yeah ... but I don't have any bitter feelings. You have to understand that I may not be on WLS anymore but I still work for the company ... for Cumulus Broadcasting ... and I still have my morning show at WPLJ ... and I still have The True Oldies Channel that is broadcasting on over a hundred stations around the country as part of The True Oldies Network ... so I'm still part of the Cumulus Team ... I'm just not on the air in Chicago anymore.  

kk: And that's one of the questions that people want to know ... is there another Cumulus Station in Chicago that potentially could become home to The True Oldies Channel?   

SS: For the time being, there is no other station. If anybody wants to hear it, they can always listen online because we stream all over the globe ... but there really isn't a station available in Chicago at this time.  

kk: That's too bad because it would be nice to listen over the radio, too, as well as over the Internet. Now are they going to continue to run True Oldies during the off-hours or on the weekends?   

SS: No, I don't think that'll be part of it at all. I think now after Dick Biondi signs off they'll just automate the station. I used to do the show on Saturday Mornings from 6 till 10 but I think that's over now, too. You have to understand that at one time or another, I've covered every shift at the station except for mornings ... I used to program the station ... but True Oldies is still available to listen to on our website at TrueOldiesChannel.com ... and we're on i-Heart Radio ... so the people that want to listen to us can certainly find us. It's sad to say that I'm no longer connected with WLS but I still work for the same company and I wish them the very best. I think WLS will go on and will continue to be successful. A great radio station is not about one person.   

kk: No, it's not ... and let's face it, they've got some great talent over there ... there are some really talented people onboard at the station with years of broadcasting history and experience, all of whom have had a long-standing presence here in Chicago.  

SS: Certainly Brant Miller knows what he's doing, Fred Winston knows what he's doing ... and I have the utmost respect for the entire line-up over there. Greg Brown is a great guy who works his tail off and I couldn't be more pleased for Greg.   

kk: Meanwhile, Dick Biondi kinda got the short end of the stick again, still stuck doing overnights, which I know has upset a lot of people here.   

SS: Yeah, you know, Biondi is a radio legend ... and I think he's thrilled to still be on the air. Let's face it ... there's not many guys who have been able to be on the radio as long as Dick has ... you just don't see that.  

kk: Fifty-something years!   

SS: I would be more than thrilled to have had the career that Dick has had. He has had a remarkable career.    

kk: But it sounds like you're doing okay, right? Unlike most jocks in this situation, you've still got The True Oldies Channel going ... the show on 'PLJ ... maybe a little bit of disappointment right now, but the fact is, Scott Shannon will still be on the radio tomorrow.   

SS: Oh yeah, I'm disappointed ... but I had a little over five good years of being on WLS ... of being an on-air personality on a legendary set of call letters ... and it was part of my dream when I was a kid, so I really can't complain much. I really wish them well ... and hope they continue to be as successful as they have been.   

kk: Well, I just wanted to give your side of it ... obviously the media here isn't going to focus on the Scott Shannon story as much as they are on the return of Fred Winston and Brant Miller and the new line-up at the station.   

SS: I know ... and I want everyone to know in all sincerity that I'm not bitter ... I wish them all well.  

kk: Well, sadly I feel that this is our loss here in Chicago. I know that I have certainly enjoyed listening to you here these past several years ... and you have always been very supportive of Forgotten Hits.  

SS: Well, you're not going to find ANYBODY who loves the oldies ... or loves radio ... more than I do ... but I had a GREAT run there ... and it was a dream come true ... and I wish them nothing but good luck ... it's still a great radio station and they will continue to prosper.