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Feature Fri Nov 21 2014

The Game is Up for WGN's Sports Radio Station

Starting a radio station is a massive undertaking. Though the infrastructure existed for WGN in terms of facilities, filling the schedule for 87.7 The Game with attractive talent is expensive and somewhat difficult considering there were already two successful sports talk stations on the AM dial in Chicago. But they succeeded in that department by convincing some of the up-and-coming broadcasters and producers at 670 The Score and ESPN 1000 that if they wanted their big break in a major market, this was their chance.

Just nine months later, the dreams of those same folks were ended, and WGN didn't bother getting the information to their employees before it leaked out on the internet.

WGN president Jimmy de Castro stated that they were cutting their losses with the station because it wasn't turning a profit in a Chicago market that's seeing lower radio revenues over the last year. If the mandate was for 87.7 The Game to be in the black before the close of 2014, then it was a doomed project in the first place.

87.7 FM is actually a frequency where in other parts of the country, you can hear audio of a local TV station. That alone isn't a problem, but a good number of digital radios in cars and homes can't tune the station in because their dial only goes down to 88.1 or 87.9 (because why would anyone want to listen to a TV station on the radio?). That fact alone set the station way back, and they were relying on their internet streams to carry them in the ratings.

WGN losing the Cubs games on the radio starting next year probably didn't help the future of the station much either. The Game could've built its brand around the Cubs, who are nearly ready to turn the corner of contending for playoff spots again. But WGN was tired of losing money in recent years on their broadcasts due to low ratings, and couldn't strike a deal that worked for them monetarily in the near term.

Nine months is about half the time a new station needs to build it's brand, and maybe longer for 87.7 because it was starting in an unusual frequency hole. A bold but attainable goal over an 18-month period should've been a rating of 1.0, which still would've rendered the station third in sports talk (670 The Score turned in a 2.5 last month, while ESPN 1000 was at 1.6 after the stations saw their usual Bears bumps in the early fall), but would've probably been strong enough to turn a small profit. After nine months on air, they were halfway to that 1.0 mark where you could foresee a sustainable future.

It's a terrible situation for all the employees at the station that are losing their jobs at year's end. Some of them left positions at the two other powerhouse sports stations in Chicago, and are now left out in the cold as their old spots have been filled. It's hard not to feel like those folks were sold a bill of goods. There's absolutely no way WGN could've acquired the talent they did without convincing those broadcasters that they were in it for the long haul even if they were losing money.

All you can hope now is that everyone is able to land on their feet somewhere else on the dial.

 
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