WLS Radio's new boss aims to 'restore the luster'

January 21, 2010

Michael Damsky

Thirty years ago today, Michael Damsky began his radio career as a sales account executive at the former WFYR. As ambitious as he may have been, he never imagined he'd someday become president and general manager of WLS-AM/FM (890/94.7), one of the most fabled institutions in Chicago broadcasting.

"I grew up listening to WLS-AM and Dick Biondi, as everybody did, and I really got turned on to progressive music from the old WLS-FM of the late '60s," said Damsky, 60, who succeeded Michael Fowler as boss of the two Citadel Broadcasting stations Friday. "So to be sitting in this office is really unbelievable." Damsky, who most recently was vice president and director of sales at WLS, previously spent 24 years at CBS Radio adult rock WXRT-FM (93.1), where he rose through the sales ranks to become vice president and general manager. He also played a key role in the launch of CBS sports/talk WSCR-AM (670).

At the news/talk AM and oldies FM, Damsky faces some critical challenges at a time when the stations' parent company is under the pressure of bankruptcy protection. First and foremost among his goals is to revitalize the program department on the AM side. Hinting at major moves to come, Damsky said:

"My top priority is make sure WLS is being programmed to best showcase the talent that we have. We have great individual shows, but now we need to maximize their value and restore the luster of the WLS brand."

Damsky won't talk about specifics for now, but in separate meetings this week with his station's top personalities -- including Don and Roma Wade, Mancow Muller and Roe Conn -- he left no doubt that he respects their contributions and values their input. Among other things, he didn't rule out a comeback for news anchor Ron Magers as a regular contributor to Conn's afternoon show, now co-hosted by Cisco Cotto.

Still uncertain is the long-term future of Pat Cassidy, who has been co-hosting middays with Muller on WLS-AM since last year. Cassidy is believed to be weighing a standing offer to return to CBS Radio all-news WBBM-AM (780), where he previously anchored mornings with Felicia Middlebrooks.

On the FM side, Damsky and program director Michael LaCrosse are narrowing the list of candidates to replace Brant Miller, whose contract was not renewed as morning personality earlier this month. Given Damsky's personal history, it's a cinch that Biondi is safe as the nighttime star of the "True Oldies" station -- which is very good news indeed.

Elsewhere on the media beat:

  • CLTV will air live coverage this morning of the funeral of Carlos Hernandez Gomez, the political reporter for the Tribune Co.-owned cable news channel (and former Chicago Public Radio staffer), who died Sunday after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 36. The Mass, which will be said in Latin, will start at 11 a.m. at St. John Cantius Catholic Church, 825 N. Carpenter St. (I can't recall a live television broadcast of a funeral for a Chicago media personality since Irv Kupcinet in 2003 and, before that,‚ Harry Caray in 1998. Randy Salerno's funeral in 2008 was streamed online.)
  • Although scheduled to spend only one hour on the ground in Haiti, Ben Bradley laid claim to being the sole Chicago television newsman to file from the site of the catastrophic earthquake Wednesday. The enterprising reporter for ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 flew in and out on a United Airlines flight carrying relief workers and emergency aid. The return flight to Chicago brought back evacuees from Port-au-Prince.
  • Hanke Gratteau, veteran Chicago journalist and former managing editor of the Tribune, has been named vice president of public affairs for the Ounce of Prevention Fund, an early childhood education organization. "We are excited to welcome Ms. Gratteau to the Ounce at a time when interest in early childhood initiatives is growing," Harriet Meyer, president of the advocacy group, said in a statement. "She will play a critical role in helping us communicate about early learning issues both in Illinois and nationally." Gratteau most recently was executive director of the John Howard Association of Illinois, a sentencing and corrections reform advocacy group. She also served on Gov. Pat Quinn's Illinois Reform Commission.
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