Radio earthquake: Mancow & Cassidy out at WLS

February 10, 2010

Mancow Muller
Mancow Muller

The Chicago radio odyssey of Matthew Erich "Mancow" Muller took another unexpected turn Wednesday when he was fired after 16 months as midday personality on news/talk WLS-AM (890). The surprise move just after he got off the air was part of a swift program realignment by the new management team of the Citadel Broadcasting station. In his first public comment after his ouster, Muller said:

"There's no rhyme or reason to this business. I've stopped trying to figure it out. I thought we were doing a great show. I think it had a lot of interesting elements, and I'm proud of the show we did."

Also out in the shakeup is 40-year radio veteran Pat Cassidy, who had been Muller's co-host and straight man. Cassidy is expected to be returning to CBS Radio all-news WBBM-AM (780), where he'd anchored mornings before joining WLS in August 2008. His former bosses have kept the seat alongside Felicia Middlebrooks officially open since Cassidy left. "Pat Cassidy was Felix to my Oscar --  and I loved every minute of it," Muller said of their "Odd Couple"-like partnership.

Replacing Muller and Cassidy from 9 to 11 a.m. weekdays, effective Thursday, is Cisco Cotto, who's been co-hosting Roe Conn's afternoon show on WLS since he returned to the station last month from Salem Communications news/talk WIND-AM (560). By most accounts, Conn and Cotto did not mesh particularly well on the air. New partners for Cotto in middays and Conn in afternoons are expected to be named soon.

Earlier this week, Ron Magers returned as a regular contributor to Conn's show. The top news anchor at ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 had been a staple of the afternoon show for 12 years before he was axed in a budget cut last December.

The latest talent shuffle was engineered by Michael Damsky, who was promoted to president and general manager of WLS on Jan. 15, and by Drew Hayes, who was hired by Damsky as operations director two weeks later. Reached for comment Wednesday, Damsky said:

"Mancow has been an outstanding talent and an ideal employee in every respect. Unfortunately, he does not fit the needs of the radio station as we try to fulfill a very clear vision of what listeners expect, and try to restore credibility to conservative talk. We thank him and Pat Cassidy for their contributions, and wish them both well."

Muller, 43, has been a captivating and polarizing figure on the local media scene since 1994 when he arrived from San Francisco to host mornings on the former WRCX. After four years there, he jumped to alternative rock WKQX-FM (101.1). His firing from Q101 in 2006 remains the subject of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Muller filed against parent company Emmis Communications. He joined WLS in October 2008, and hit No. 1 in the Arbitron ratings just four months later. Though off the air here now, Muller continues to host a nationally syndicated morning show from Chicago for Talk Radio Network. He identifies his politics as libertarian.

At the time of his hiring at WLS, Muller was described by then-general manager Mike Fowler as "a younger version of Rush [Limbaugh], with some Roe Conn thrown in." But Damsky and Hayes pointed to audience research that showed Muller's edgy, hyperkinetic act did not appeal to the core audiences of Don and Roma Wade's morning show preceding it or Limbaugh's midday show following it. "The two hours [from 9 to 11 a.m.] has to be a very consistent bridge between those two programs, and Mancow's show just wasn't the bridge," Damsky said.

A lightning rod for publicity throughout his career, Muller made worldwide headlines last May when he staged a live waterboarding stunt on his WLS show to determine whether the interrogation technique was a form of torture. After several seconds of being doused, he concluded that it was, indeed, "absolutely torture." (Here is the link to video of the incident.)