Richard Roeper, star columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, author and nationally known movie critic, is about to add another title to his credits: Chicago radio talk host. He's joining news/talk WLS-AM (890) as Roe Conn's afternoon show partner.
Roeper, 50, will start on the Citadel Broadcasting station April 12. Airing from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, the program will officially be called "The Roe Conn Show with Richard Roeper," but Michael Damsky, president and general manager of WLS, said: "I anticipate that we'll hear a lot of the shorthand "ËœRoe and Roeper.' "
It's a radio homecoming of sorts for Roeper, who began as a Sunday morning talk show host on WLS in the early '90s and eventually landed his own Monday-through-Friday midday show on WLS-FM (94.7) during its run with a "young talk" format from 1994 to 1995. His boss then, as now, was operations director Drew Hayes.
In accepting the two-year deal, negotiated by agent Brian Musburger, Roeper turned down an offer to host his own two-hour daily show on Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720). Reached Thursday while en route from a television taping in Albuquerque to a poker tournament in Las Vegas, Roeper said:
"Roe and I have been talking for years about doing something together. This is the perfect opportunity. One of the reasons WLS was the right fit for me was that Drew [Hayes] was the first person who hired me in radio. I've been friends with him for 20 years. I'm joining an established show that's hosted by a friend of mine who's a consummate pro. I've even known the producer, Jocko [Hedblade]. I'm joining an established franchise. It gives me comfort in knowing that."
Conn, 45, who has hosted his show solo and with several partners (including Garry Meier, Bill Leff and, briefly, Cisco Cotto) over his 14 years in afternoons, said he was thrilled to team with Roeper. Reached Thursday while on vacation in Mexico, Conn said:
"There are few people in the media business for whom I have as much respect as I do for Richard. Even though he's best known nationally as a film critic, he's one of the best and most enduring news and current events commentators of our generation. You can agree or disagree with him, but you can't ignore him. Together, I think we have an opportunity to change the landscape of Chicago radio."
In hiring Roeper, WLS bosses Damsky and Hayes have made their boldest move yet to strengthen the station's programming lineup. In a memo to his staff, Damsky wrote:
"Since we began the process of refining the programming on WLS last month, our highest priority has been to find the piece which will allow Roe, and his show, to shine as brightly as we believe it can. Our belief was that Roe needed a partner, not just a sidekick. History has shown that Roe is at this best with a co-host who has an equal depth of knowledge and breadth of interest. Richard brings all of that, plus the star power that accompanies his national visibility. He has outstanding contacts in both the political and show business arenas. And, as an added bonus, the South Side will now have equal representation on "ËœThe Roe Conn Show'!‚ The addition of Richard Roeper complements the station's focus on national issues from the Chicago perspective."
Roeper is expected to continue his Sun-Times column and his work as a multimedia movie critic whose reviews appear on richardroeper.com, Starz, YouTube, hulu.com and elsewhere. He also is a regular contributor to the Reelz Channel. His latest book, Bet the House: How I Gambled over a Grand a Day for 30 Days on Sports, Poker, and Games of Chance, has just been published by Chicago Review Press.