Don't look now, but Chicago radio is about to lose another one of its good guys. After almost four decades in the business, Harvey Wells says he's leaving to "reflect, re-think and re-invent" himself.
Wells, 59, announced Tuesday that he's stepping down amicably at the end of February when his contract expires as vice president and group station manager for Newsweb Radio, a division of printing and broadcast magnate Fred Eychaner's Chicago-based Newsweb Corp.
Given the challenges facing the industry -- and his stations in particular -- Wells' decision was not nearly as surprising as his move in 2004, when he left CBS Radio after a 25-year association with adult rock WXRT-FM (93.1) to join Newsweb. During his six years at Newsweb, he oversaw the expansion of the company's radio holdings from four stations to nine and its shift from mostly time-brokered ethnic and foreign-language programming to mainstream music and progressive talk formats. Said Wells:
"I never, ever look back. I had an opportunity to go into an entrepreneurial environment, and I would take that again. I'm a brand builder, and I love building brands. I certainly don't think I did the wrong thing by leaving CBS. . . . Am I ready to retire? I would say no to that. But I also know this is the right move at the right time."
The "We Play Anything" eclectic music format that Wells launched on a three-way suburban simulcast (marketed as "Nine FM") fell victim to inadequate signal coverage in Chicago and competition from "Jack FM" on CBS Radio's WJMK-FM (104.3). It survives now only on WKIF-FM (92.7), licensed to Kankakee. Progressive talk, mostly in the form of syndicated programming, airs on WCPT-AM (820) with simulcasts on WCPY-FM (92.5) and WCPT-FM (92.7) and WCPQ-FM (99.9). Added Wells:
"I certainly would like to have had higher ratings and more success. But like any format, it's going to take a while for progressive talk to build. It is still developing its brands and personalities. But I believe in the progressive talk format, and Newsweb Radio believes in the progressive talk format."
Wells, a graduate of Niles East High School in Skokie and Southern Illinois University, began as a weekend overnight disc jockey at WXRT in 1975. He worked a variety of air shifts there before a stint as midday jock at WKQX-FM (101.1). He returned to WXRT in 1979 and moved up the sales ranks to become vice president and general manager in 1990. In 1992, he launched WSCR (now airing at 670 AM) as Chicago's first sports/talk radio station and doubled as its general manager. Under CBS Radio predecessor Infinity Broadcasting, he was named general manager of WUSN-FM (99.5) and the former WCKG while retaining supervision over WXRT.
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