In 1989, a brash 31-year-old program director named Drew Hayes launched a brand-new news/talk format at WLS-AM (890). Together with president and general manager Tom Tradup (and with a little help from Rush Limbaugh), Hayes transformed the once-legendary Top 40 music powerhouse into an unorthodox, in-your-face talk station.
“As we built a solid base with the issues, we felt we could broaden that base by doing things that are a little funny, zany, even dangerous,” Hayes recalled in an interview after WLS began moving up in the ratings. “Now we’re the station that makes you thinner, richer, and gives you a better sex life.”
Now, 21 years later, Hayes is returning to the Citadel Broadcasting station to see if he can deliver the goods again. On Tuesday he was named operations director by Michael Damsky, the recently promoted president and general manager of WLS and oldies sister station WLS-FM (94.7). Hayes replaces Bob Shomper, who was dismissed last Friday after 13 months as program director. Confirming the appointment, Damsky said:
“When I envisioned what this radio station needed and the qualities that any potential program director should have, I realized that only Drew Hayes possessed all of them. I was looking for someone with a sense of urgency, an ear for what people want to hear, a vision for what a radio station should sound like, and strong local knowledge. In Drew, we’ll be getting all of that — plus the respect of key members of our talent staff who have already worked with him.”
Hayes most recently has been operations director of CBS Radio all-news WBBM-AM (780) and sports/talk WSCR-AM (670). The New York native first made a name for himself in Chicago as a talk show host at the former WMAQ from 1986 to 1988. After a brief programming stint in Cincinnati, he spent seven years at WLS, where he rose to operations director (and also oversaw a short-lived “young talk” format on WLS-FM). He later served as general manager of the ESPN Radio Network in Bristol, Conn., and as program director and operations manager of KABC-AM in Los Angeles.
One gig Hayes would probably just as soon forget was his two-year stint as vice president of programming at WCKG. On the heels of Howard Stern’s departure as morning star, Hayes presided over the train wreck of Shane “Rover” French and the eventual collapse of the CBS station. By the end of 2007, WCKG was history — and talk radio vanished from the FM commercial spectrum here. Hayes was rewarded for taking on the thankless job by returning to Newsradio 780 (where he’d worked since 2001) and the Score.
During his first time at WLS, one of Hayes’ most notable hires was Roe Conn, who’s still going strong as afternoon personality. Calling Hayes “one of the great architects of modern talk radio,” Conn added: “I couldn’t be more thrilled that we’re able to get the band back together.”
In the Arbitron survey for December, WLS ranked fifth overall with a 4.6 percent share of listeners. Among adults between the ages of 25 and 54, the station tied for 22nd‚ place with a 2.1 share.