Losing Johnny B. won’t restore the Loop’s luster

Losing Johnny B. won’t restore the Loop’s luster

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As far as I’m concerned, the Loop hasn’t been a real Chicago radio station since last March. That’s when Emmis Communications, owner of classic rock WLUP-FM (97.9), fired most of the people who had any brains and outsourced all programming, imaging and branding functions to St. Louis. Yes, St. Louis.

jb_fish(photo by Loop Media Team)

So the decision to cut morning personality Jonathon Brandmeier loose Monday was surprising only in that it took Emmis an additional eight months to pull off. Now that the Loop has shed the last vestige of a true local identity, it can enter the radio equivalent of the Witness Protection Program with no strings attached.

That’s a shame, really, when you consider the illustrious heritage of the once-great Chicago franchise. From its heyday in the 1980s under Evergreen Media impresario Jimmy deCastro, who plucked a 26-year-old Brandmeier from Phoenix and built an unprecedented young-adult juggernaut around him, to the relatively conservative ownership of Bonneville International in more recent years, the Loop had always been a force to be reckoned with. That is, until Emmis came along.

Under current management, the Loop has done nothing but cut, cut and cut some more. The only thing it has handled worse is its other Chicago station, alternative rock WKQX-FM (101.1). For the record, general manager Marv Nyren is also the man who fired Mancow Muller in 2006. Q101 has never recovered from that blunder.

Granted, Brandmeier’s million-dollar salary was at odds with the ratings he’d been drawing lately. But paying him that much was Nyren’s call, too. And Brandmeier’s dwindling shares were largely the fault of the station, which did next to nothing to promote him or market his show. Losing Johnny B. may enhance the Loop’s bottom line temporarily, but it will render the station irrelevant in the long run. The sad fact is that without talented personalities who know their market and know how to entertain an audience, local radio as we know it is doomed.

The utter cluelessness of Emmis was evident in a staff memo issued Monday by Rick Balis, the St. Louis programmer who’s been calling the shots at the Loop by long distance. In shifting midday host John “Byrd” Kempf to mornings and weekend host Pat Capone to middays, Balis wrote: “Please join me in saluting the best on air lineup in Chicago!” Really, Rick? The best? (And just think: the word “Emmis” in Yiddish means “truth.“)

What happens next? Well, what should happen is for Brandmeier to replace Steve Cochran at Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720) and Cochran to replace Brandmeier at the Loop. Both of their contracts are up by early March. Both would be ideal additions to each station. It makes perfect sense — which, of course, is why it probably won’t happen.

In the meantime, more than a few listeners expressed dismay that Brandmeier walked away without any sort of farewell. But late Monday, he posted the following message on his website:

“When I left the air last Friday for Thanksgiving vacation, I had NO IDEA that it would be my last show on The Loop. “¨Here’s the deal: WLUP made the decision not to renew our morning show. We mutually agreed on an early release. I accepted so I could start looking for a new radio home ASAP. That’s all there is to it. We had a good run on The Loop. “¨As I’ve always said, I’m not here for a long time, I’m just here for a good time. Thanks so much for listening. You’re the ones who made me laugh every single day.”

On the other hand, if you’d been paying attention to his show lately — particularly after Oprah Winfrey and Lou Dobbs announced their career moves — you might have heard it coming. “Goodbyes on TV [and] radio, they stink,” Brandmeier said a short time ago. “Just go! Nobody cares! When I go, it’s just gonna be gone — like a puff of dust. You’ll never know. Just ‘pffft.’ Cause who cares? It’s just self-serving. Who cares if I go? ‘Oh, I want to say thank you to everybody [when] I’m gone.’ Aw, just shut up, Brandmeier. Just get off the air.”

Sounds like Johnny got exactly what he wished for.