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May 2017: Media

| May 1, 2017 | 4 Comments

Steve Cochran

When Wally Phillips retired from WGN Radio, the afternoon man Bob Collins replaced him. When Bob Collins died in a plane crash, the afternoon man Spike O’Dell replaced him. When Spike O’Dell retired, Steve Cochran was doing the afternoon show at WGN. “They offered me the job, and it was the worst deal offered to me since I got to the bigs in 1985. The morning show with Bob Collins was a $2 million show. When Spike left it was a $1 million show. And they wanted me to do it for the same money I was doing afternoon drive. Why would I? Doing afternoons I had a pretty good life. I could take my kids to school, play golf, stay up late watching TV. I was supposed to turn my life around for the same amount of money? Even more so than the money, one of the things that (GM Tom) Langmyer wanted was creative control. The old PD thing. Show me what you’re going to do tomorrow before you leave. I mean that was ridiculous.”

So, Cochran turned down the offer. That didn’t sit well with the bosses, and so began a relationship that was fairly strained, to say the least. “That 2007-2010 period when Sam Zell came in and brought in the folks from the Star Wars bar, things really got weird. Radio was a slowly digressing business and radio folks were trying to figure out how to keep people involved, but we scared people away with some of the horrible moves that were made. Listeners just left, that frankly, we’re still trying to get back. Some may never come back. All the goodwill that WGN had built up forever was just pissed away. You put on the former city clerk at night and some French advertising guy from Cleveland on the weekends. It was one horrific idea after the other. I told them ‘You guys are on some sort of a Joe DiMaggio streak of bad moves here.’”

It wasn’t too much of a surprise that the relationship didn’t last. After WGN showed him the door, Cochran found himself working at a conservative talk-radio station and it never quite felt like a good fit. “When I got fired I had to work, and eventually the WIND (AM 560) thing came up. That was tough because it was a very conservative format, and while I lean right, I’m more down the middle. But then Jimmy deCastro came back (as general manager of WGN) and asked me to join him, and when Jimmy asks, you do it. So I came back to WGN. Jimmy is the best salesman I’ve ever seen, but he also gets talent like he is talent. He’s supportive. He’s a promotional genius. And he’s a real lunatic between the ears. Jimmy came in and took a place that felt dead and had a new idea every day and brought the place back up again. Within six months we got the morning numbers back up again, and we’ve been second or third in the market (35-64) ever since.”

Cochran has really settled into the morning spot he was offered several years earlier. Of course, he hasn’t done it by himself. He has surrounded himself with a quality staff. “It has sort of become an ensemble cast. You really need the support of everyone who fills the room. At one point we had someone from pretty much every decade. We had Orion (Samuelson) who was in his 80s, Dave Eanet who was in his 60s, I was in my 50s, Andrea (Darlas) was in her 30s, (Anna) Davlantes had just hit 40. I like the balance we have. I have a phenomenal executive producer, Mary Sandberg. She’s really good. But I also remind everyone that we can’t get too comfortable because Eric and Kathy are still ahead of us.

WGN is no longer your mother’s WGN, and it can’t be. The business is constantly changing, especially with the advent of social media, and Cochran does his best to stay on top of the trends. “I get help. My son is 26 and does social media for a couple of companies. He handles the Facebook page for me, and I do Twitter, and LinkedIn. It’s not my favorite thing, but I’m also not stupid enough to think it’s just a fad. Accept it and make it part of what you do.”

What he does is an information-driven entertainment show. He talks to newsmakers and celebrities, and usually, it’s all in good fun. On the other hand, he still finds himself in hot water occasionally. Just last month Cochran had to apologize on the air for comments he made about Illinois Comptroller Susan Mendoza. He also faces criticism about his political views. Cochran says he gets heat from both sides of the aisle. “I hate Trump and I hate Madigan, so what does that make me? The people of Illinois and America deserve better than they’re getting from either party. I think it’s great to have this platform to ask more of the leaders of this state and this country, to encourage those in power to do better. If that ruffles feathers, so be it.”

Steve Cochran will be ruffling feathers at 720 AM for at least a few more years. He just signed a new four-year deal in January.

-Rick Kaempfer

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Category: Columns, Media

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  1. Arleen says:

    WGN was my go to station. Every radio was tuned to 720. 2007, well that is when I left and I don’t think I can go back. Enjoyed reading how Steve is back brightening up the airwaves. Good Luck Steve.

  2. Donna Cave says:

    Use to be a fan of Steve …but he is now too political. I don’t want to hear rants about our president with morning coffee. I have switched to WBBM.

  3. Frank says:

    Since Gary Meier was shown the door and they brought in in Roe Conn I rarely listen to this station. Bill and Wendy are about the only program in my opinion worth listening to. I listen to WBBM 780 or occasionally some sports talk. I’m 57 years old and grew up on Collins/Spike/ Wally

  4. Bobby Skafish says:

    Interesting read!

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