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Steve Cochran Isn’t Looking in the Rear View Mirror After WLS-AM 890 Exit

There’s a longstanding adage in the radio business: “You haven’t really been in radio until you’ve been fired.” Steve Cochran has embodied the mantra 11 times after exiting Chicago news/talk station WLS-AM 890 last Friday.

After a two-year run in mornings on the Cumulus-owned station, the two sides went their separate ways in what Cochran said was an amicable parting.

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“I liked those people a lot. They’re good people. We just have a disagreement on what show should be on there,” he said. “The signs aren’t hard to figure out. It was not contentious. I’ve certainly had ugly ones. This was not it. We just simply disagree on how to do the best show in in Chicago. And frankly, I felt like I was doing not just that, but the best show in the country. And the last sane talk show in the country.”

That sentiment — “the last sane talk show in the country” — is something Cochran had shared on the air during his stint with the station.

When asked what that exactly meant to him, Steve Cochran noted that it includes two separate issues. One is the business side of radio which affects companies like iHeartMedia, Audacy, and Cumulus. He believes some of the larger radio operators are solely focused on stock price, which in turn affects the on-air programming.

But maybe more importantly is the political polarization that has enveloped the talk radio space that Cochran has become most disillusioned with.

“This is not a secret: I’ve leaned right most of my life, but I’ve voted right and left depending on the candidate — the way I think everybody ought to,” said Cochran. “Because the far right and the far left, as I’ve said a million times, will kill the country. And I just wanted to drive the middle. I still think you could monetize the middle, but you have to have a company that’s willing to really invest in that.

“They held up their end of the bargain and they didn’t tell me how to do the show. And I held up mine and told him that I would be hard on Trump, but I would also be hard on any Democrats that deserved it. I pound on the mayor of Chicago, who’s a disaster, and the Democratic machine in Chicago, which is also a disaster, over and over again. We got good response from a lot of people that said, ‘Look, you’re fair. I don’t always agree, but I appreciate it.'”

He continued by noting that welcoming each side of the political aisle to talk radio needs to be much more prevalent than it has become, stating “Unless we get back to talking to each other, we’re done and everything in politics now is about not doing that.”

Steve Cochran admitted that he might not have been the best fit for WLS — and vice versa — but was interested in giving the position a test run after more than 15 years at crosstown rival WGN.

He called the relationship “a joint experiment”, before noting that that the proposed mission of the Cumulus-owned outlet to be “the most conservative station in America,” in the words of former colleague John Howell, wasn’t the perfect situation for him at this stage of his career.

After more than 40 years in the industry, and being 63 years old, it’s logical question to wonder what the future holds for Steve Cochran.

And he revealed he has the same thoughts.

“I will miss being on the radio. I don’t know that I’ll ever be on the radio again, and that’s a very weird thing to say after 43 years,” he shared. “I just think radio is still the greatest medium.”

As much as he questions his potential future on the air, Cochran questions if radio entities will be able to shift their focus away from AM radio to a more easily accessible distribution platform for younger audiences.

“The mistake these companies have made in regards to AM talk radio — and I said this to Cumulus — is stop calling it AM. When you say ‘AM,’ it sounds like an antique store. And it’s a natural turnoff to anybody under the age of probably 45.

“So in talk radio, AM should be treated like every other content platform. It’s just another content platform. It should have as much of the same opportunities and revenue streams as well. Cameras in studio, a video guy, social media people to monetize all of that,” he said. “I think the companies who are gonna win this — the remaining companies that may feel like they’re stuck with these big AMs — will figure out a way to treat them like content platforms and not like ‘Grandma’s down on the corner, the light’s on so I guess she’s ok.'”

If his morning show at WLS-AM 890 really was his last radio hurrah, Steve Cochran is content with that.

“When I left (WGN) — that was not my call, or my desire, though I hated the way the company was being run at that point, and still being run, frankly, it’s half the radio station once was. And (WLS) and I were never a natural fit, but I really believed — and I believe they believed — that we could do something and deliver something,” Cochran said. “But it involved a lot of promotion, a lot of focus, and everybody wasn’t rowing the boat the same way.

“So I came back, I had my say, and I think I’m better at this than I’ve ever been. I’d like to be able to do it somewhere, but for the time being, and maybe fully, I’m gonna do it in podcast form.”

His podcast — Live From My Office — has published more than 350 episodes since its launch. In addition to his podcast, Cochran continues to be a stand-up comedian in the Windy City, with a set scheduled for Friday night at the Raue Center for the Arts.

It would be easy for him to view the departure from the venerable Chicago station as a sad note. However, Cochran reiterated that he had no bad things to say about management in Chicago or the company, and noted that they stuck to everything the two sides agreed upon before the “joint experiment.”

“I didn’t get notes or direction or censorship or editing by WLS in Chicago or by Cumulus and I respect that. That was our agreement going in, and they honored it,” Steve Cochran shared. “But I have considerations for sponsors and consideration for the framework of things when I’m working for somebody else. So I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore. That’s a bit of the freedom, but that’s just a small piece of it ’cause I never felt restricted at WLS.”

Garrett Searight
Garrett Searighthttps://barrettmedia.com
Garrett Searight is Barrett Media's News Editor, which includes writing bi-weekly industry features and a weekly column. He has previously served as Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH, and is the radio play-by-play voice of Northern Michigan University hockey. Reach out to him at [email protected].

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