Radio Rescues Chicago’s 4 Hour Nightmare Commute

December 16, 2008 is the day many folks will remember as “the day traffic stood still” for upwards of 4 hours.  Upwards of 4 hours. Now try as you might, you’d be hard pressed to gab on the phone to friends and loved ones for 4 hours.

You can’t watch TV in a car for 4 hours….safely.

You can’t read the newspaper for 4 hours in your car….safely.

But there’s always the good old RADIO.

So as radio faces the toughest times in radio HISTORY, you’d think radio would have seized this opportunity right!?  I mean we all knew this storm was coming hours ahead of time.

I am happy to report that radio sprung into action.

The Mix in Chicago (WTMX) had a team of producers cutting up best of audio from Eric & Kathy’s show.  They packaged it perfectly with voice overs from station voice John Pleisee and billed this special 4+ hours of Eric and Kathy in the afternoon as The Mix Presents Eric & Kathy’s Polar Express!  It was great!  Instead of listening to 14 songs an hour and traffic updates that helped not, we were entertained in our cars and 4 hours felt like 45 minutes!

The Loop in Chicago (WLUP) went so far as to bring Jonathon Brandmeier back for a live afternoon show!  I was flabbergasted when I heard Johnny B. taking phone calls and talking with listeners about the worst pot holes in Chicago, the BEST place to stop off for a beer, and the ultimate beef joints.  Johnny could have told Loop management to piss off and he’s the MORNING guy, but he gets it.  He knows radio and The Loop specifically are having a tough time and he’s their star.  All they had to do was ask and Johnny B. was on the scene proving why he’s been a Chicago institution for decades, and why he’ll continue to be worth every penny of his big radio salary down the road, if he’s utilized properly.

Jack FM (WJMK) in Chicago was the real shocker though.  I about flipped my car over when I heard Steve Dahl and Buzz Killman on in the afternoon!  The ink wasn’t even dry on their pink slips and here they were, doing what they do best….entertaining Chicago in afternoon drive.  It was an out-of-the box move by CBS Chicago management, but brilliant.  If AC stations can flip to Christmas music and see a boost surely the PPMs will reflect this risk….and it’s really not a risk since they were already paying Steve anyway.  What a great way to do some R&D!  Steve was smart for making it happen even though he had to secure studio time in Florida to make it work.  It’s times like these when you remember what you love about radio in Chicago.

Kiss FM (WKSC) in Chicago took an entirely different approach.  They had their morning star Drex piped in from his apartment via the web while co-host Mel T. was in studio.  It was another creative way of taking advantage of an opportunity to entertain to a captive audience during a unique time when the same old songs just wouldn’t do, and it worked brilliantly.  The best part was they had chances to txt your snails pace time to the station to win secret santa prizes and they even qualified 12 listeners for a trip to Mexico!  On my end of the speakers, a trip to someplace warm with NO SNOW sounded great!  They said they had over 10,000 people register via text in 15 minutes!  I bet their database exploded from this experiment.

Sadly, none of this actually happened.  The talk stations talked.  The music stations played music.  To make matters worse, the music stations did lots of traffic updates which really didn’t help.

Wake up radio.  If you’re just playing music when something big is happening in your audience’s life, you’re not connecting.  Someone will, and there’s going to be a line of sponsors waiting to reward the mavericks who make an effort.  There will also be plenty of room in the old media graveyard for those who try to keep on trucking with the same boring approach.



6 Responses to ““Nightmare Commute” – Chicago Tribune”

  1. mattdubiel on December 17th, 2008 8:32 am

    Oh by the way….

    Thursday and Friday of this week MIGHT be just as bad as the “Nightmare Commute” Tuesday…

    Radio programmers, GET READY NOW.

  2. JP on December 17th, 2008 8:46 am

    You had me fooled….I was reading it thinking “WOW!”

  3. BL on December 17th, 2008 11:51 am

    Totally sucked into your narrative! I think I caught on when I found myself thinking “how can all of these broadcasters have come up with creative programming and resources simultaneously?” We all know that doesn’t happen.

    And that’s very sad.

  4. Scott on December 17th, 2008 12:19 pm

    So, put morning shows on in the afternoon. That’s the solution? I may be wrong, but hasn’t this been done already…and failed?

    A station should be entertaining every afternoon. Not just in emergencies. If they’re not, then for Pete’s sake, don’t call attention to it by occasionally putting your morning talent on for the drive home.

    And what’s wrong with frequent traffic updates on a day like that? Seems to me that the top things on commuters’ minds that afternoon would be the weather and traffic.

    I agree whole-heartedly about thinking outside the box. But, I don’t think telling the audience that you’ve got second-string talent on in the afternoon, and you’re benching them to make room for the first-stringers today, sends the right message. Because tomorrow afternoon you’re going to tune in and think, “Gee. If the station doesn’t have any confidence in this guy, why should I?”

  5. Craig on December 22nd, 2008 2:22 pm


    Real listeners don’t think like that. At all.. only radio people. Bottom line, it’s either entertaining or it isn’t. There is no set formula.. well there actually is.. which is why radio is so average. If your station has the goods, use it. Maximize it… I do afternoons at KissMilwaukee.. I wouldn’t be offended if they brought in Wes, Rahny, and Alley to “takeover” during a blizzard. I would enjoy it.. possibly learn something from it..
    As a radio talent, you have to adapt constantly. Radio will never = comfortable. But that’s what makes it interesting