December 5, 2008

Steve Dahl out at CBS' WJMK-FM

http://www.dahl.com/about/people/images/pic_steve2.jpg

Steve Dahl, a Chicago radio personality for more than 30 years whose broadcast style inspired a generation of voices, told his WJMK-FM 104.3 listeners that he was leaving the CBS Radio outlet after today's broadcast.

Dahl's announcement confirms longstanding rumors that he would become the latest top-paid CBS Radio Chicago host cut loose in recent months despite a contract that extends to mid-2011 said to be worth between $1 million and $3 million annually.

"This is our last show here," Dahl said.

Dahl, 54, has been a seminal figure in the radio business both as a solo performer and as part of a team over the years, including pairings with Garry Meier and Buzz Kilman, his most recent partner.

Seen as an influence on Howard Stern and others, Dahl was among the first to return radio, which had become a time-temperature-song medium, to something approaching theater of the mind. He did not have a classic old-school radio voice, but that was part of bringing a certain "reality" to the air, taking listeners into his world, his head and behind the scenes at the stations where he worked.

He complemented that with song parodies, a cast of characters he invented or impersonated and other comedy bits.

Even as he made his announcement, Dahl noted Pete Zimmerman, his technical producer, had failed to find an appropriate tape clip to segue out of a commercial break, mentioned producer Mary Van Daele was in tears, told Kilman he was still welcome to CBS Radio Chicago's Christmas party in Greektown next week and pointed out management wanted him to continue working for two more weeks before signing off.

"They were saying, 'Well, do a couple of weeks, a farewell.'" Dahl said. "I said, 'It's not a farewell. You guys are taking me off the air. I'm not retiring.' ... "I still have 2 1/2 years left on my deal so, quite frankly, I'm not letting them out of it."

After saying "Aloha" one last time, Dahl played Jimmy Webb's "If You See Me Getting Smaller, I'm Leaving."

That was followed by the pre-taped voice of various stations using the Jack FM format across the country, an announcer named Howard Cogan, who delivered an uncharacteristically sincere send-off to Dahl and his crew on behalf of station management before launching into "Life's Been Good to Me" by Dahl friend Joe Walsh.

"When they made Steve Dahl, they broke the mold," Cogan said. "So many DJs today copy so much of what Steve has done over the years. He stood out. He wasn't like all the others. So for right now, I'd like to just be real. My name is Howard and I'm the voice of Jack FM. I know this is a tough day for Buzz, Mary and the rest of Steve's staff.

"Steve, thanks for 30 years of great radio," he continued. "Thanks for blowing up all those records. A lot of good that did, though. Love FM still thinks they're cool. ... But most of all, thanks for being an inspiration to so many broadcasters all over the world."

The radio industry, like all of the media business, is in upheaval as the economic crisis puts a financial squeeze on it and its advertisers and digital technology has increasngly splintered the audience.

Additionally, Arbitron's move from diaries to eavesdropping Portable People Meters to measure radio ratings has seemed to favor some stations, formats, time slots and personalities while hurting others.

It didn't help Dahl that, in anticipation of the PPM switch, CBS Radio in late 2006 abandoned the FM talk format on what was WCKG-FM it had more or less built around him in favor of female-oriented music format.

Rather than accept the easy money of a buyout at that time, Dahl moved from afternoons to mornings as the sole non-music show on WJMK-FM, but he was a perfect fit neither for his new slot or station.

"It's not funny, but it is funny, I guess," Dahl said. "This new ratings system does not favor us. I personally know that a lot of people are listening. ... So it's kind of like being George Clooney and Marky Mark in 'The Perfect Storm' because you have no marketing, we change stations, change time slots ... an entirely different way of taking ratings which does not favor an intelligent show ... and a really bad economy."

"Like a giant wave coming at you," Kilman said.

Dahl's first station split in Chicago 30 years ago -- when the old WDAI-FM, which recruited him from Detroit, switched to a dance-music format -- inspired a long-running comedy bit on WLUP-FM 97.9 that would lift him to national prominence.

His "blowing up" of disco records on the air and Insane Coho Lips Anti-Disco Army rallies built to a crescendo with a 1979 "Disco Demolition" night at Chicago's Comiskey Park, which has become part of broadcasting and baseball lore.

Dahl was to actually explode disco records in the outfield between games of a Chicago White Sox doubleheader, but the stunt ignited the overflow crowd he helped attract. The fans stormed the field, tore up the grass and the Sox had to forfeit the night's unplayed second gam

CBS last month dropped WBBM-FM 96.3 morning men Eddie Volkman and Joe Bohannon, despite contracts that run into next summer worth around $1.5 million to each man annually. Mike North, another of its $1.5 million morning men, was unable to reach agreement on a new deal at CBS' WSCR-FM 670.

"It turns out that music gets better ratings than we do with this new ratings system, and guess what's cheaper. The music," Dahl said. "So this is our last show. Buzz and I will be off the air for a while. ... We have contracts. But everybody else who works on the show is available, and they're all good people."

Dahl, who writes an occasional column for the Chicago Tribune, said he can continue to "write for the paper, do some TV things and who knows what else" but he is prepared to stay off the radio for the remainder of his contract. Dahl suggested on the air that Kilman's contract runs into next year, but Kilman said he would be looking for work immediately.

The two discussed the pros and cons of working a massage therapists.

"The irony is, of course, this is the best I've ever sounded, we've ever sounded," he said. "I'm doing the best shows ever in my 30 years here. So go figure."

"Yikes," Kilman said.

"That'll look good in the paper, too," Dahl said. "Buzz Kilman said, ' Yikes.'"


Source: Chicago Tribune

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