There has been nothing in Chicago’s entertainment news this week other than the news about Garry Meier, 64, the city’s famous talk show host who was on WGN-AM radio up until Thursday afternoon. The radio station decided to demote Meier, who has been a top-rated Chicago talk show host for decades. For the past five years, Meier has been in the afternoon drive seat at WGN-AM with great ratings. While radio personalities come and go in Chicago’s very competitive radio business, the demotion of Meier – which takes him off Chicago’s radio station’s airwaves and puts him on Internet streaming only – has been met so harshly by listeners that the station has had to follow up its announcement regarding it’s demotion of Meier with a defensive statement – according to Robert Feder, licensed by the Chicago Tribune Media Group on Thursday. The announcement asserts “We didn’t kill Garry!”
According to Meier’s supportive listeners who are utterly disgusted with the station, however, the station has done exactly that – killed Garry Meier by taking him away from his wanting-fans on the radio dial. The assertions that WGN did take Meier away from the public are pretty convincing, too. Now that listeners must go to the Internet to listen to WGN’s famous talk-show host involves several things. One must have access to a computer or device that accesses the Internet. In a vehicle – headed home from work during the late afternoon when Meier’s show is on - a person must have their Internet-device plugged into their dashboard to hear the online program.
For many, that means plugging in their phones and not having their phones available for other necessary uses. And finally, though the station touts that the Internet show is free, it really isn’t. Obviously, being provided the Internet costs money. But more than that, many – if not most - people have data plans that charge a great deal of money for using large amounts of data. To listen to Meier now, via a data-swallowing device, means using data some 80 hours or more a month – a costly endeavor in which a user doesn’t know how costly it is until the Internet bill comes in each month.
WGN-AM 720’s move to drop Meier from 3-to-7 p.m. on their radio lineup - reported on by the Chicago Tribune - leaves listeners very confused. He has been a controversial figure over the years and has a reputation for going rogue and not being one to kiss the behinds of anyone – including the behinds of his bosses at WGN-AM. Of his rogue-ness, therein lies much of why he is so incredibly popular with many everyday people in Chicago.
Granted, Meier appears to be one that is either loved or hated by the radio talk show listeners of Chicago. Few are in between. People either say they can’t get enough of his dry wit and sarcasm - or they just don’t get it and don’t like the guy. Extremely disturbingly, many who say they don’t like the guy admit they haven’t listened to him in years – if not for more than a decade.
Meier took a lot of heat when he bailed on his most prominent radio partner of the past, Steve Dahl, and then parted from Roe Conn some years later. Some still resent him for breaking up those very entertaining partnerships. While some claim that Meier would be nobody without his past partners, his ratings since those days have definitely proven otherwise in the past 5 years. Meier, as a solo talker on the airwaves - without the likes of Dahl and Conn - has weathered the heat of his separations from those past radio partners with very good ratings. For years now, he has risen above Steve Dahl – who hasn’t even been on a radio station for years and only is heard on his pay-for podcasts, and Meier has rated way above Roe Conn who currently isn’t able to crack the top ten in afternoon-drive ratings at all on ABC-owned WLS-AM with Richard Roeper at Conn's side.
Meier, however, sits tall at number 7. In the crowded Chicago market, Meier’s latest Nielsen Audio ratings were – once again – very, very impressive. Meier earned a 4.1 share in the crowded Chicago market via his faithful listeners. Therefore, regardless of whether an individual loves or hates him, the all-important ratings speak loudly in support of him and his brand of talk and humor.
Actually, in the last Nielsen Audio record books, Meier is number one as far as the massive talk show radio programs are concerned in Chicago. The only afternoon drive radio shows with more listeners than his are 5 music station broadcasts and Chicago’s sole news radio station WBBM-AM. The other stations with talkers – whether it is open forum like Meier’s show, politics, or sports – pale in comparison. In fact, those shows don’t even chart near the top 10 by Nielsen's ratings.
WGN is getting the heat right now from listeners regarding the Meier’s cancellation from the radio dial and it doesn’t look like it is going to go away soon. In fact, the heat has been so harsh that the station has taken to trying to defend their actions. Such attempts at defending radio station personnel moves are atypical of the industry.
The public response has been a Facebook page ("Bring Back Garry Meier" Facebook page which is not associated with Meier or the radio show) that calls for the return of Garry Meier to the AM radio dial. For many, there is no logical defense for cutting Meier off the radio dial. In fact, listeners tend to be insulted that the station basically says: all you have to do is plug your phone into your dash and… On social media, disgruntled listeners are loudly stating that this option is totally unacceptable by the station's suggestion that one tie up a phone. Also, of great concern, they say the station is ignoring the fact that it becomes a costly data-downloading endeavor. Non-tech-savvy persons may be shocked at their first bill following a month of listening to the on-line version of the show.
Meier was allowed one last on-radio show on Thursday before making the switch next Tuesday to the Internet. He was professional and a class act through it all – which he is quite capable of being when the situation arises. Social media reactions from Meier’s fans assert that they are totally finished with WGN after this – and they say it is the last straw in WGN going against the wishes of its loyal, decades-long listeners. Others have also asserted that they are boycotting WGN’s advertisers over the Meier demotion. Others are hoping that the year-and-a-half remaining on his contract will pass quickly and another station will pick him up and give him the on-air respect they believe he deserves.