A 30-year look back at ‘Radio Wars’

Here’s a blast from the past: A 1983 look at Chicago radio stars Steve Dahl, Jonathon Brandmeier and the late Bob Wall as they battle for young adult listeners.

It’s the third installment of a three-part sweeps series on “Radio Wars in Chicago: Jockeying for Your Morning” by Bob Sirott on WBBM-Channel 2. Just three years earlier, Sirott had left a successful career as a disc jockey to become a reporter for the CBS-owned station.

Profiled in earlier parts of the series were six morning personalities — Brandmeier of WLUP, Wall of WGCI, Wally Phillips of WGN, Larry Lujack of WLS, Robert Murphy of WKQX and Tomm Rivers (who?) of WBBM-FM — and their high-stakes struggle for ratings.

“What is unique this time is so many stations all at once are putting a lot of money behind personalities who are allowed to bend the format a little bit, and everything seemed to happen at once,” Sirott tells anchors Walter Jacobson and Don Craig.

In an amusing footnote, four Chicago radio stations refused to air a commercial promoting the Channel 2 series. WLS, WKQX and WLUP rejected the ad because it referred to their competitors by name. A fourth station, WXRT, refused to air the commercial because its morning host, Terri Hemmert, had been excluded from Sirott’s report. “Given that we weren’t in the series, I didn’t want to promote something that would have had people seeing Murphy and Brandmeier,” WXRT general manager Seth Mason told me.

Sirott was sympathetic: “If I were on the in morning and wasn’t included in this series, I’d have been annoyed, too,” he said. “It does point up how serious their competition is. It really is war.”