Newcomer Big 95.5 beats US 99.5 in country showdown

Amber "Alabama" Cole

Amber "Alabama" Cole

After only three months on the air, iHeartMedia’s upstart country music station has overtaken CBS Radio’s 33-year country franchise in the latest Chicago radio ratings.

Nielsen Audio figures released Monday show iHeartMedia’s WEBG FM 95.5 beating CBS Radio’s WUSN FM 99.5 among listeners between 25 and 54, the group regarded as most desirable to advertisers.

For the survey period from February 26 to March 25, the new Big 95.5 ranked 18th with a 2.3 percent share of the 25-to-54 demo, while US 99.5 ranked 19th with a 2.2 share. Among listeners between 18 and 34, the two stations tied for 13th with identical 2.9 shares.

Matt Scarano

Matt Scarano

Considering that the station debuted January 5 on a frequency that had been airing a regional Mexican Spanish-language music format since 2009, the ratings news was monumental.

“I am thrilled with the success of Big 95.5,” Matt Scarano, president of iHeartMedia Chicago, said Monday. “We have a great team of highly talented people who commit to creating the best country radio experience every single day.”

The station boasts an all-local lineup of newcomers, including the team of Mason Schreader and Zach “Remy” Hoesly in mornings, program director Steve Stewart in middays, Amber “Alabama” Cole in afternoons and Erik Zachary in evenings.

Among listeners across the board, the closeness of the country battle can be seen in the overall rankings, with US 99.5 in 15th place with a 2.6 share and Big 95.5 tied for 18th with a 2.3 share. In January, US 99.5 was tied for 11th with a 3.3 share while Big 95.5 debuted in 30th with a 1.0 share.

The CBS Radio all-news combo of WBBM AM 780 and WCFS FM 105.9 continued to lead the market and again captured the top spots in mornings and afternoons. With Cubs baseball broadcasts starting on AM 780, this marks the last time the two stations will be credited as a full-time simulcast until the season ends.

Another winner in March was CBS Radio classic hits WJMK FM 104.3, which tied for seventh overall with a 3.6 share — up from 14th in February with a 2.9 share.

Here are Chicago’s top 10 morning shows among listeners age 6 and older from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, as measured by Nielsen Audio in March, followed by average share (with previous month’s share in parentheses):

1. WBBM AM 780/WCFS FM 105.9 Felicia Middlebrooks and Pat Cassidy 10.4 (11.3)

2. WTMX FM 101.9 Eric Ferguson and Kathy Hart 7.2 (6.6)

3. WVAZ FM 102.7 Steve Harvey 5.3 (5.6)

4. WGN AM 720 Steve Cochran 5.1 (4.4)

5. WOJO FM 105.1 Raul Molinar, Sylvia del Valle and Andres Maldonado 4.6 (4.5 )

6. (tie) WKSC FM 103.5 Christopher “Fred” Frederick and Angi Taylor 3.7 (3.7)

6. (tie) WSCR AM 670 Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley 3.7 (3.8)

8. WDRV FM 97.1 Steve Downes; Pete McMurray and Dan McNeil 3.5 (3.8)

9. WBBM FM 96.3 J. Niice (Jamar McNeil) and Showbiz Shelly Menaker 3.3 (3.0)

10. WBEZ FM 91.5 NPR Morning Edition; Morning Shift with Tony Sarabia 3.0 (3.7)

Here are Chicago’s top 10 afternoon shows among listeners age 6 and older from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, as measured by Nielsen Audio in March, followed by average share (with previous month’s share in parentheses):

1. WBBM AM 780/WCFS FM 105.9 Kris Kridel and Keith Johnson 6.0 (6.2)

2. (tie) WTMX FM 101.9 Koz (Kevin Koske) 5.8 (5.5)

2. (tie) WVAZ FM 102.7 Doug Banks 5.8 (5.4)

4. WKSC FM 103.5 Jordan (Ryan Gorman) 4.7 (4.4)

5. WBBM FM 96.3 Dougie Stylz and Justin Roman 4.2 (4.1)

6. WLIT FM 93.9 Mick Lee 3.9 (4.1)

7. WLS FM 94.7 Robert Murphy 3.6 (3.9)

8. (tie) WGCI FM 107.5 U.B. Rodriguez 3.5 (3.5)

8. (tie) WJMK FM 104.3 Gary Spears 3.5 (2.8)

10. WKQX FM 101.1 Walter Flakus 3.2 (3.4)