Dan McNeil exits The Drive

Dan McNeil

Dan McNeil

Dan McNeil, the veteran Chicago sports radio host whose talent and temperament never quite meshed with a music station’s morning show, is out after 16 months at Hubbard Radio classic rock WDRV FM 97.1.

John Gallagher, vice president and market manager of Hubbard Radio Chicago, announced Thursday that McNeil had decided to step away from The Drive and had been released from his reported $250,000-a-year contract, which ran through March 2017. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Gallagher said McNeil was free to accept employment elsewhere, effective immediately.

McNeil, 54, had been on a collision course with management for weeks. Since returning from a 10-day time-out, he had been cut out as morning co-host and relegated to delivering a three-minute sports report once an hour.

“I know the term is something of a cliche, but in this case, it just really was a 'bad fit,' ” Gallagher said of McNeil’s brief tenure. “Dan brought a lot of value, but it wasn’t the expectation that the audience had for the station.”

Pete McMurray, who had been teamed with McNeil on The Drive since February 2015, will continue hosting mornings solo, along with producer Scott Miller and news anchor Kathy Voltmer, Gallagher said. Additional changes to the format of the show are in the works.

“It was a very amicable separation, and nobody’s mad at anybody,” McNeil said in an interview Thursday. “The audience has indicated to us that they’re there for the music, and it makes all the sense in the world for the radio station to respond to its customers. That means a little less of a couple of guys flapping their gums every morning. So with a reduced role on the show, it was time to press the reset button on this and just go our own way.”

McNeil said he knew the stakes at the outset. "It’s always an experiment when you tweak a station," he said. "This was the first time in the The Drive’s rich history that it was trying something a little bit different. You always know there’s a risk involved in that."

What’s next for Danny Mac? “I’m going fishing — muskie fishing. That’s in my near future,” he said. “I’m also going to finish a book I started two years ago, and I’m going to entertain conversations with people who might be interested. . . . I’ve still got a good 10 years [in radio] left in the tank.”

While he didn’t rule out working for another music station, McNeil clearly hopes to return to sports talk radio.

“The timing on this for me is uplifting because we’re right on the verge of football season, and I’ve gone two consecutive football seasons without having a format for my favorite game, my passion," he said. "More than anything, I love talking about the NFL — the Bears and the entire league. The last two years have been really, really difficult to grind my way through. The idea of a football season around the corner is very exciting to me.”

McNeil would not confirm that he already has reached out to one of his former stations, CBS Radio sports/talk WSCR AM 670, about a comeback. Other sources said he has.

“Dan did a great job for us,” Gallagher said in a statement. “His knowledge of sports combined with his passion for classic rock was an inspiration to our team. We expect that Dan will thrive in his future endeavors. He is a knowledgeable and talented radio host.”

Said program director Rob Cressman: “We look forward to what lies ahead for The Drive. Pete McMurray and the team have assembled a strong foundation. Our plans include a search for the chemistry and content mix that our audience has clearly requested. The considerable research and appraisal that accompanied the former incarnation of The Morning Drive will continue to determine where future opportunities exist to super-serve Chicago’s classic rock enthusiasts in the morning.”

According to Nielsen Audio ratings released Tuesday, mornings on The Drive ranked 12th overall with a 2.6 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 329,300.