iHeartMedia blows up WEBG’s country format for new ‘Rock 95 Five’

Rock 95.5 Chicago

The prayers of Chicago's hard-rock radio fans have been answered.

Two and a half years after the untimely demise of WLUP 97.9-FM, the iconic classic-rock station known as The Loop, the music of Metallica and Mötley Crüe is in the air again.

As of 5 p.m. today, iHeartMedia pulled the plug on the failed country music format of WEBG 95.5-FM and renamed the station “Rock 95 Five.” The rebranding followed six hours of stunting, starting with R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It."

Targeting primarily male listeners between 25 and 54, the new format will feature such artists as Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, Linkin Park, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Def Leppard and Foo Fighters, in addition to Metallica and Mötley Crüe.

No word yet on personalities for the station, which will air without hosts for several weeks. Management declined to comment on the status of Big 95.5's on-air staff, including Lisa Dent, Brooke Taylor and Lance Houston, who also served as program director.

Matt Scarano

“I am thrilled to bring rock music back to Chicago,” said Matt Scarano, president of iHeartMedia Chicago. “These songs haven’t been played on the air for years. I am looking forward to hearing the soundtrack of our lives on 'Rock 95 Five.'”

The decision to go with a retro rock format was based in part by research showing listeners' fondness for nostalgia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even the station's logo was designed to evoke rock radio's past. Fans may recall that 95.5 had been the frequency of former rocker WMET from 1976 to 1986.

Rock listenership has been up for grabs here since 2018 when Merlin Media sold The Loop to Educational Media Foundation, which flipped the station to its K-Love contemporary Christian music format under the call letters WCKL.

Today's move sets up iHeartMedia to compete in the rock realm with Entercom WXRT 93.1-FM, Hubbard Radio WDRV 97.1-FM, and Cumulus Media WLS 94.7-FM and WKQX 101.1-FM.

“Our goal with 'Rock 95 Five' is to provide the music Chicagoland has been missing, a key soundtrack for a large lifestyle group,” said James Howard, regional senior vice president of programming for iHeartMedia Chicago. “Our purpose is to be a driving force and a companion in the lives of millions of rock music fans for years to come.”

Howard is expected to double as program director of "Rock 95 Five" at least for the time being.

Except for a momentary blip when it first signed on in 2015, Big 95.5 has been an embarrassing disappointment for iHeartMedia and a perennial also-ran to WUSN 99.5-FM, the Entercom country station that had a 33-year head start in the format.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, Big 95.5 ranked 21st overall with a 2.1 percent share and a cumulative weekly audience of 573,900. US99 was 20th with a 2.3 share and a 735,600 weekly cume.

Wednesday’s comment of the day: Mark Edwards Edelstein: I watch a lot of TV, and a lot of channels and a lot of devices, probably more than is good for my health. I never saw any advertising for the show ["News Nation"] before the premiere. My guess is they may have wanted to get everything humming along before they started promoting the program. Even though they did practice runs for a long time, there's something different about the real thing. It will take time to grow, but I think there's a place there for this show. It's not the news with Ted Baxter, it's a truly solid product and should be able to find its audience.