Sunday, June 7, 2009

The End of An Era: Chicago’s WNUA Gets The Ax – So Long Old Friend….

It’s a wonder how things change.

“Nothing stays the same” is the phrase I’ve heard so many times. We tend to get use to things day in and day out that we don’t realize how true it is.

The other day while driving, I turned on the radio and was trying to find some music to listen to because my CD wasn’t playing. (Keep in mind, I’m not a big radio listener like I use to be because everything is so segregated now and I guess I’m just getting old but they really don’t play what I like all the time. Its hard to find a station to just put on and let play. That’s why I’ll listen to my CDs or MP3s. Having that control works best especially with sitting at a desk for hours drawing or writing. I can listen to Classical, 70’s Soul, Grunge, Hip-Hop, 80’s synth-pop and anything I like all in one setting.)

Back to the driving and tuning in on the radio…

Trying to find something to listen to, I turned to what I thought would be my “old faithful”, WNUA 95.5FM, a smooth-jazz-soul-r&b station that I would play all the time. I tuned in and there was "something" on the station, an instrumental song but it was different. I just thought that, "Its WNUA. They play all type of music even Brazillian, classic Jazz, etc. No big deal". Then, the commercial came on….IT WAS IN SPANISH! I said “Whats this??” It took me a moment to gather my thoughts and recover from the shock and horror---then my daughter, who was in the car said “Its Spanish music, dad.”

I---I---was—it was like a bad dream. What happened? Did it move? I started to stare at the station making sure it was on FM. Check. 95.5? Check. What’s going on? I turned to WXRT 93.1, a classic-alternative rock station. Has the world come to an end? No---WXRT was there. Whew!

Then it dawned on me like a bolt of lightning striking the scarlet speedster known as the Flash-----CLEAR CHANNEL!!!!! (You got to say it like Captain Kirk yelled “Khan!”)

I was determined to find out what happened to my beloved station.

After getting home and having every memory of WNUA race through my head. The first time I listened to it back in the late 80’s. The Saturday night radio programs Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis which showcased the music of instrumentalists Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis, as well as vocalists Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. The radio program, The Sounds of Brazil. The Dave Koz specials. The on-air personalities, Rick O'Dell, Danae Alexander, Dave Koz, Bill Cochran, and Scott Adams. Dammit!

I went to the internet, which knows all, and low and behold it was true: The format changed on May 22, 2009. It is now an all Spanish station. THANK YOU CLEAR CHANNEL!

WNUA, was more than a smooth-jazz station to me. It was collection of the best and brightest in the world of smooth R&B, pop and more. It was one of the few stations in Chicago that still played the music of Sade, Diana Krall, Chris Botti, Kenny G, Luther Vandross and others. It had programs set aside for different formats to appeal to the listener. The Legends of Jazz and The Sounds of Brazil is probably what I will miss most. It was music that set a different mood and to listen to historical tidbits about the songs was always really cool.

And, of course, Danae Alexander during the week-nights. Hmmmm, she definitely had the voice to fit that timeslot…

I’m going to miss that station. Dammit!

22 years it was on the air and it introduced me to many artists and their music and kept me going through those long hours of drawing and writing.

After thinking about all the radio stations that I've listened to throughout the years like Q101, WXRT, The Lite, Classical stations, B96, WGCI, The Mix, Jack FM, V103, Gospel stations, US99, The Drive, The Loop, WMBI among others, I would have to say that I probably listened to WNUA more than any other station on the radio throughout the years by the sheer volume of hours I would have it on while I worked. Damn.

WNUA 95.5. Thanks for the memories. You will be missed---sniff-sniff---

Now, here’s a write up by Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune that tries to explain Clear Channel’s decision (thanks for nothing!):

May 22, 2009--Adios to smooth jazz at Clear Channel's WNUA-FM 95.5.

Hola, Mega 95.5.

WNUA, a pioneer 22 years ago with the adult-contemporary format that blended pop instrumentals and jazz influences, is poised to become a Spanish-language station, complementing the music of artists such as Shakira, Enrique Iglesias and Aventura with local on-air personalities, news and traffic in an effort to seize a share of a rapidly growing audience segment.

The flip, set for Friday morning, has been the subject of a guessing game within the industry as other smooth jazz stations around the country dropped the format in recent weeks. But much of the speculation wrongly had WNUA embracing country, oldies or classic rock rather than what is being billed as Spanish hot adult contemporary.
A change in call letters has not been finalized, but the new Chicago station branding will be Mega 95.5, and it will be available online through

Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, a long-time WNUA personality, is supposed to bid fans farewell in Friday's 9 a.m. hour. That will be followed by a brief audio montage recalling the history of the 95.5 frequency in Chicago, from the Moody Bible Institute to WDHF to WMET to WNUA. Then at 9:55 a.m., the plan is to begin playing 5,000 successive songs from the new format over the next two weeks as an introduction before regular Mega 95.5 programming begins.

Clear Channel has yet to name the station's personalities.
It may be small solace for loyal WNUA listeners, but its smooth jazz format will remain available online at, as well as on smart phones via and to those with HD Radios at 95.5 HD2.

The problem that ultimately doomed WNUA was not the devotion of its audience, which didn't flag. The problem was Clear Channel's ability to cash in on it.
According to independent industry revenue figures, WNUA's take was off by almost $2 million in 2008 compared with '07, while Spanish-language leaders -- WLEY-FM 107.9 and Univision's WOJO-FM 105.1 -- showed gains. "The revenue support for WNUA declined significantly in recent years due to the changes in how advertisers evaluate radio stations, and we were faced with a very difficult decision," said Earl Jones, president and market manager of Clear Channel Radio Chicago. "This is something we really struggled with," said Tony Coles, vice president of programming and operations of its six-station cluster. "We're fans of WNUA. So it was really tough to even have conversations about the end of that radio station. But we looked at all the indicators. We really put a lot of time and energy and research and marketing and everything for that radio station, and the needle wasn't moving -- and then the economy started going south as well."

It will not be an inexpensive switch for Clear Channel, which is hiring about 25 new bilingual employees, including on-air talent, a programmer and a sales staff. But other numbers favor the move. Hispanics are a fast-growing population group in the United States, passing African-Americans as the nation's largest minority segment in recent years.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that, as of mid-2008, the nation's population included almost 47 million Hispanics, or about 15.4 percent of the total, while African-Americans accounted for about 12.8 percent.
Since 2004, when Clear Channel Radio announced an initiative led by Alfredo Alonso, its senior vice president of Hispanic Radio, the company has expanded the programming and availability of Spanish-language programming and formats on stations in 20 markets. But Coles and Jones stressed this decision originated locally and is about positioning Clear Channel's full portfolio -- which also includes WLIT-FM 93.9, WVAZ-FM 102.7, WGCI-FM 107.5, WKSC-FM 103.5 and WGRB-AM 1390 -- for what the market will look like in five years. Univision, which owns WOJO-FM, WPPN-FM 106.7, WRTO-AM 1200 and the duo of WVIV-FM 103.1 and WVIX-FM 93.5 here, says on its Web site that Chicago is the nation's No. 5 Hispanic market, with 1.8 million people and $24.2 billion in buying power. Clear Channel, which says Hispanics make up 28 percent of the city of Chicago's population, thinks it can do more than take a slice out of that segment. It might even be able to increase the size of the pie by appealing to bilingual listeners and courting general-market advertisers as well as those specifically targeting Hispanics. It also benefits from WNUA's signal strength. "It's our commitment to live and local programming, our commitment to community service," Coles said. "Just the ability that we have to be in the community, be active and use the leverage of our other radios stations. We have Kiss and Lite [WKSC and WLIT] as the No. 1 and No. 2 stations for English-speaking Hispanics, and then you combine that with Mega, it's a really powerful force."

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Copyright (c) 2009, Chicago Tribune

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