For one of the most iconic radio brands a major market has ever seen, there was no week-long walk down memory lane. There was no reminiscing about how the jocks of old broke barriers and broke rules to produce great content. There were no rock star interviews about how much the station meant to them back in the day. There was just a memo and a flick of the off switch. Poof. Gone.
The station that signed on in March of 1977, signed off in March of 2018. It did alter the format over the years, flirting with Talk and AC in the ’90s, and several variations of rock after that. So, what happened to The Loop? How did WLUP go from being on top of the radio world to the graveyard of discarded call letters?
John Sebastian, one of radio’s great programmers, consulted The Loop at one time and tells Radio Ink he installed his kick ass Rock and Roll format there in the early ’80s. “I have a special place in my heart for this radio station and the city of Chicago. WLUP failing highlights a microcosm of the ‘devolving’ of radio. It changed ownership way too often, changed formats too many times destroying their heritage rock image and, like most radio stations in America, suffered from a severe lack of financial support needed for the station to remain competitive. It’s sad. But it’s a heartbreaking commentary on the state of radio.”
Another one of radio’s greatest programmers Lee Abrams, not only consulted WLUP, he hired Steve Dahl in 1978 when the station was owned by Cecil Heftel. Abrams says the reason WLUP did not survive is because it did not evolve. “1978, their creative peak, was 40 years ago, and like so many ‘heritage’ stations they failed to aggressively evolve and have been on autopilot for quite some time. Their years of ownership changes complicated things.”
Jacobs Media Strategies President Fred Jacobs doesn’t think this was a fail at all. “The station’s status was obviously unconventional between Merlin and Cumulus. And EMF deciding to change formats doesn’t mean they failed – they have their own format of choice. They weren’t buying The Loop, they’re buying 97.9 FM in Chicago. That said, The Loop is like a lot of iconic Rock stations that went through so many different gyrations and iterations — it lost something in translation. With no disrespect to the current crew, The Loop that most Chicagoans remember and adore was the version with Dahl, Brandmeier, the Lorelei ‘Remarkable Mouth’ commercials, and a staff of great DJs. And THAT logo. In the ‘80s, you couldn’t go to Chicago without spotting someone wearing a Loop shirt every 10 feet. It truly was a remarkable radio station.”
The legendary WLUP DJ Steve Dahl, tells Radio Ink, “So many great broadcasters made WLUP a beloved Chicago icon, and I’m honored that people associate those call letters so closely with me. Lee Abrams was the genius who put it all together. That needs to be said. WLUP changed my life, made my radio dreams come true and made me who I am today. I guess they are keeping the call letters and dropping “The Loop”. W-Let-Us-Pray? Long live The Loop and long live radio.”