|City of license||Chicago, Illinois|
|Broadcast area||Chicago market|
|Branding||97.9 FM The Loop|
|Slogan||Chicago's Classic Rock Station|
|Frequency||97.9 MHz (also on HD Radio)|
|First air date||1950s (as WEHS)|
|Format||FM/HD1: Classic rock
HD3: Smooth AC
|Callsign meaning||A play on the "Loop" branding, which is taken from The Loop, Chicago's downtown district|
|Former callsigns||WEHS (1950s-?)
|Owner||Merlin Media, LLC (operated by Cumulus Media via LMA)
(Merlin Media License, LLC)
|Sister stations||WKQX, WLS, WLS-FM|
WLUP-FM (97.9 FM, "The Loop") is a commercial classic rock radio station serving the Chicago metropolitan area. The station is owned by Merlin Media, LLC, and is operated by Cumulus Media. WLUP transmits its signal from an antenna located atop the John Hancock Center in Downtown Chicago at a height of 1,390 feet (420 m) with an effective radiated power of 4,000 watts, studios are co-located with sister station WKQX in the Merchandise Mart. WLUP can be heard as far away as Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is 90 miles (140 km) from Chicago. WLUP also airs HD Radio programming on two subchannels: 97.9-HD2 airs a comedy format ("Loop Laffs"), while 97.9-HD3 airs a locally produced Smooth Jazz/Soft AC hybrid format.
History of 97.9 FM prior to WLUP
WLUP's first call letters in the 1950s were WEHS, which was originally owned by Evanston Township High School in the 1920s. Richard Hoffman, owner of WHFC, in the early 1930s bought out two radio stations which shared the 1420 kHz frequency of his station: WEHS and WKBI. He revived the WEHS call letters in the late 1940s for a new FM station. WEHS broadcast background music for National Tea Grocery stores in the Chicago area. When the contract with National ran out in the mid-1950s, WEHS simulcast WHFC's foreign language and black programming for six hours a day, the minimum broadcast time to keep the license. When the Chess Brothers purchased WHFC and changed its call letters to WVON (We're the Voice of the Negroes), they changed the WEHS call letters to WHFC-FM. 97.9 then simulcasted WVON 24 hours a day. In the mid-1960s, the station began airing separate programming as WSDM ("We're Smack Dab in the Middle" of the FM dial). They also briefly used the term "Stereo Den for Men"; the format featured all female announcers (Yvonne Daniels and Dr. Cody Sweet among others) playing light jazz and instrumental music. This light jazz & instrumental format was similar to the more recent "Smooth Jazz" formats. In the 1970s, WSDM began to mix album rock music with its light jazz. Although WVON was sold to the Potter Palmer family in the late 1960s, the Chess family held on to WSDM, which was being run by one of Chess' sons.
WSDM was owned by the Chess family of Chess, Checker and Cadet Records fame through their company, L & P Broadcasting. "L" stood for Leonard Chess, who primarily ran the record labels and recording studio, while brother Phil Chess ("P") was president of the radio company. Son Terry Chess was General Manager of WSDM through much of the early and mid-1970s. The WSDM call letters acronym stood for "Smack Dab in the Middle", "the middle" meaning the exact middle of the FM radio dial. The radio station positioned itself as "jazzed up rock" and the "station with the girls"—a reference to the all-female air talent. Its original program director was Burt Burdeen. Among the disc jockeys were Connie Szerszen, Cindy Morgan (who later left radio, went to Los Angeles and became an actress, her career including roles in such films as Caddyshack and Tron), Danae Alexander, Linda Ellerbee, Yvonne Daniels, Dr. Cody Sweet, Kitty Loewy, Susan Payne, Janice Gears and Glorie June. There were guys on "the station with the girls", too. Announcers such as David Witz (cousin of former WCFL General Manager Lew Witz) and Don Davis (later an air talent on WDAI/Chicago and then a Program Director for WWDC in Washington, D.C. and WCKG-FM/Chicago) appeared on WSDM in the mid-1970s. Davis made the transition from WSDM to the WLUP airstaff when the format changed in 1977.
The call letters changed to WLUP in March 1977. The station called itself "The Loop FM98" which is what the main business district in Chicago is nicknamed. The first song on "The Loop" was "Morning Has Broken" by Cat Stevens. WLUP programmed a low-key female-friendly AOR format (similar to today's classic rock-formatted 97.1 The Drive). Jay Blackburn was Program Director and Tommy O'Toole served as the stations first morning host and was the first Loop DJ to sign on the air. The original Loop air staff included O'Toole in mornings, William "Captain Billy" Martin in middays, Les Tracy in afternoon drive, Gregory "Greg" Budell evenings, and Don Davis overnights, alongside was WLUP's 1st ever Rock Girl herself Lorelei "Pow!" Shark as the official spokesperson and as the face of The Loop in 1978.
Hawaiian Congressman Cecil Heftel purchased the radio station in early 1979, kept the call letters, and "Loop" identifier. Lee Abrams was hired as consultant. The rock format was kept in place, but emphasis was put on harder-edged rock. Steve Dahl, who had been unemployed since WDAI (94.7) went to a disco format in December 1978, becoming the basis for one of the most infamous promotions in sports history, Disco Demolition Night, was hired for mornings in March 1979. Overnight disc jockey Matthew "Mondo" Meier was teamed with Dahl to do news. He started using his real first name "Garry". Garry became Steve's full-time sidekick when Buzz Kilman was hired as the newsman in 1980. Chuck Swirsky provided sports reports. Steve and Garry were fired in 1981 for "assaulting community standards". A series of morning men including Matt Bisbee, Mark McEwen (who later gained national fame as a CBS network TV weatherman), and the team of R.J. Harris and Pat Still tried their hand until Jonathon "Johnny B." Brandmeier from KZZP was hired in April 1983. Kilman remained as newsman and Bruce Wolf replaced Swirsky when he went to WGN in 1981. Steve and Garry returned in 1986 to host afternoons.
In 1985, Heftel Broadcasting bought AM 1000 WCFL, which was once a powerful CHR (Top 40) station, but then became a Christian music and teaching station. In April 1987, that station became WLUP as well, making the FM station WLUP-FM. The religious format was dropped from 1000 WLUP and the station simulcast WLUP-FM overnights. During the day, though, WLUP 1000 ran a full service rock format while focusing on talk. By 1990, the AM station would evolve to mostly talk with a few rock songs mixed in per hour.
WLUP-FM also began mixing more talk into the format by simulcasting the AM station, and evolved to a Talk/Comedy format by 1993. Shortly after, the AM station became a sports station as WMVP. WLUP-FM became WLUP again, and evolved to a talk format with a few rock songs mixed in per hour.
WLUP was one of the first stations to have the "FM talk" or "hot talk" (comedy/talk) format in the early 1990s. Some of the shows were Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, Danny Bonaduce, Liz Wilde, Kevin Matthews, Jonathon Brandmeier, with "News-man/Blues-man" Buzz Kilman, Ed Schwartz and Seka. In February 1996, sister station WYNY in New York simulcasted WLUP for a day as part of a week-long stunt of simulcasting sister stations nationwide before flipping formats to rhythmic adult contemporary as WKTU.
By the early 1990s, Heftel had acquired a lot of Spanish radio stations. Its English speaking stations were sold off one by one, and WLUP-FM was sold to Evergreen as a result. Evergreen kept the talk/comedy/rock format, but only for a short time. WLUP switched to a Modern AC format in late 1996. In 1997, Evergreen and Chancellor merged. Evergreen opted to sell WLUP to Bonneville in July (which already had a Modern AC outlet in WTMX), and then switched WLUP to a classic rock format. In June 1998, WLUP adopted the slogan, "Classic Rock That Really Rocks". During this period, full-time on air personalities included Steve Downes, Pete McMurray, Seaver, Cara Carriveau, Scott Loftus, Jimmy Novak, Laura Steele, Sari and Mark Zander.
Emmis Communications traded three of their stations in Phoenix to Bonneville for WLUP-FM and $70 million in 2004. While under Emmis ownership, WLUP slowly evolved into a mainstream rock format, while continuing to lean on classic rock with a harder edge.
On January 15, 2007, Chicago's NBC owned and operated station, WMAQ-TV channel 5, began a new weekday morning show called ''Barely Today which airs from 4:30–5 a.m. The new morning show was simulcast on WLUP-FM and hosted by Bruce Wolf, who was the former weekday morning traffic/sports anchor for WMAQ.
On September 8, 2008, Emmis announced a programming partnership with WorldBand Media and used WLUP's HD3 signal to produce programming for the South Asian communities in 3 major cities, including Chicago. The South Asian format, known as HumDesi Radio, became available on the HD-2 signal of alternative-rock sister station WKQX.
By 2011, WLUP shifted completely to a classic rock format.
On May 3, 2012, Merlin added a satellite-fed version of the smooth jazz format on WLUP's HD3 subchannel (97.9-HD3). As of July 2012, the syndicated Broadcast Architecture Smooth Jazz feed has been dropped and replaced with a locally produced, automated Smooth AC format featuring a wide mix of music from Frank Sinatra to The Jackson Five in addition to instrumental contemporary jazz.
Sale to Merlin Media
On June 21, 2011, Emmis announced that it would sell WKQX, sister station WLUP-FM, and New York's WRXP to Merlin Media, a group headed by former Tribune Company executive Randy Michaels. Emmis, who would retain a minority stake in Merlin Media, would grant Merlin a local marketing agreement to operate WKQX and WLUP-FM from July 15 until the sale to Merlin officially closed on September 1.
LMA with Cumulus Media
On January 3, 2014, Merlin Media announced an local marketing agreement (LMA) with Cumulus Media that would see Cumulus take over operations of WLUP-FM and sister station WIQI as well as inherit Merlin's LMA for WKQX-LP. The deal includes an option for Cumulus to purchase the stations from Merlin. The deal sees Merlin relinquish operations of its last remaining radio stations; the company had previously sold off single stations in New York City and Philadelphia in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The deal also sees an expansion of Cumulus' Chicago reach; the company already owns and operates news/talk station WLS (890 AM) and classic hits station WLS-FM (94.7).
On September 15, 2014, three quarters of the new Loop on-air talent lineup were named. Midday personality Lyndsey Marie (Lyndsey Marie Cook), afternoon personality Tim Virgin (replacing Patrick Capone, who was released on September 12, 2014). Virgin previously worked at The Loop in the mid-’90s during their brief run as a Modern AC. Also added is evening personality Pyke (Jeremy Peterson). Mornings will remain open while The Loop conducts a nationwide search to replace Maxwell (Benjamin Bornstein) and John Czahor (who were also released on September 12, 2014).
In 2009, Jonathon "Johnny B." Brandmeier exited WLUP. Byrd, previously on middays, moved into morning drive and weekender Patrick Capone took over Byrd's midday time slot. Pete McMurray also took over the 7 pm to 12 am shift. Jonathon Brandmeier can now be heard on WGN.fm
Radio personality and WEBN alum Maxwell "Max" Logan (Benjamin Bornstein), best known for his years as host of The Maxwell Show at WMMS and WNCX in Cleveland, took over as the WLUP-FM morning host on July 30, 2012. Former personality Zakk Tyler (Dominic Zaccagnini) was also returned.
The Weekend Loop Jocks include Tommy O'Toole (the first WLUP D.J. to sign on), Mike Noonan, Alan Daley, Jillian "Jill" Egan, and Don Nelson.
Their current Loop Rock Girl is Shannon Ihrke.
Music theme shows include:
- The Loop's 97 @ 9 (97 minutes of commercial-free music, every weekday at both 9am and 9pm)
Some of the former music themed shows include:
- The Loop's Get The Led Out! (a three-song set of Led Zeppelin songs that aired weeknights at 8 pm)
- The Loop's Saturday Night Rock Of The 1980s (an all-'80s rock music show that aired from 7-9pm)
- The Loop On Stage! (a full hour of live rock music that aired at 10 pm on Friday nights)
- The Loop's Live At Nine (a full hour of live rock music aired weeknights at 9pm)
- The Loop's 11 Grooves (a full album played weeknights at 11pm)
- The Loop's Rock 'N' Roll Diner (all request show weekdays at 12noon)
- The Loop's Two Fer Tuesdays (2 songs from the same artist, every Tuesday, all day)
Saturday Night Rock Of The '80s was originated by one-time Night and Overnight DJ Zander in 2003. He brought the show over from WCKG where he created it in 1997, and later took it to WXXY (The '80s Channel). He now is heard on "the Rockin' '80s", airing on over 45 stations in North America.
Dr. Demento was carried on WLUP from 1987 through 2010, just prior to when Dr. Demento ceased over-the-air broadcasting.
Advertising and Promotion
In the early 1990s, WLUP aired a popular television commercial featuring a fat man dubbed "Joey Bag O' Donuts" dancing to Aerosmith's "Walk This Way". In the time span since the original commercial was aired, the footage of the dancing fat man in the commercial has been used by numerous other radio stations across the country. The original WLUP commercial was re-created in the mid-late 2000s and briefly featured Kelly the Loop Rock Girl.
On April 25, 2008, The Loop crowned its first ever Rock Girl Roadie winner, Mike Gentile, a paramedic, from Westchester, IL, at the Loop Rock Girl Finals at Austin's Saloon in Libertyville. Gentile got to shadow the station's 2008 spokesmodel, Kelly, also known as The Loop Rock Girl, for an entire year as she went onstage for band introductions, backstage to meet musicians, or in the front row of the audience to watch the show. Gentile kept a detailed blog for The Loop's Web site about all of his experiences. Gentile gained local celebrity status when he hosted a Hometown Tour pilot with 97.9 "The Loop's" Mid-day radio personality Erin Carmen and with a highly viewed video featuring the 2008 Loop Rock Girl, Kelly, getting guitar lessons from Mike. In the video, Kelly hinted that there would be a series of videos showing her progression.
- Chicagoland Radio Call-Sign History http://www.angelfire.com/zine/forty2/radiohistory.html
- "Yvonne Daniels, Radio Hall of Fame". Radio Hall of Fame. Retrieved June 10, 2010.
- Eggerton, John. "New Morning Show for NBC's Chicago WMAQ." Broadcasting & Cable. December 21, 2006. Retrieved on October 12, 2007.
- Staff Writer. "NBC5 To Air 'Barely Today' At 4:30 A.M.." WMAQ-TV. December 21, 2006. Retrieved on October 12, 2007.
- "Emmis and WorldBand Media Partner to Launch First-of-Its-Kind Digital Radio Network" (Press release). PR Newswire. September 9, 2008. Retrieved September 13, 2008. "Top 3 U.S. markets to offer programming in HD for the South Asian ethnic community"
- "Smooth Jazz, Alternative Returns to Chicago Air". Radio Online. May 3, 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-06.
- Feder, Robert (June 21, 2011). "Q101, Loop deal blows Randy Michaels back into radio business". Time Out Chicago. Retrieved June 21, 2011.
- "Merlin Media Officially Owns WLUP & WWWN," from Chicagoland Radio Media, 9/2/2011
- "Deal for 'the Loop' gives radio powerhouse bigger reach in Chicago," from Crain's Chicago Business, 1/4/2014
- "Cumulus Purchasing All Merlin Media Properties; Alternative Coming Back To 101.1," from Chicagoland Radio & Media, 1/3/201
- Robertfeder.com http://www.robertfeder.com/2014/09/15/tim-virgin-returns-to-new-loop-lineup/
- ChicagoRadioandMedia.com http://chicagoradioandmedia.com/news/6850-wlup-fm-releases-morning-show-personalities-maxwell-and-john-czahor
- ChicagoRadioandMedia.com http://chicagoradioandmedia.com/news/6849-wlup-fm-releases-patrick-capone
- "Johnny B. leaves Loop 'looking for a new radio home'; Byrd flies to mornings". Chicago Tribune. November 30, 2009.
- "In Brief - July 25, 2012". FMQB.com. Friday Morning Quarterback Album Report, Inc. and Mediaspan Online Services. July 25, 2012. Retrieved September 12, 2012. "... Rock WLUP (The Loop)/Chicago will replace current morning man Pete McMurray with Maxwell, starting July 30. ... best known for his time on afternoon drive at WMMS/Cleveland."
- "Joey Bag O Donuts." YouTube. September 27, 2006. Retrieved on October 12, 2007.
- Rock Girl Roadie Webpage,
- Roadie Bio
- Austin's Saloon events log
- Loop Rock Girl Webpage
- Rock Girl Roadie's Official Blog
- Official Loop Webpage
- Hometown Tours
- Roadie's Guitar Lessons
- 97.9 The Loop official website
- Query the FCC's FM station database for WLUP
- Radio-Locator information on WLUP
- Query Nielsen Audio's FM station database for WLUP