Logos for WCFS-FM's primary and secondary channels
|City||Elmwood Park, Illinois|
|Broadcast area||Chicago, Illinois|
"Newsradio 780 and 105.9 FM" (HD1)|
"Fresh 105.9 HD2" (HD2)
(also on HD Radio)
|First air date||1940s|
All-News (simulcast of WBBM 780)|
HD2: Hot Adult Contemporary music
|HAAT||482 meters (1,581 ft)|
|Callsign meaning||We're Chicago's Fresh Station (HD2 branding and former primary branding)|
WOAK, WFMT, WLEY (1948–1959)|
(CBS Radio Holdings of Orlando, LLC)
|Sister stations||WBBM, WBBM-FM, WBMX, WSCR, WUSN, WXRT|
WBBM 780 and 105.9 Webstream|
Fresh 105.9 HD2 Webstream
WCFS-FM (105.9 FM), known on-air as "WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9", is a radio station licensed to Elmwood Park, Illinois and serving the Chicago, Illinois market. It is owned and operated by Entercom. WCFS-FM broadcasts from a 4.1 kW transmitter atop Willis Tower, and its studios are located at Two Prudential Plaza in the Loop.
- HD1 is a simulcast of the traditional (analog) signal, which is a simulcast of "WBBM Newsradio".
- HD2 airs a Hot AC music format, branded "Fresh 105.9".
Early days as WLEY
The first radio station on 105.9 was WOAK, owned by Bernard Jacobs, future owner of WFMT. The station aired classical, popular music and jazz. Call letters were changed to WFMT when the format changed to classical music. WFMT moved to 98.7 FM when WGNB abandoned that frequency in the early 1950s. WLEY, formerly at 107.1 MHz, then moved to 105.9 MHz. The "LEY" in the station's call letters stood for Leyden Township, which contains the city of license of Elmwood Park. The station broadcast in English and Polish. WLEY broadcast the Polish Barn Dance nightly.
At the time, WLEY was located in a non-air-conditioned three-room shack behind an awning store near Grand and Harlem in Elmwood Park, Illinois. The broadcast tower still stands on the west side of Harlem Avenue, but the WCKG transmitter relocated to the Sears Tower in 1974, one of the first to use its broadcast facility.
The Broadcasting Yearbook notes that WXFM was originally a local station for Elmwood Park. It was broadcast on 107.1 in the early 1950s, moving to 105.9 by 1960. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shut down WCLM (because it broadcast horse race results on its sub-carrier), WXFM moved to the WCLM studio in the 333 N. Michigan Building in downtown.
The FCC website references that the station was sold by its original owner, Zeb Zarnecki, to Evelyn Schoenfield, a school teacher. Schoenfield hired Robert Victor to run the station. Victor was the son-in-law of Sol Polk, owner of Polk Brothers appliance stores. Polk Brothers sponsored several fine arts programs on the station. In the early 1960s, Victor took financial control of WXFM, without FCC approval. That move caught up with him as the FCC revoked the station license and put the frequency up for bid. Bidders included a Blue Island, Illinois station owner who had run WRBI-FM there, and Victor himself. Because of his radio programming experience, Robert Victor was awarded the new license, now called WXFM Incorporated.
Announcers in the 1960s included Stu Olsen (now in California), Al Von Maisch (the overnight host), Tod Branson (later a Milwaukee sportscaster), George Miller (night host) and Tom Jurek (sportscaster).
WXFM played a mix of classical music, folk music, and broadway showtunes. Sponsors included Polk Brothers (for the overnight show). It was affiliated with the "Market One Network", a sales representative who also sold for WQXR in New York City.
Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, WXFM would offer a wide range of music programs. During the day, Count BJ would spin jazz and big band favorites, Libby Olar hosted a Jewish program and Dick Lawrence played the "Best of Broadway". In 1969, WXFM became the home of "Triad Radio," a show that had originated on WEAW-FM in Evanston and featured a free-form album rock format. The show's irreverence and wide variety of musical styles would draw attention and listeners; introducing young Chicago ears to many new and unique bands. Hosted by the very hippish Saul Smaizys, Triad would gain cult status as the epitome of non-conformist radio. During late nights, Ron Ray hosted classical music before having to run over to his day job at WNIB. Stereo facilities were added in 1971 that added to Triad's popularity.
Throughout the 1970s, WXFM continued to offer a diverse selection of programs as well as being one of the last major Chicago FM stations to offer brokering. However, changing demographics would also affect WXFM. The rise of album rock radio in the mid-70s would drive Triad from the airwaves in 1977, and the station began to cater towards blues and jazz listeners.
By the early 1980s, WXFM had evolved into a predominately jazz station, playing a lot of fusion and what would later be called New Age. The price of FM properties in Chicago continued to rise, and Victor took an offer from Cox Enterprises of Atlanta to sell the station in January 1984. In its last days before being sold to Cox, WXFM featured a brokered jazz format on weekdays and a gospel music format on weekends, which included broadcasts of the Sunday services of several African-American churches. Weekday jazz disc jockeys included Dick Buckley and Holmes "Daddy-O" Daylie.
After Cox bought the station, it flipped to Top 40 as WAGO "G-106," and featured John Records Landecker in mornings, who had made a name for himself on WLS. The format was changed to AOR in February 1985, and the call letters became WCKG. Initially, the station played rock from 1964 through the then-present day, focusing on 1970s rock, but still playing a lot of current product. WCKG hired several former on-air staff from the formerly AOR WMET, which had evolved to AC.
By the late 1980s, the station began to lean toward classic rock, and by 1990, WCKG was a classic rock station. Air personalities included Mitch Michaels, Patti Haze, Allan Stagg, Joe Thomas, and Debbie Alexander.
WCKG would pick up Howard Stern for mornings in March 1995. Stern and Chicago shock jock Mancow Muller of WRCX would have numerous feuds over the years. Stern's show would be dropped in October of that year, due to content issues, with the show moving to WJJD.
The station was sold to CBS Radio in May 1996. The station began evolving to a talk format in July 1996 with the addition of Chicago radio legend Steve Dahl in the afternoons and Stern returning to mornings, remaining classic rock in the other dayparts. Music jocks heard at this time included Kitty Loewy, Mark Zander, Phil Manicki, Kim Kelly, Tom Stevens, Karyn Kasi, Mike Summers, Bob Zak and Zach Harris. By 1998, WCKG had evolved to a hot talk format outside of overnights and weekends; the remaining music would be phased out by 1999, being replaced by infomercials and "best-of" programming. In addition to Stern and Dahl, other hosts and programs during the talk era include Jonathon Brandmeier, Patti Haze & Mary Pat LaRue, Kevin Matthews, Pete McMurray, Karen Hand, Dr. Kelly Johnson, Bill O'Reilly, Jim Cramer, Buzz Kilman, Wendy Snyder, Spike Manton, Frankie "Hollywood" Rodriguez, Bob Sirott, Marianne Murciano, Little Steven's Underground Garage, and "The House of Blues Hour" with Elwood Blues. During this time, the station continually flipped monikers, from "Chicago's Super CKG" to "105.9 The PaCKaGe" to "105.9 WCKG" to "Chicago's Fun House".
The return of rock to overnights and weekends in 2002 resulted in the station's re-positioning as "Talk That Rocks"; the playlist initially focused on active rock which slowly evolved to mainstream rock before being removed again by 2004. On October 25, 2005, with the re-branding of Infinity-owned FM talk stations to the "Free FM" brand, WCKG became known as "105.9 WCKG, Chicago's Free FM".
With Stern's departure from terrestrial radio on December 16, 2005, Infinity announced that effective January 3, 2006, WCKG would become the flagship radio station of Rover's Morning Glory. Following months of poor ratings, Rover's Morning Glory was dropped on August 1, 2006, and was replaced by the New York-based The Opie and Anthony Show. Steve Dahl continued to host afternoon drive, which featured newsman Buzz Kilman.
In early 2007, WCKG placed more emphasis on local announcers, with new programs featuring Matt Dahl and Garry Meier, and dropped the "Free FM" name to become "Chicago's FM Talk Station". On July 23, 2007 at 2:00 pm, the station began calling itself "The Package" once again, at the urging of Steve Dahl. These moves, however, were not enough to save the station's ratings, which despite an upward turn thanks to Meier, had still not recovered from loss of Stern. By this time, the weekday lineup consisted of Opie & Anthony, Meier, Stan Lawrence & Terry Armour, Steve and Matt Dahl, Glenn Beck, Loveline, Bill O'Reilly, and John & Jeff. Weekends consisted of infomercials and brokered programming.
October 29, 2007 was the last day of the talk format on WCKG, as hosts and station staff said their goodbyes on-air. At 5:00 p.m. that day, Steve Dahl announced that his show would continue to air through November 2 on WCKG, with best-of clips airing for the rest of the day, and his entire show moving to sister station WJMK on November 5.
From October 29 until November 4, 2007, WCKG stunted by playing clips of the Steve Dahl Show around the clock. On November 2, CBS Radio planted stories with the media writers at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune that the station would switch to an all-Christmas format that afternoon before an after-Christmas unveiling of its actual new format. However this was a ruse, designed to throw future competitor and long-time ratings leader WLIT-FM off from its plans to start playing all-Christmas beginning November 8. WLIT ended up switching to all-Christmas music the morning on the 2nd; CBS Radio "backed off" its all-Christmas plan (which was actually designed to give the future WCFS a two-month head start on WTMX), and continued to play the best of Dahl all weekend.
Dahl's show moved to WJMK and became its new morning show on November 5. That day, WCKG shifted its stunting by simulcasting several of Chicago's other CBS Radio affiliates. From 5:30 to 10 am, it simulcasted Dahl's first show on WJMK. From 10 am until 2 pm, it simulcasted WSCR. From 2 to 4 pm, it simulcasted WXRT, and from 4 to 5 pm, it simulcasted WBBM (a harbinger of its future format). At 5 pm local time, after the CBS Radio News bell for the top of the hour newscast, WCKG became "Fresh 105.9" with an adult contemporary format. The first song played was "Beautiful Day" by U2. The station shared its branding with sister station WWFS in New York City (that station flipped to hot AC in 2011). The new station, even though considered as adult contemporary by CBS Radio and others, primiarily played hot adult contemporary/adult top 40 hits, but was still reported on Mediabase & Nielsen BDS on the adult contemporary panel.
The station adopted the new WCFS calls on November 26, 2007, after FCC approval. A religious station owned by the Christian Fellowship Church in Du Quoin, Illinois also uses the same calls, but is a low power FM station, and thus identifies as WCFS-LP and will be able to keep those calls.
On February 25, 2008, morning personality Mike LeBaron and midday personality Lisa Greene signed on as the first DJ's on Chicago's "Fresh 105.9." On April 13, Program Director Mike Peterson named Rick Hall as afternoon host. Previously, LeBaron had been well known as a longtime part-time market veteran at WTMX-FM and WUSN-FM. Fellow market veteran Greene previously hosted an Oldies dance show on WJMK and similar features at WILV and WUBT (now WKSC-FM), was an APD/MD for AC stations, and had worked for many years as a traffic and news reporter, and co-host. Hall worked double duty as weekend/fill-in host at sister station WUSN and music director–midday host at Milwaukee's WFZH.
On September 28, 2009, Roxanne Steele, former B96/Chicago radio DJ, announced she would be returning to CBS Radio for afternoon host duties at WCFS. Rick Hall moves to mornings on a temporary basis as morning man Mike LeBaron exits.
On November 30, 2009, Steve Fisher debuted as the new morning man on WCFS. Upon Fisher's arrival, Rick Hall was moved to middays. However less than a year later, new program director Jim Ryan told reporters that Hall had been released in favor of Fresh weekender Brook Hunter.
On August 1, 2011, at 8:10 am, after redirecting listeners to sister stations WBBM-FM and WUSN, and playing an hour and a half of "end"-themed songs (which ended with "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men and the first six seconds of "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds), WCFS replaced the "Fresh" AC format with an FM simulcast of its all-news sister station, WBBM, which had been simulcast on WCFS' HD2 subchannel. The move, mentioned in press releases as being done to allow WBBM's all-news format to be heard in downtown office buildings where the AM signal is unlistenable, was seen in some circles as a counter to FM competitor WWWN (now WKQX, which was in the process of transitioning to an all-news format, which formally occurred on July 29, 2011 (3 days before WCFS's move)). The "Fresh" AC format was moved to WCFS-HD2 on August 1, rebranding as "The New Sound of Fresh 105.9 HD2" and continuing online streaming on the Fresh website. Though WCFS uses WBBM's on-air branding ("NewsRadio 780 and 105.9 FM, WBBM"), its official call sign remains as is (and was not converted to WBBM-FM), thanks to Arbitron's use of the Portable People Meter for Chicago radio ratings, which does not need call letter verification. WBBM thus identifies both signals in a rushed form of station identification at :56 past the hour as "WBBM-HD Chicago, WCFS-FM-HD1 Elmwood Park-Chicago".
WIQI's "FM News" format failed in the market and was ended on July 17, 2012 to be replaced by a 90's-centric adult hits format. WBBM's move to place a simulcast on WCFS has been cited as one of the factors (beyond those of the station itself) of that station's failure to challenge WBBM, though the effect in WBBM's ratings with the simulcast was considered a minor, yet needed push to establish WBBM's news format on the FM dial by most Chicago media analysts.
The move left WLIT-FM as the main adult contemporary radio station at the time in Chicago. Three months later that same year, KNBQ in Seattle would follow, entirely dropping country music in favor of sports talk, simulcasting KJR. Clear Channel kept the KJR-FM calls on its station (located at 95.7 FM), which is classic hits instead of sports talk, making it one of two major market stations in 2011 to retain the calls after format flips, even though the same callsign's FM counterparts would have different formats despite being owned the same owner.
This is the second CBS Radio station in Chicago to flip formats during 2011; WJMK ditched Jack FM and its adult hits format to revert to an updated version of its successful classic hits format early in 2011. In addition, WCFS-FM is the second Fresh FM station to ditch the adult contemporary format, the other being WIAD in Washington, D.C.. WWFS/New York City would follow two months later, switching to hot adult contemporary like WIAD, leaving KEZK in St. Louis, Missouri (which started using the branding in December 2010) the last Fresh FM station with an AC format. The switch also had the secondary effect of giving the NFL's Chicago Bears their first Chicago FM home in their history due to the simulcast.
As WBBM carried Chicago Cubs baseball exclusively over the 780 frequency in for the 2015 season, it was decided that WCFS-FM would continue to carry the all-news format throughout the day, including during Cubs broadcasts, allowing the station to continue to cover news events and stream the station online without a continuous looping disclaimer. Bears broadcasts continued to air on both WBBM and WCFS except in cases of conflicts, where WCFS would instead carry Cubs games. In concert with this, 105.9's frequency began to become the primary means of identifying the station in promotional forms and reporter tags over the 780 AM frequency. Starting with the 2016 season where CBS Radio exercised a clause where the Cubs moved to WSCR upon the move of the rights of White Sox broadcasts to Cumulus Media's WLS (890), WBBM and WCFS returned to a full-time straight simulcast after the end of the 2015 season.
On February 2, 2017, CBS Radio announced it would merge with Entercom. The merger was approved on November 9, 2017, and was consummated on the 17th.
- http://hdradio.com/station_guides/widget.php?id=25 Archived October 9, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. HD Radio Guide for Chicago
- "Vox Jox". Billboard. 107 (41): 79. Oct 14, 1995.
- "Chicago - Chicago : News : Politics : Things To Do : Sports". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on May 4, 2007.
- "Chicago - Chicago : News : Politics : Things To Do : Sports". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on November 4, 2007.
- "Chicago - Chicago : News : Politics : Things To Do : Sports". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on November 8, 2007.
- "Topic Galleries - chicagotribune.com". Chicago Tribune.
- "Topic Galleries - chicagotribune.com". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on January 27, 2008.
- Fresh sound unveiled at WCKG
- Roxanne Steele re-hired by CBS for Fresh 105.9 duties
- Mike LeBaron out as Fresh 105.9 morning man
- Steve Fisher gets Fresh morning slot
- "Midday host Rick Hall out at Fresh 105.9". Chicago Tribune. June 18, 2010.
- "Brooke Hunter to host midday on CBS Radio Chicago's WCFS-FM". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bill Gamble Out as Program Director at CBS WUSNFM and WCFSFM
- "Goodbye to Fresh in Chicago as WBBM to be a Simulcast". All Access Music Group. July 14, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2011.
- "Merlin Media launches Chicago's first all-news FM station," from Chicago Tribune, 8/1/2011
- "Merlin Media Officially Launches FM News 101.1/Chicago," from FMQB, 8/1/2011
- Feder, Robert (July 15, 2011). "It's official: CBS to expand Newsradio brand with FM simulcast". Time Out Chicago. Retrieved July 15, 2011.
- CBS Radio to Merge with Entercom
- Entercom Receives FCC Approval for Merger with CBS Radio
- Entercom Completes CBS Radio Merger
- Official website
- Fresh 105.9 HD2 Website
- Query the FCC's FM station database for WCFS
- Radio-Locator information on WCFS
- Query Nielsen Audio's FM station database for WCFS