WGN Coming Up on 90th Anniversary: Flagship Chicago Radio Station’s Longevity Confirms Medium’s Vitality

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In a media landscape that is growing and changing nearly every day, most of the players are relatively new. CNN is barely 30 years old and Fox News is a teenager at age 15. Even New York’s WABC-AM radio station is only 60 years old. So when Chicago flagship radio station WGN-AM announces that 2012 will be its 90th birthday, it’s cause for celebration.

But it’s not just about a big birthday or a dazzling history; it’s that WGN is a sterling example of why the medium of radio isn’t going away anytime soon. Over the course of its 90 years, WGN has been with us through some of the key stages of American history and with some of our country’s most beloved broadcasters.

After doing some homework I found that back in 1925, it was the first radio station to broadcast from a courtroom. WGN allowed the nation to listen to the famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, where teacher John Scopes was tried and convicted of teaching the theory of evolution in a public classroom, in violation of a local ordinance.

WGN was also the first home of Paul Harvey, whose voice and news perspective graced the airways from 1933 until his passing in 2009. His signature show, The Rest of the Story, debuted on May 10, 1976, after he had already been in radio for more than 40 years. In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded Harvey the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S.

WGN not only groomed vital broadcasters, but it was also home to some of the most entertaining ones. Longtime Chicago Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, who called games for the Cubbies from 1982 until 1997, will long be remembered by Chicago natives for his love of the city and where his namesake restaurant still serves the Cubs’ faithful. Others outside of Chicago will remember Caray for the outrageous way comedians like Jay Mohr, Will Ferrell and others lampooned Caray over the years.

As WGN continues in the new millennium, they are branching out into the new ways radio stations can be heard by listeners. Fans can listen live online from their desktop or laptop computer or on the go by downloading WGN’s app for iPhones and Blackberry smartphones. They understand that it’s no longer just about the size of their signal tower, but also about leveraging new technology to continue to connect with listeners.

That’s the resilience of radio. Instead of cowering at the power of new technologies, the radio industry harnesses it for its own purposes. They understand that those voices in the air will always have power and people will always want to listen, whether they hear the show in their cars, at home, on their computers or even their smartphones.

Radio is everywhere because people like it. And that’s why the interview format on radio remains so relevant in marketing. The power of being a guest on a show is that 10 to 20 minutes of valuable air time where you’re able to engage a loyal and dedicated audience with your message. Complement this with the implicit third-party endorsement you receive from the host and you have marketing gold.

Radio isn’t going anywhere. Instead, it’s going to continue to grow and extend its reach, as technology keeps introducing new ways to deliver content to the consumer in this fast-paced e-world. WGN understands this and that’s why they are the grand old man of the industry.

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