White Sox may need new radio flagship, and soon

Cumulus Media, owner of WLS-AM 890, announces plan to reject contract with White Sox as part of bankruptcy proceedings

After just two years at WLS AM 890, the White Sox may have to find another radio home.

Cumulus Media, which owns WLS, filed motions to reject its contracts with the White Sox and Bulls among “a handful of extremely unprofitable contracts” in bankruptcy proceedings.

The press release published Wednesday goes on to say “the economic terms of these legacy contracts guarantee that we lose money and, as such, continuing them in their current form is not in Cumulus’s best interests.” The filing elaborates on that, saying Cumulus “accordingly concluded that the contracts provide no current value, or prospect of future value, and constitute an undue burden on the debtors’ estates.”

A court in New York is scheduled to rule on the motions on Feb. 1, when one of a few things can happen.

No. 1: The White Sox and Bulls renegotiate with Cumulus, although Cumulus’ CEO Mary Berner said the company hadn’t been able to find success attempting to revise terms. She didn’t specify which teams or properties were involved in such discussions, only “in many of these situations.”

No. 2: Jerry Reinsdorf takes Cumulus to court to honor the remaining four years of the contract.

No. 3: The contract is voided, and the White Sox have to find a new home.

I wonder if the last one would be best for everybody. Looking back at our read of the previous hunt for a new flagship station in 2015, WLS looked like the riskiest possibility, as it had been undergoing lineup upheaval in the search for ratings. This wasn’t the most encouraging quote at the time:

“There’s a good match,” [WLS operations and program director Peter] Bolger said. “WLS has had a tough couple years, and the Sox have had a rough couple years. I think we can help each other.”

There’s a thin line between symbiosis and codependency. Two more rough seasons (and a Cubs championship) later, the Sox haven’t been appointment listening. Then again, it might have been a losing proposition even if the Sox were decent due to WLS’ ongoing issues. With a rebuild setting a positive trajectory for the years ahead, a fresh deal might be eminently doable.

If the Sox and WLS do split, WMVP-AM 1000 is a possibility. Chicago’s ESPN Radio affiliate previously broadcast the Bulls before they jumped to WLS.

WGN-AM 720 could be back in play. as it was reportedly interested in acquiring the White Sox’ radio rights at the time WLS acquired them. Its deals with the Blackhawks and Northwestern football could create crowded schedules early and late, as it already shuffles Wildcats games to WMVP when schedules conflict.

There’s also WBBM-AM 780, which previously broadcast the Cubs before they moved to the White Sox’ former flagship, WSCR-AM 670. It was said at the time of the switch that baseball wasn’t a great fit for WBBM’s all-news format, although the White Sox have fewer day games during the week.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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I will not be upset to no longer be incidentally exposed to the rest of WLS’s content


You won’t miss the excitement of getting in your car the day after a Sox game, only to accidentally hear Rush screaming at you for no apparent reason?


When listening on gameday audio, I have intentionally chosen the opposing team’s broadcast in order not to give the right-wing windbag format easily quantifiable listens. Maybe it’s my fault that this contract isn’t profitable. I do think it’s funny that a two year old contract is referred to as “legacy.”


Wonder if this does anything to harm upcoming TV negotiations? Far more consequential for future spending.


780 is brutal for me anyway.  As soon as the sun goes down in Elgin, the game becomes a frenzy of static radio waves.  Mix that with Farmer and you have unlistenable content.


I meant 890, not 780.


890 stunk here too. 1000 is unlistenable at all times. 780 would be fine with me.

Trooper Galactus

Yup, I’m in North Aurora and the reception sucks.  Bad enough having to listen to Farmer on the broadcasts.


A return to WMVP makes so much sense, although it would be hilarious to have WGN’s one baseball team be the White Sox.

Josh Nelson

If it does come down to #3, I wish both Brooks Boyer and the bidding radio stations best of luck in getting ready for the 2018 season.

According to the case docket, the contract between WLS and the White Sox was agreed upon 7/13/2015. That meant WLS had seven-plus months to prepare to broadcast the 2016 season.

After the February 1st hearing, if Cumulus gets want it wants which is immediately upon entry of the order, then the White Sox and their new radio home would have eight weeks to prepare for the 2018 season.

Not sure if that’s enough time for a radio station to get organized and radically change programming schedule.



The programming schedule change on MVP would largely be “sorry J. Hood you’re getting preempted most nights or shortened for West Coast games”

This could probably be smoothed over by making Hood the pre/postgame host? He’s got plenty of broadcast experience, is a Sox fan, has hosted baseball programming before (he did a show with Bruce Levine before on baseball).

Josh Nelson

Good suggestion with J. Hood! Not sure what Connor McKnight’s status would be if the Sox switched stations.


Hopefully his status would be “Farmer’s replacement”


Hopefully his status will be ‘fired’ and that Rob Hart guy gets the role.

Scot Bertram

Back in 2007, the Bulls left 105.9 after the station flipped from talk to A/C just weeks before the season began. They returned to ESPN 1000. It can be done quickly.

Right Size Wrong Shape

The timing is bad, but I would be happy to see them leave 890 just because the signal is so weak.  There are some nights where I can barely get the game to come in because it is overpowered by a station in New York.

I would prefer WMVP just because of the all sports format, so it would likely lead to more White Sox content during the week.  I’ve missed that, with White Sox weekly being the only time outside of games that the Sox are covered on 890.


I don’t listen on the radio much anymore, so for me, shrug.

Of course, when I do, it would be in the car, but my car doesn’t have AM. So my vote is moving to an FM station. Assuming the right Sox personnel are monitoring the comments and will get on it.


When I moved to Michigan, I got Tigers games on both an AM and an FM station. I was shocked at how much better the quality was on FM.  They sounded like two different broadcasts.

Has HD radio negated that quality difference? If not, a switch to FM would be a welcome change.


I mean, they are 2 very different broadcasts.  FM is supposed to be much clearer, that’s why all music is on it.


I must be in the vast minority because ever since the Sox moved there I’ve been loving WLS what with the steve dahl show and connor mcknight and co taking me into the sox/bulls great pregames, then game, then postgames. And I do listen to more games than I watch. What a shame.


If you enjoy listening to WLS, you probably aren’t a minority.


Hey-o. I’m here all week


Funny thing is I am but I still got the joke and chortled hard. Well done.

Trooper Galactus

We really need some kind of going green equivalent here.  This deserves it.


If you refresh it will go non-blue.

Scot Bertram

Will be interesting to see if Reinsdorf wants to sell the Bulls/Sox as a package once again.

I think ESPN 1000 would be a natural fit, considering their lack of PBP at the moment. But one downside is the lack of sister stations. The Cubs & Bears are promised all sorts of cross-promotion on other CBS (now Entercom) stations in town. There’s value in that. ESPN can’t really offer anything similar.


It was pretty easy to guess from the uh, quality of the ads that ran on Sox games last season that WLS- AM890  was not very profitable.  So this is not really a surprise.  Yes, I think there’s likely a better over all fit for the White Sox out there– and signal strength was shown to be  a huge problem that needs to be considered in any changeover process.  I don’t listen to Bulls games on radio ever  but I imagine a package deal might be something Jerry has to factor in to any decision to leave WLS either proactively or re-actively.


Sox might want to consider a whole new concept for their radio broadcasts. Maybe a couple of 20 somethings or I dunno what.

I like Farmio but I’m a crabby old white guy. I will be dead soon.

Trooper Galactus

I think DJ has improved over the years, but Farmer has been damn useless for a long time.  He offers basically nothing to the broadcast and comes off like he doesn’t even know anything about the game most times (“What was that?  Something like a slider?”)  If I were new to White Sox baseball Farmer’s commentary would probably confuse the crap outta me.


I’m the first responder in that chain. I love the broadcasts. Kind of like some avant garde performance art. But I can see how 99% of normal people would hate it.


I admit I’m kinda pulling for WGN.  They’ll have to get away from their Cub heritage and I swear their signal can be heard in space.


I would prefer WGN as well accept that Tribune Broadcasting will soon be taken over by Sinclair Broadcasting. Sinclair is rumored not to be interested in running radio stations and may turn right around and sell it. As result, I don’t think WGN is going to risk a long term contract with the White Sox and or Bulls for right now.

WMVP is the more likely candidate as it’s a sports talk station and has stable ownership with ABC/ESPN. The signal to the west / southwest/ northwest of Downers Grove (the transmitter site) at night has always been an issue as the station is required to direct it’s signal at night towards the east to protect stations on the same frequency in Oklahoma City and Seattle Washington. This was probably a factor in choosing WLS back in 2015. WMVP is a 50,000 watt AM signal just like WLS, WGN, WCSR and WBBM except it’s directional at night. The others are not. Dial position also matters. Lower frequency stations like WCSR and WGN have better ground wave conductivity meaning their signals travel further on the ground during the day and night. Higher frequency stations like WLS and WMVP skip better at night so their more likely heard hundreds of miles away. Their daytime ground wave signals are not as good.

Cumulus has essentially run WLS into the ground. For a station with a 50,ooo watt signal it’s ratings are abysmal and not the fault of the White Sox or the Bulls. At the time of the 2015 contract signing Cumulus indicated that they were taking WLS more mainstream news, sports and talk with a move away from conservative talk similar to WGN. They have since pulled back from this and have announced a return to all conservative talk. This is also another reason for trying to dump the White Sox and Bulls contracts. Think it’s beneficial for the White Sox and Bulls to get them selves off of this turkey of a radio station.

WBBM is a possibility but I believe their happy with doing all news through all day / night parts. Think they are number one dollar grossing radio station combo in Chicago with the simulcast FM. Don’t see them rocking the boat but I could be wrong.

There is a new AM on 640 right below WCSR. It’s currently a brokered time ethnic station. Not a power house but puts a decent signal over Chicago from Peatone, IL. If worse comes to worse, the White Sox and Bulls can buy time by the hour and sell all their own advertising or maybe even buy the station outright and have their own station similar to the LA Angels. This station is highly directional to the north and east and will not make it to the same locations that WMVP has issues with at night.

Sports on FM signals is done in other cities but these FM stations are usually Sports Talk already which is a situation that does not exist in Chicago currently. So, I don’t see this happening.


tl;dr – Who knows?


Thanks Joe!  I enjoy geeking out on new stuff and the  “inside baseball “of local radio signals is definitely something different.


Thanks interesting stuff


As a fan outside the US, this doesn’t affect me at all. But it will be interesting to see how much value do the White Sox have for the radio station

Trooper Galactus

Practically none, I’d imagine.  There are some pretty uninspiring commercials during the break that lead me to believe White Sox broadcasts aren’t really bringing in good advertising revenue.  Their exceptionally low standing in MLB by TV ratings is also probably somewhat indicative of a general lack of audience/consumption.  Ten years ago the White Sox were a pretty hot property.  Amazing how badly their blundering since then has killed their value.


I would prefer the Sox moving to ANY station that is not WLS. I don’t want my car radio to waste a preprogrammed button on that piece of crap station. I turn it on wanting to hear a Sox game or commentary about the team (or sports in general), and I get political views that I disagree with 100% of the time. I’d rather have the Sox move back to WTAQ than stay another year on 890.

And to think in my 60s days WLS was my favorite station by far.


White Sox Weekly was on WLS today as usual, while the elephant remained in the room.