Final Listen: WLUP Chicago

97.9 The Loop WLUP Chicago Educational Media Foundation EMF97.9 The Loop” WLUP-FM Chicago didn’t get the same big sendoff that “100.3 The Sound” KSWD Los Angeles did when it was sold to the Christian AC K-Love Network, but irony abounds in its last 24 hours before the news broke. When I listened to midday host Lyndsey Marie on Monday, March 5, the first break I heard began with “looks like we’re in for a miserable ride home” (because of the snow that day).

Okay, anything can sound ironic afterwards, but in the 10 p.m. hour on that day, WLUP-FM Chicago played Guns ‘N’ Roses, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” followed shortly thereafter by Joe Walsh, “Life’s Been Good,” and Bad Company, “Rock And Roll Fantasy.” After the Joe Walsh song, evening host James Van Osdol did what was apparently his final break, about the Eagles coming to town.

In the 11 p.m. hour, 97.9 the Loop played Skid Row, “I’ll Remember You”; R.E.M., “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” (perhaps as a stream fill song); AC/DC, “Highway to Hell”; Def Leppard, “Rock of Ages”; Van Halen, “Right Now”; Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”; Talking Heads, “Once In A Lifetime”; and Tom Petty, “Free Fallin.’”

The next morning, the news broke on and locally from veteran radio columnist Robert Feder that WLUP had been sold to “K-Love” owners EMF, which has also bought and changed numerous other stations that seemed like going concerns at the time. At this writing, WLUP is running jockless, pending an imminent change that will put K-Love on a full-market signal for the first time.

Growing up on the East Coast, I first knew the Loop through the trade magazines. The current legal ID correctly states that the Loop was “made in 1977,” but it was in early 1979 that the format gelled and the station became a flagship for the “kickass rock ‘n’ roll” approach to AOR. Shortly thereafter came Steve Dahl’s “Disco Demolition” rally that went just wrong enough to make the station a phenomenon.

Soon thereafter, I knew the Loop through the ripples it caused at AM top 40 powerhouse WLS. Suddenly rendered unhip, the “Big 89” recast itself as essentially “the Loop with jingles” and Top 40 formatics, until “B96” WBBM-FM came along in 1982. In the interim, WLS-FM was launched, anchored by Dahl & Garry Meier doing a very un-WLS-like afternoon rock and (mostly) talk show.

By the time I got to hear WLUP at any length myself, they were in the process of an evolution to “adult rock,” then to a talk/personality hybrid. It’s the late ‘70s/early ‘80s era of the Loop that casts the longest shadow over the rock format (and particularly over Active Rock’s current struggles), but the Loop was also the station that guided rock radio to a more adult place through the ‘80s and early ‘90s. In its last ratings before the announcement of the sale, WLUP was up 2.7-2.9 for January as a Classic Rock outlet.

I was able to go back and take a “Final Listen” to the station on Monday, March 5, the day before the news broke and WLUP went jockless. I heard middayer Marie, and the last few hours with Van Osdol.

On its last day, the WLUP was airing “Vinyl Monday” vignettes from p.m. driver Tim Virgin spotlighting deep cuts from Aerosmith. (“You can’t roll a joint on an MP3 cover,” declared the stager.) Van Osdol was spotlighting the music and events of 1981 on his “Nightflight” feature. Morning host Mancow appeared frequently in promos and during the online stopsets; he had interviewed Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins that morning.

There was a lot of talk about the upcoming summer concert season. Marie backsold the Rolling Stones by talking about seeing them in Milwaukee, then segued to Metallica by saying that she planned to see them in Milwaukee this summer. (“I’ll hear the encore in the parking lot and head home to Chicago.”) The station was doing advance promo for a summer Lynyrd Skynyrd show this summer even though “summer concerts are not typically something people think about while waiting for the car to warm up,” as the promo copy acknowledged. All upcoming concerts were presented under the umbrella of “Loopfest.”

Because WLUP spent its final years operated in conjunction with WLS-FM (more irony, if you want it), WLUP remained a harder-rocking Classic Rock station, leaving WLS-FM more primed to pick up any listeners freed by the change of WJMK to Classic Hip-Hop “104.3 Jamz” WBMX, currently that market’s phenomenal station. The loss of both WJMK and WLUP still leaves Chicago with WLS-FM and Classic Rock “97.1 The Drive” WDRV playing the music the Loop made famous, and speculation already that somebody might wade in.

Here’s WLUP at 1:45 p.m. Monday, March 5, hosted by Lyndsey Marie:

  • Scorpions, “No One Like You”
  • Van Halen, “Jump”
  • Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London”
  • Rush, “Tom Sawyer”
  • Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Woman”
  • Metallica, “Turn the Page”
  • Journey, “Lights”
  • Dio, “Holy Diver”
  • Pink Floyd, “Happiest Days/Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)”
  • Aerosmith, “Same Old Song And Dance” (Vinyl Monday spotlight song)
  • Jimi Hendrix Experience, “All Along the Watchtower”
  • Def Leppard, “Animal”
  • Police, “Message In A Bottle”
  • ZZ Top, “Gimme All Your Lovin’”
  • Led Zeppelin, “Dazed And Confused”
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