Cubs Leaving WGN After 90 Years For WBBM

Postcard view of WGN radio studios in 1937 - Getty Images

It's the end of an era.

Baseball time is here again
You can catch it all on WGN -- Steve Goodman

The Cubs have been heard on WGN radio off and on since 1924 -- almost the beginning of commercial radio -- and continuously since 1958, so this is their 57th straight season on WGN. But starting in 2015, Steve Goodman's lyrics will no longer be true, writes Robert Channick in the Tribune:

The Cubs are set to announce WBBM-AM 780 as the team's new flagship radio partner.

Sources close to the situation confirmed Tuesday night that the Cubs have signed a long-term deal with the CBS-owned station to carry the team’s games beginning next season. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources said it also involves promotion with other CBS Radio stations in Chicago.

The team is expected to announce the new broadcast partnership formally on Thursday, according to sources.

It's been hinted recently in many places that this was about to happen; I wrote about it just last week. What's significant about this beyond the change, is that this switch wasn't prompted by the Cubs:

The Tribune Co.-owned station reportedly was losing money on the broadcasts and chose to exercise an option to reopen its radio contract with the team last fall. Station executives cited low ratings after losing 197 games over the last two seasons as contributing to revenue declines.

The previous deal was valued at $10 million, according to earlier reports in the Tribune. WGN had the right to match the new CBS offer, but chose not to, according to sources.

Beyond the rather odd language in that quote (the radio station didn't lose 197 games!), this is a cautionary tale. Sure, the Cubs might have received more money in this WBBM contract (it's not clear whether that's true or not), but a better team might have been able to re-up with WGN for even more dollars. Will the Cubs' poor performance on the field affect the amount of money they receive for the WGN-TV portion of the TV contract, also up at the end of this season?

This move really won't affect anyone's listening habits other than changing the button on a car radio from 720 to 780, or moving a dial (if you still have one) on a home radio. WBBM's daytime coverage area is virtually identical to WGN's and at night, like WGN, it can be heard in much of the eastern and midwestern United States. If you listen to Cubs audio on your computer or mobile device, nothing will change (except the commercials and promos you hear). The announcing team will remain the same:

The current Cubs play-by-play team of Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer will move with the Cubs to WBBM to call the games next year, according to sources.

Hughes is in his 19th year of calling Cubs radio play-by-play. Per Wikipedia (and I think that list is accurate), only Hal Totten (1924-44) and Vince Lloyd (who called Cubs games from 1954-86 and continuously on WGN from 1965-86) have had longer tenures as principal radio play-by-play men for Cubs games.

Time moves on, and though this is a big change for the team, for you the radio listener it won't change much. The real change comes when the new TV deal is signed. As always, we await developments.

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