Quitting time: Two jobs are one too many for WGN’s Williams
It was an arrangement he once called “the best of both worlds.” Now John Williams can’t wait to call it quits.
Saying it’s “just been too hard to do two shows as well as I wanted to do one,” the veteran Chicago radio personality is leaving Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720) to work exclusively for WCCO-AM, the CBS Radio news/talk station in Minneapolis. Since April 2010, he has held Monday-through-Friday air shifts at both stations.
In an interview Tuesday, Williams, 53, said he’s stepping down from WGN after 15 years when his contract expires at the end of December. He’s already found a buyer for his house in west suburban LaGrange Park and plans to move to Minnesota after January 1.
Williams, who now broadcasts from noon to 3pm on WGN and then moves to a different studio at Tribune Tower to broadcast from 3 to 6pm on WCCO, said he never expected to keep up such a grueling schedule as long as he has.
“When you do three-hour shows with an eight-minute window in between for two different markets with two different staffs and two different sets of topics for two and half years, it changes you,” he told me. “And I don’t like what’s been happening to me. I hate that sometimes one of the shows isn’t as good as it should be, because while I’m doing the one, I’m thinking or worrying about the other.”
He said he made the decision to leave WGN “early in the summer,” but wasn’t planning to announce it yet. He decided to inform his co-workers Tuesday after I called him for comment. He expressed concern that the news might be misconstrued as being connected to the sudden exit Monday of Tom Langmyer as vice president and general manager of WGN or to the impending emergence from bankruptcy of Tribune Co.
“Maybe the timing is conspiring against me here, but I don’t like the notion [of people thinking] that the water’s getting rocky and John is jumping off the ship. Because that is not how I planned this. I made this decision months ago. I didn’t know Langmyer was going to be leaving, I didn’t know when we were going to emerge from bankruptcy, and I could have just as easily decided to stay here and just do one show from here. I would have been happy doing that as well."
Williams acknowledged tough times under former Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels and former program director Kevin Metheny: “Crazy people came here for a while and made life very difficult for us and my leaving is a vestige of that. But if you asked me how do I feel about the people I’m working with or the show I’m doing, I’d say I have a dream job with dream people. I have the same thing in Minnesota. But it’s killing me to do these two shows.”
Even after Williams signs off here, Chicago fans will still be able to hear his afternoon show from Minneapolis, which streams live online.
A Joliet native and Southern Illinois University graduate, Williams once worked as a college intern for WGN morning superstar Wally Phillips. After stops in Plano and Peoria, he spent four years in the Twin Cities at WCCO. In 1997, he returned to WGN, where he hosted middays, afternoons and (for six months between Spike O’Dell and Greg Jarrett) mornings.
“John is a great broadcaster and has been a valued member of the WGN Radio family,” Bill White, WGN program director, said in a statement. “While we are sad to see him go, we are happy for John and his family that they are able to return to Minneapolis, where they lived before moving to Chicago. We wish him all the best and know that he will continue to shine in his role at WCCO.”