Comeback cut short: Rewind ejects Robert Murphy

For a guy who’d just lost his job after only six months, Robert Murphy didn’t sound too upset.

Maybe it’s because he’s still getting paid through September. Or maybe it’s because as a seasoned veteran of Chicago radio, he knows the business so well by now.

“It may have been impossible for me to win, but I certainly was willing to give it my best shot,” Murphy, 60, told me moments after he got off the air Friday and learned that it was his last day as morning host on Hubbard Broadcasting’s adult hits WILV-FM (100.3). “I honestly do not have complaints about my situation with Hubbard. Everybody I worked with there I got along with very, very well.”

Murphy’s personality and style, which captivated young-adult female listenership at Q101 in the 1980s, were promoted as the “perfect complement” to Rewind 100.3 when he made his surprise comeback last September. Listeners apparently disagreed, sending the station’s Arbitron audience shares markedly in the wrong direction.

“Robert is a total pro and we wish him well,” said Greg Solk, senior vice president of programming at Hubbard Broadcasting. Starting Monday, Solk said, the station will revert to its former daytime lineup of Brian Peck in mornings, Megan Reed in middays, and Brian Middleton in afternoons.

Murphy’s dismissal from Rewind 100.3 — and the move back to a more music-intensive presentation — mark an about-face. “I do think they had hopes I would brighten up the sound, personalize it more, make it more compelling, and bring it more into the forefront or those other radio clichés that we use,” Murphy said. “I would like to point out that I think I made a magnificent effort to follow their dictates and keep the format exactly the way they wanted it.”

So what went wrong? “The personality had to be very, very precise and edited and squeezed in, which does make a personality radio show suffer,” Murphy said. “I do think some listeners may have been put off by the lack of personality, while the ones who had listened to Rewind before were more comfortable with the more music format. As ratings had leveled off, I think [management] thought I would be their great savior. And I did too, to be honest. I was hoping I could bump it up some. But ratings don’t show that I bumped anything up.”

To the contrary, in the six months Murphy hosted mornings, Rewind 100.3 lost 50 percent of its share of women between 25 and 54 — his target demographic — and fell from seventh place to a tie for 19th.

“I do feel if I had stayed longer I could have become more of a billboard for the station and brought in listeners,” he said. “I think they were scared that had not happened quickly enough. But that’s all conjecture on my part. I can’t get into their heads and say what exactly made them make this decision.”

As much as he’ll enjoy not having to get up at 3:30am each day, Murphy insists he loves the business as much as ever: “I really, really enjoyed this chance to work with [news anchor] Susan Wiencek and [producer] Scott Straus. And I enjoyed this chance to go to the Prudential Building and do the best radio show I knew how to within the confines of what they were looking for format-wise.

“This did not shut down my interest in radio. As I’ve mentioned a million times, it’s all I’ve ever done. I really enjoyed getting back into the swing of things and would be open to something again. . . . I’ve never been turned off by anything in radio. I’ve worked with a few turd nuggets along the way, but I’ve never been turned off on radio in general. It’s what I do and what I know.”

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)