WLS program boss Hayes headed back to KABC in L.A.

After three tumultuous years as operations director of news/talk WLS-AM (890), Drew Hayes is leaving the Cumulus Media station here to fill the company’s programming vacancy in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, Hayes, 54, is expected to be named program director of news/talk KABC-AM in L.A. — a post he previously held under Walt Disney Co./ABC ownership. The position has been vacant since another former Chicagoan, Jack Silver, left last June.

At WLS, Hayes’ job as operations director is not expected to be filled. Tracy Slutzkin, who was promoted from assistant program director to program director under Hayes in September 2010, will continue in her role.

“I’m really excited for the next chapter,” Hayes told me Monday. “I appreciate the confidence that Cumulus has shown in me and in what we’ve built at WLS. It’s in great hands with Tracy.”

The latest run was the second tour of duty at the Big 89 for the New York native and onetime WMAQ talk show host. In 1989, Hayes was one of the architects of the news/talk format at WLS, where he headed programming and operations for seven years. He left in 1996 to serve as general manager of ESPN Radio in Bristol, Connecticut, and later program director of KABC. He returned to Chicago in 2001 as operations director for several CBS Radio stations, including all-news WBBM-AM (780), sports/talk WSCR-AM (670) and former FM talker WCKG, which collapsed and died on his watch.

Since Hayes rejoined WLS in January 2010, the station underwent a change of ownership from Citadel Broadcasting to Cumulus Media, a change in the front office, with Donna Baker replacing Michael Damsky as vice president and market manager, and four changes in its midday talent lineup. More recently, veteran morning personality Don Wade was diagnosed with a brain tumor, prompting him and his co-host/wife, Roma Wade, to step down. And last week midday co-host Jim Edwards, known on the air as Jake Hartford, died of a heart attack.

“There’s very few situations that a market manager and an operations manager have to go through like the one we’ve been through in such a short period of time,” Baker said. “Drew and I have kind of been through the war together.  From a professional standpoint, I’ve learned a lot from him, and have great admiration for his talent. He’s very good at what he does. I’m confident that Tracy will be able to carry forward the vision of WLS that we’ve discussed and that Drew and Tracy have crafted.”

Saying she wished Hayes “the very best,” Baker added: “The people he will be leading next are very lucky to have him.”

Under Hayes’ authoritarian direction, WLS sharpened its right edges, becoming a mouthpiece for the Republican party and often mimicking the daily talking points of Fox News Channel. Outside of Roe Conn and Richard Roeper’s afternoon show, the station’s hosts generally displayed an intolerance for differing views that bordered on contempt.

Ratings declined, too.

The station Hayes took over three years ago ranked fifth overall with a 4.6 percent share of listeners. Among those between the ages of 25 and 54, it was tied for 22nd place with a 2.1 share. In the latest Arbitron figures, WLS ranked eighth overall with a 3.4 share. In the 25-to-54 demo, it was tied for 23rd with a 1.8 share.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)