WLS-FM (94.7 FM) is a commercial FM radio station licensed to serve Chicago, Illinois. The station is owned by Cumulus Media, through licensee Radio License Holdings, LLC, and broadcasts a classic hits format. WLS-FM studios is located at the NBC Tower on North Columbus Drive in the city's Streeterville neighborhood, and the station broadcasts from a tower located atop the Willis Tower at ().
The station was launched in 1948 as WENR-FM, owned by the American Broadcasting Company and simulcasting sister station WENR (AM), which shared the 890 kc. frequency with then Prairie Farmer-owned WLS; both stations carried ABC Radio Network programs. In 1954 (a year after ABC's merger with United Paramount Theatres) WENR and WLS merged their AM stations into one, jointly owned by American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres and Prairie Farmer and retaining the WLS call letters. WENR-FM then began simulcasting WLS, and later adopted its own separate programming formats (which included classical and Broadway theatre show tunes) for part of the day. The station was operated out of a broom closet with minimal personnel in hopes that FM broadcasting would grow.
1964-1971: First WLS-FM Era
In 1964, WENR-FM became WLS-FM, with a beautiful music format broadcasting in stereo from Noon to Midnight, as well as Blackhawks home games. By 1968, WLS-FM expanded its hours on the air to 6 a.m. to Midnight, simulcasting sister AM WLS's Clark Weber morning show from 6 to 8 a.m. and carrying Don McNeill's Breakfast Club from 8 to 9 a.m.
In the summer of 1968, WLS-FM experimented with a locally produced underground progressive rock show. Dubbed Spoke. The Flesh That Holds The Wheel Of Life Together., the program aired from 10 PM to midnight. It was replaced in 1969 with a syndicated program from the ABC Radio Network entitled Love which aired from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Shortly afterwards, WLS-FM adopted a full-time progressive rock format.
1971-1980: Rotating formats
The station adopted an AOR format when WLS-FM changed call signs to WDAI in 1971 in order to establish a separate identity from WLS (AM) and WLS-TV (channel 7). The joke at the time was that "DAI" stood for "Develop An Identity". The WDAI call letters had originally been intended for Detroit's WXYZ-FM (ABC had requested WRIF for Chicago), but the FCC instead assigned WDAI to replace WLS-FM and WRIF to WXYZ-FM. Both call sign changes were part of ABC's 1971 AOR format conversions in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles.
WDAI became the original Chicago radio home of Steve Dahl in January 1978, and used the slogan "Chicago's Best Rock" with the Morning Sickness with Steve Dahl.
WDAI switched to all-disco as Disco "DAI" in December 1978 and stayed with the disco craze until 7 AM on May 22, 1980, when, after stunting by playing Donna Summer's "Last Dance" on a loop, 94.7 became WRCK-FM, "95 W-ROCK", an Adult Top 40/Oldies hybrid, and featured Bob Sirott in mornings for a brief time. The 1978 switch to disco was the first in a series of format changes that continued up to its switch to classic hits in October 2012.
1980-1991: Top 40 Era
In December 1980, WRCK-FM switched to a Top 40 format with a partial-simulcast of WLS (AM), and changed call signs back to WLS-FM. The simulcast included Larry Lujack during the morning drive and Brant Miller's evening show into the mid-1980s, while airing its own programming during the day. WLS-FM was thereafter programmed separately during the day and simulcast WLS AM at night.
In January 1986, WLS-FM ended the AM simulcast and became known as WYTZ "Z-95". Initially, the station aired a rock-leaning Top 40 format, but by the late 1980s, the station was more mainstream, as competitor B96 increasingly focused on R&B and dance music. WYTZ, which was briefly rebranded as "Hell" (an aborted and controversial one-week stunt) and Hot 94.7 in March 1991, could not withstand the competition from "B96".
1991-1995: Talk Era
After a couple years of very low ratings, WYTZ again became WLS-FM at 7 p.m. on October 25, 1991. After playing "Everybody's Talkin'" by Harry Nilsson, the station switched formats to talk, again simulcasting WLS AM much of the time. WLS-FM employed its own talk show hosts during the hours when WLS aired national programming. As a result, WLS-FM did not air Rush Limbaugh during the midday slot, instead airing locally based talk shows. On June 13, 1994, WLS-FM split off from simulcasting completely and launched its own "Young Talk" format featuring Robert Murphy ("Murphy in the Morning"), Rich Roeper, Jay Marvin, Lise Dominique, Turi Ryder and Johnny Vonn, as a way to compete against WLUP-FM's hot talk format. This failed to turn around ratings, and WLS-FM went back to a full-time simulcast once again with WLS-AM on June 2, 1995.
1995-1997: Kicks Country
After still achieving low ratings, WLS-FM separated from WLS AM again on November 22, 1995. After stunting with Christmas music throughout November and December, the station switched to a country music format and became 94.7 Kicks Country, WKXK, at Noon on December 26. The first song on "Kicks Country" was "Gone Country" by Alan Jackson. However, Infinity (now CBS Radio) station WUSN continued to do well as the heritage country station, while WKXK was unable to even achieve mediocre ratings.
1997-2000: CD 94.7
On May 1, 1997, WKXK dropped the country format and flipped to classic rock, branded as CD 94.7 (with new WXCD call letters being implemented on May 23). After some early ratings success, former heritage classic rocker and competitor WLUP-FM, which had earlier switched to a modern adult contemporary format, returned to the classic rock format, resulting in mediocre ratings at WXCD until 2000.
2000-2005: The "Zone" Era
On November 29, 2000, at 6 p.m., WXCD abruptly dropped classic rock and flipped to an 80's hits format, rebranded as "The Zone", and changed call signs to WZZN. By July 2001, the station evolved into a gold-based modern AC format. On September 14, 2001, WZZN changed formats again to alternative rock to compete with WKQX, which previously had the format to itself.
By 2003, "The Zone" again evolved into more of an active rock format, all the while using "94.7 The Zone" as its handle, and positioning itself on the air as "the hardest rock on the planet". However, the station continued to flounder in the ratings. By 2004, the station began beating WKQX with the shift to active rock, but yet beaten again by WKQX during the Spring/Summer 2005, when WDRV moved from classic hits to classic rock and WLUP-FM from classic rock to mainstream rock.
2005-2012: True Oldies
After long-time oldies station WJMK dropped its 1960s'/'70s' oldies format in June 2005 for a variety hits format branded as "Jack FM", at Noon on September 26, 2005, WZZN dropped its active rock format (and finally ditched the "Zone" branding) and flipped to oldies as "94.7 True Oldies", with programming from Scott Shannon's The True Oldies Channel except for morning and afternoon drive times, when the station aired local programming. The final song on "The Zone" was "For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Metallica, while the first song on "True Oldies" was "Rock 'n' Roll Music" by The Beatles. This change made WZZN the only oldies station on the FM dial in Chicago. The air talent "The Zone" let go in this transition included WRCX alums Freak and Sludge, and WLUP-FM alums James Van Osdol, Mark Zander, and Jimmy Novak.
In 2006, the station added some local air personalities who were previously at WJMK when it was an oldies station. Eventually, the station was live and local (which included hosts such as John Landecker, Dick Biondi, Greg Brown, and Danny Lake) except for overnights, when they would continue to run True Oldies Channel programming. In 2007, Walt Disney Company sold its ABC Radio radio division, including WLS (AM) and WZZN, to Citadel Broadcasting. From 2007 to 2008, the oldies format was modified to include a small amount of 1980s' hits and a focus on oldies from 1964 to 1979. The station continued to play a couple pre-1964 oldies per hour.
On June 19, 2008, Citadel announced that WZZN would become once again WLS-FM. The WZZN call letters were dropped at Midnight on June 25, 2008, and as of 12:01 a.m. on June 26, 2008, the station has officially been known as WLS-FM. The idea was to bring back the heritage of WLS and its old Top 40 format and jingles. The station now branded as "94.7 WLS-FM" with the slogan "Chicago's Greatest Hits Of All Time." Citadel merged with Cumulus Media on September 16, 2011.
2012-Present: Shift to Classic Hits
On October 1, 2012, WLS-FM modified their oldies format to a classic rock-leaning classic hits format. The Scott Shannon "True Oldies Channel" branding, programming, and voice tracking were removed.. The pre-1964 oldies were dropped entirely, while Motown and 1970s pop and disco hits were cut back, and more 1980s songs were also added. The focus on the station was now hits of the 1970s and early 1980s with only several 1960s songs per hour. Morning DJ Dave Fogel was released to make room for Brant Miller's return to the station (Fogel was hired at WJMK just two days after being let go from WLS). Fred Winston was also hired as a full-time DJ in afternoons. In 2013, Robert Murphy was hired as an afternoon jock; Winston was let go. On November 3, 2014, Jack Diamond, formerly of sister station WRQX in Washington, D.C., became WLS-FM's new morning show host, with Miller shifting to a co-hosting role. Diamond would leave the station in July 2015, with Miller re-assuming a main hosting role. Kim Berk, formerly of WWFS (New York), joined Miller as co-host in January 2016. As of late 2017, the focus is now mainly hits of the 1970s through the 1980s, with a small sampling of pre-1970/post-1989 hits mixed in.