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Sneak Peek At The New Station Coming To 101.1 FM

For readers of Chicagoland Radio & Media, here is an exclusive sneak peek at just can be expected for the exciting new station coming to Chicago's 101.1 FM frequency.

As most everyone knows by now, the frequency's previous alternative rock radio station, known as Q101 is no longer on the air. Q101 will now become an Internet-only radio station found on Q101.com and run by the radio team at Broadcast Barter Radio Networks. The website will have live all-day streaming of alternative music and will eventually have audible and visual connections to the stations rich 19 year history on there, as well. Some past Q101 DJs may also take part in the streaming and multi-media website. In the meantime, 101.1 FM has been playing alternative music with no DJs and seemingly no direction. That all changes starting today.

Right now, on the air at 101.1 is nothing but music by the alt-rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. Starting at some point after Midnight, the station that currently has the call letters WKQX-FM, will now be playing music that is much more female-targeted, unlike the male-targeted alternative rock it played before today. There is a good reason for that. The new station, once it begins, will also be targeting the female listening audience. The station will have a huge female-targeted morning show on a temporary basis with a surprise host (more on that below) and Adult Contemporary music all day & night long. Some may refer to this as a radio "stunt," while other see this as a brilliant way to bring in a female audience to the station, in advance of the new format launching. This makes the transition from music station to talk station less jarring.

The new station will be unlike any one heard on Chicago's airwaves before and doesn't easily fit into the previously known format categories. The station will not "all news" as reported elsewhere. It will be a brand new concept that will be a combination of news, talk, commentary, information, humor, and a lifestyle magazine. While the station will not be excluding the male audience, it will be heavily targeting and welcoming of the female audience, especially Women 25-54. Unlike many news or news/talk stations, whose heavily male-dominated hosts and subject matters do not always appeal to women, this approach will be entirely more female-friendly.

The adventurous plans call for this project to be much more than just a radio station. It will take full advantage of all technologies available, including Internet video, website instant interaction and social media.

The news aspect of the station looks to be a key ingredient. The Merlin Media LLC team has assembled a top-notch news team, from highly-regarded News Directors to some of the top writers/producers in all of Chicago to some of the top on-air news talents, assembled from other Chicago stations, satellite networks, television networks and beyond. The station will not just be filled with Chicago-only news, but will also utilize at least six suburban bureaus throughout northern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. Out of all of Chicago radio, only two commercial radio stations still have a true newsroom of at least five full-time employees: WBBM-AM & WGN-AM. This will be the third full-sized newsroom that will easily rival, or even better, those other newsrooms.

Many details about the station are still being decided upon, while others are being tightly held in secret. The actual name of the station and imaging slogans are still not publicly known. Rumors have been swirling about the name "101.1 WINS" and variations of that. The call letters of WKQX, which have long been associated with rock & roll formats in Chicago, will soon be going away, to make way for new call letters that closer fit the name of the new station. WWWN-FM is believed to be a front-runner for Chicago's 101.1.

The actual start date for when the new station will go forward with the new format 24/7 has not yet been determined. That is dependent on many factors, including the completion of state-of-the-art new studios & new computer systems and training on the new equipment. Some newscasts will begin SOON, perhaps even this week, with even more programming going live over the next two weeks. It will be more of a "soft launch" before the full launch takes off at some point in late July or early August.

So who is part of the new station? Here is a look at many of the on-air hires for the new 101.1, including names not mentioned anywhere else:

* Robert Murphy - For over a decade from the early 80's through the early 90's, "Murphy in the Morning" was one of the highest rated shows on Chicago radio, coincidentally on 101.1 FM. The high ratings were largely due to a massive female following. When the station's format shifted to a male-leaning alternative rock, Murphy moved on. He resurfaced on WLS-FM as a talk show host and again on the short-lived 80's station, WXXY-FM. He has also worked in the Charlotte, NC and West Palm Beach, FL markets. Murphy has been hired as a temporary employee of Merlin Media, in that he will be hosting the new morning show on the new female-targeted AC station that begins tomorrow morning on 101.1. Once the new News/Talk format is ready to go forward on 101.1 on a 24/7 basis and the music stops, Murphy's job will be complete.

* Lise Dominique - Another veteran of Chicago radio, Lise Dominique's soothing voice has been heard delivering news and traffic and/or being a co-host on radio stations such as WLUP-FM, WLUP-AM, WLS-AM, WLS-FM, WIND-AM, WGN-AM, WILV-FM and as the voice-over person for WTTW-TV. She most recently has been heard as a news anchor on WLS-AM in evenings, where she worked since spring 2010, until her hiring by Merlin Media at the end of last month. Dominique has also worked in radio in California, including San Fransisco and San Jose. She has worked on the radio alongside such superstar names as Johnathon Brandmeier, Steve Dahl, Garry Meier, Robert Murphy, Kevin Matthews, Richard Roeper and others. She also was a contributor/co-host to Geoff Pinkus' "Livin' Large" show for a period of time. She is a published author of the popular children's book "Harvey the Wonder Dog," which is scheduled to become a series of books. A few months ago, one blog site said "Lise Dominique has the best voice of any female on Chicago radio today." Lise Dominique will serve as news anchor and co-host for the temporary "Murphy in the Morning" morning show on 101.1 that begins tomorrow. She previously worked with Murphy on WLS-FM. After the temporary morning show ends, she is scheduled to be part of the new midday show on the news station after it launches.

* Brant Miller - Miller started working in radio in the mid-1970's. He will always be best remembered for his decade and a half as a top Chicago DJ on WLS-AM and then WLS-FM. In April 2008, he returned to radio as morning show host on WLS-FM until his exit in January 2010. In 1989, Miller became a Meteorologist with WFLD-TV, two years later joining WMAQ-TV. He is now WMAQ-TV's Chief Meteorologist, working all of their afternoon and evening newscasts. Miller is also a private pilot, an avid gardener, a home repair "tinkerer" and a cancer survivor. Brant Miller is scheduled to be part of 101.1's new morning show (not the Murphy show).

* Rob Hart - Hart comes to 101.1 from WGN-AM, where he worked as a report/anchor/fill-in host from October 2005 until his hiring by Merlin Media at the end of last month. Prior to his time at WGN-AM, Hart worked for Milwaukee's WTMJ-AM as a news anchor and reporter for well over five years. With his sharp news sense, smooth delivery, quick wit, and ability to easily work in any role on a radio station, Rob Hart has long been regarded as a rising star. He is a die-hard White Sox fan that was somehow openly accepted at WGN, the flagship home of the Chicago Cubs. Hart will be the the co-anchor of the new morning show (not the Robert Murphy morning show).

* Mary Ellen Geist - One of the biggest hires for the new station will be a virtual unknown to Chicago radio listeners, as she has not worked in Chicago before. However, she has a resume filled with major radio successes and honors. Mary Ellen Geist is a former top-rated & award-winning afternoon anchor at WCBS-AM in New York, the flagship station of CBS Radio and CBS News. Despite having a job most radio news people can hardly dream of, being heard by over two million people each day, she decided to walk away from it all in 2005 to care for her ailing father in Michigan. Her touching story became a front page article in the New York Times on Thanksgiving Day, 2005. How she dealt with her father's Alzheimer's disease then became the subject of her book "Measure of the Heart," published in 2008. Prior to her time in New York, she was the morning news radio anchor at KGO-AM in San Francisco and a reporter/anchor in Los Angeles for almost 20 years before that. She recently has been a reporter for NPR in her native Michigan. Among her many honors are national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for best newscast and investigative reporting, Associated Press Awards for best newscast, live coverage, investigative reporting, and Reporter of the Year. Mary Ellen Geist's return to full-time radio will be a major story. For the new 101.1, she will serve as morning show co-anchor, alongside Rob Hart.

* Sam Sylk - Sylk is a Chicago native and veteran of Chicago radio, having started out on WKKC-FM in the early 90's. He had a pair of successful runs on WGCI-FM between 1996 and 2007, including almost five years as afternoon host there. In the summer of 2009, he began working his "Sylky Style" on the afternoon drive shift on WPWX-FM, until he, along with the entire dayime staff of the station, were inexplicably released last month. He can also be seen on Chicago cable channel 25 on Monday & Wednesday nights at 8:00pm. In addition to Chicago radio, Sylk has worked on the radio in Cleveland, OH, Philadelphia, PA, Tulsa, OK, and Columbus, MS. Sam Sylk is tentatively scheduled to be part of the midday programming.

* Ed Curran - A longtime veteran of Chicago media, Ed Curran is the most recent hire, having agreed to join Merlin Media on this past Thursday. Curran has been on Chicago radio since the mid-1970's. He started out on north-suburban WEFA-FM (now WXLC-FM) in 1976, moved to WGCI-FM in 1979, moved to WIND-AM in 1983 to be a host & Program Director, and went to WGN-AM in 1986, where he became a household name in Chicago. At WGN-AM, he worked alongside morning superstar Bob Collins and also famously co-hosted "The Al & Ed Show," along with Al Lerner. He also worked at WLS-AM for a couple of years after leaving WGN-AM in 1995. Most recently, he has been doing fill-in work as a newsman at WGN-AM and as a host on WIND-AM. Curran is also known for his years on local television. From 1997-1999, he was a Meteorologist and technology reporter for the WGN-TV Morning News. He was a Meteorologist for WMAQ-TV from 1999-2002, before going to WBBM-TV in 2002 as their morning/fill-in Meteorologist and station Technology reporter. As part of station-wide cutbacks, he was released in March 2010, but paid through the end of his contract, which ended in May of this year. He has also been a Technology reporter for CNN and continues to blog about technology on the website TechnoGadgets.org. Curran is expected to be part the new radio station's afternoon team.

* Charlie Meyerson - A very familiar and respected name to local radio listeners, Charlie Meyerson is veteran Chicago newsman. His voice was heard anchoring newscasts for over ten years at WXRT-FM. For almost as long, he was the morning news anchor, News Director and Public Affairs Director at WNUA-FM. He began his professional career in radio as News Director at west suburban WMRO-AM and WAUR-FM in the late 1970's, after spending a few years as a DJ, news reporter and news anchor and downstate WPGU-FM, while a student at U of I. Most recently, he was the News Director at WGN-AM from August 2009, until his release from the station last month. For many years, he was a writer, columnist, senior producer and editor for the Chicago Tribune and the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest. Meyerson even spent a few years in the 1980's as a newswriting instructor at Chicago's Columbia College. Charlie Meyerson will cover politics and more for the new 101.1.

* Annette Flournoy - Another huge hire for Merlin Media has been that of Annette Flournoy. Up until joining the staff at 101.1, Flournoy served as the News Director and afternoon news anchor of WVON-AM. She has been at WVON-AM in this capacity since 2010. She also served as WVON-AM News Director and morning news anchor in 2005 & 2006. In between, Flournoy worked as an award-winning Associate Producer of "Oprah & Friends" with Harpo Radio. She began her stellar career with WBBM-AM as a production assistant in the early 1990s, moving to WBEZ-FM in the mid-1990's as a producer & reporter. A few years latter, she moved to KARN-AM in Little Rock, AR to become an award-winning morning reporter and midday news anchor, before returning back to Chicago and WVON. She is a Chicago native and graduate of Columbia College. Additionally, she is well versed in the martial art of Aikido. Annette Flournoy will work at the new station as their south suburban bureau chief.

* Veronica Carter - Late night radio listeners will know the voice of Veronica Carter, who has been delivering news reports on WGN-AM's overnight show on a fill-in basis with Steve King and Johnnie Putman, as well as news anchoring weekends since December 2005. Carter is leaving WGN-AM to join up with Merlin Media. The Santa Cruz, CA native now lives in Valparaiso, IN. She will serve as the station's northwest Indiana bureau chief. Carter can also be heard as a midday DJ on northwest Indiana's WZVN-FM/Z107.1.

* JoAnn Genette - Genette has been working in Chicago radio for a decade and a half. She has been heard delivering news and/or traffic reports on WLIT-FM, WLUP-FM, WXXY-FM, and WCBR-FM. She may be best remembered as the morning news/traffic personality and co-host for WKSC-FM's morning show for well over seven years with DreX. Recently, she was the host of west-suburban WBIG-AM's "The Big Wake Up Call." She recently left that position to join Metro Traffic as a part-time weekend traffic reporter, but had to exit Metro when the opportunity for a full time news anchor/reporter position presented itself with Merlin Media at the start of this month.

* Jill Urchak - Has been delivering news and traffic reports on many Chicagoland radio stations since 1994. She primarily worked for the news & traffic services Shadow/Metro and Clear Channel Traffic during this period. She may be best known for her time as traffic reporter on WLS-AM & WLS-FM in 2009 & 2010. For a short time, she was also a DJ on WABT-FM and even co-hosted a television show called "Casino Television," seen on WCIU-TV.

* Debra Dale - Dale has been a fixture on Chicago radio for 25 years. Since March 1992, she has been with WBBM-AM, first as a traffic reporter, and since 1999, as a reporter and news anchor. Prior to that time, she spent six years with WUSN-FM. Debra Dale spent two years in Phoenix, AZ working in radio before moving to Chicago.

* Jennifer O'Neill - Suburban Chicago native Jennifer O'Neill also comes to 101.1 from WBBM-AM, where she started her career in 1999 as a producer and writer. After a few years working at news radio stations in Wisconsin and downstate Illinois, she returned to WBBM-AM on 2005, where she worked as a reporter and writer until joining Merlin Media this month.

* Guy Bauer - A holdover from Q101 is Guy Bauer, who was most recently producing the Q101 Sherman & Tingle morning show. Though born in New Jersey, Bauer came to Chicago radio via California, following Jonathon Brandmeier here when Brandmeier brought his radio show back to WLUP-FM from Los Angeles in 2005. His production career started in television when he was just 18 years old, working on Comedy Central's "Crank Yankers" and then on the network's "Man Show." In addition to his radio work, he runs Guy Bauer Productions, a full service video production company. He can also be seen each week on his own Internet show, "The Guy Bauer Half Hour." For the new 101.1, Guy Bauer will be delivering his own uniquely humorous commentary on current events.

* Ryan Burrow - Burrow has worked as a reporter, anchor and producer for radio stations in Fredericksburg, VA, Memphis, TN, and most notably, for Chicago's WGN-AM. He began producing news & viral content for websites in 2005, and joined Tribune Company as an Online Producer in 2008. He exited TribCo this month to join Merlin Media's new radio project on 101.1. In addition to helping with web content, Chicago-area native Ryan Burrows will be a street reporter for the new morning show.

* Diana Bodkins - While not a household name in Chicago, this is one of Merlin Media's bigger hires. Diana Bodkins began her radio career as a morning show producer at WFYR-FM. In 1989, she moved to WLS-AM as a midday show producer when that station flipped to a news/talk. By 1994, she had been named as Program Director of WLS-AM & WLS-FM. She was with WLS until 1999. She has worked for Columbia College since 1987, and currently teaches the school's Radio Producer courses. Bodkins will play a key role in the programming of the new station.

* Scott Miller - Miller is one of three people coming to 101.1 from Harpo Radio, Oprah Winfrey's radio company. Miller has been a producer with Harpo Radio since its start in 2006, most recently producing the "Gayle King Show" on XM Radio. He will also be remembered as the producer and co-host of Pete McMurray's show on WCKG-FM in 2000 & 2001, where he picked up the nickname of "Pinto." In between those two jobs, he worked at WTAO-FM in downstate Marion-Carbondale, where he hosted a top rated rock & roll morning show.

* Katherine Kelly - Katherine Kelly is the another person coming to 101.1 from Harpo Radio, where she has served as a producer and Operations Manager since 2006. Prior to joining Harpo, Katherine Kelly worked as the morning news anchor and producer for the morning show on WUSN-FM. Katherine Kelly will serve as the western suburbs bureau chief.

* Anne Kelly - Anne Kelly is one of the younger new hires for the new station. She most recently has been working as a reporter for WCIA-TV in downstate Illinois for almost the last two years. Prior to that, she worked for KFYR-TV in Bismark, ND for over two years. The Columbia College graduate was a news intern at WGN-AM to begin her career. She will serve as the northwest suburbs bureau chief.

* Art Porter - Veteran Chicago radio producer Art Porter has joined up with Merlin Media. For almost 20 years, Porter has produced shows on WVAZ-FM and WGCI-FM, most notably Crazy Howard McGee's top rated morning show and the new "Morning Riot" morning show.

* Sarah Jersild - Chicago's Sarah Jersild comes 101.1 from a media background other than radio. She is a writer, an editor, an Internet queen, and much more. She most recently was a Senior Producer for Tribune Broadcasting, but also does writing/blogging/podcasting for such outlets as CWSource, Fox Source, Zap2It, Tribune Media Services, and more. Jersild will cover entertainment for the new 101.1 station and website.

* Jeff McKinney - McKinney is the longtime news anchor of WCCO-AM in Minneapolis, MN. He exited the station after almost 16 years there last year. He had been commuting to Minneapolis from his home in St. Louis, MO. When asked what role McKinney will have with the new station, a Merlin Media insider just said "Wait 'til you hear McKinney!"

* Dave Williams - Williams is a household name in Los Angeles and Sacramento, after working 30 years delivering morning news for such California radio stations as KABC, KNX, KFWB and KFBK. The veteran newsman will be delivering news reports for a shift yet to be determined. Is this a temporary position until Merlin Media sets up shop in Los Angeles at some point in the near future???

* Hilarie Barsky - NOT YET CONFIRMED, but rumored hire Hilarie Barsky has been a news anchor with ABC News Radio out of New York since 2006. For over three years, until July 2009, she hosted the "Good Morning America Radio Show" on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, but now delivers news reports for stations nationwide. She has also worked in radio in such markets as Vancouver, B.C., Dallas, TX, Trenton, NJ , and in Philadelphia, PA. Fun fact: While in Philadelphia, she worked alongside Paul Barsky, who previously hosted morning radio shows in Chicago. Despite the identical last name and chosen career, the two Barskys are not related.
UPDATE: Hilarie Barsky will NOT be part of Chicago's new 101.1. She will however be doing something else with Merlin Media, LLC, but just not in the Chicago market.

This is by no means a complete list. Other names, including big names, have been hired (or are in the process of being hired) and will be part of the new station soon. Merlin Media has hired a full compliment of producers, writers, editors, planners and more to make sure the new station stays organized and running smoothly. Quite a lot of the details around the new station are fluid and not yet set in stone. Many decisions are still to be finalized. The station, which has no blueprint from which to follow, since it is an entirely new concept, will be a work in progress for a while. Regardless, it will be fascinating for fans of media to watch it all unfold over the next few days and weeks.

Article updated 7/18/11 10:30pm with additional hires and information.

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