Published on Tuesday, 24 April 2012 11:10
Merlin Media, LLC, owner of Chicago's WLUP-FM & WIQI-FM, has entered into an agreement with Venture Technologies Group, LLC's local company WLFM, LLC to take over all programming and ad sales for WLFM-LP/Smooth 87.7. For now, the company plans on adding FM News 101.1 newscasts to the Smooth Jazz/Soft AC format it currently carries. The change is effective this coming Monday, April 30th.
Even though the full take over via the Limited Marketing Agreement (LMA) comes on Monday, news updates from WIQI-FM will begin on WLFM-LP tomorrow at 1:00pm.
UPDATE 1:30pm: The newscasts have already begun, as of today, not tomorrow, as originally said by Merlin Media officials. The news updates now air every half-hour on Smooth 87.7 FM.
The initial reason for Merlin Media's interest in the station is to expand the public's awareness of FM News 101.1, using WLFM-LP's multiple ways of reaching its audience. In addition to being heard over the airwaves on 87.7 FM, WLFM-LP can still be heard on analog television sets on channel 6, on local cable television on Comcast/Xfinity channel 877, and streamed online at Smooth877.com
-- although that website address could be changing very soon.
John Gehron, Chairman of Merlin's Advisory Committee, said in a statement today: "We believe this transaction will create significant value for viewers and listeners of 87.7. The opportunity to expand the footprint of Merlin Media in Chicago is very exciting. Our goal is to expand the video and interactive components of WLFM-LP. We want to continue the focus of serving underserved audiences."
Paul Koplin, CEO of Venture Technologies Group, LLC and WLFM, LLC, added: "We are extremely excited with the opportunity to partner with Merlin Media. We are thrilled for the opportunity to allow Merlin Media to expand 87.7's programming offerings."
The move questions how much longer the current Smooth format will last on 87.7 FM. With numerous reports that Merlin and its main investor GTCR are looking to bring back an alternative rock format
to Chicago, after its news format on 101.1 removed it, it appears that 87.7 FM could be the logical location for it. According to some insiders, it will be happening sooner than later -- possibly as quick as next week.
Other interesting developments in this story include the recent visit by Mancow to the Chicago Merlin Media offices (first mentioned HERE
last week), which could mean a possible return to the FM airwaves for Mancow's show. Also, there are unconfirmed reports that former WLUP-FM/WKQX-FM Vice President and General Manager Marv Nyren has been telling people that he will be involved with a new Alternative Rock station coming soon to Chicago. Since January, Marv Nyren has been working for Clear Channel as Total Traffic Network's new Midwest Regional Director of Affiliate Development, based out of Chicago. (Not too sure how Clear Channel will feel about their employee openly talking about going to work for a competitor in the near future...) If true, Nyren would be a shocking hire for Merlin Media, as it was under Nyren's "guidance" that WKQX-FM saw revenues & profits skyrocket downward, along with ratings. Thanks in part to Nyren's leadership and years of severe financial losses, Emmis Communications was forced to sell their two radio stations to keep the rest of the company afloat.
WLFM-LP has been airing a Smooth Jazz, then Smooth Jazz/Soft AC hybrid, since May 22, 2009. Despite a shoestring budget and a challenging signal, WLFM-LP was still able to bring in decent ratings and develop a large, loyal audience. This includes very impressive ratings among African-American listeners. For African-American listeners ages 25-54, WLFM-LP had a 7.5 average share in the first quarter of 2012. For that same demographic & time, WLFM-LP had an average share of 14.1 for households making an annual income of $75,000 or above. For African-American listeners 35-64, in households earning above $75,000, the station had a 17.5 share. It did even better with African-American Women. In the first quarter of 2012, African-American Women ages 25-54 in households with income above $50,000, the station had an 18 share. In the first quarter of 2012, African-American Women ages 35-64 in households with income above $75,000, the station had a whopping 26.7 share. (All of the above ratings share information comes from Arbitron.)
Unfortunately, despite the station's best efforts, it has not been able to earn enough by way of advertising revenue. While it was able to make ends meet, it was by no means a hugely profitable station. This opened the doors to others approaching the station for a possible purchase or LMA situation.
If/when the Smooth format disappears to make room for the Alternative format, this could will displace such Chicago radio veterans as GM Pat Kelley, DJ Loni Taylor and DJ/PD Rick O'Dell -- one of the most beloved Chicago DJs on the air today.
It could also be the final nail in the coffin for Smooth Jazz music being heard regularly on Chicago's airwaves.
UPDATE 1:45PM: WLFM-LP will be dropping its Smooth format on Monday, April 30th. The current staff will have until the end of this week to say its goodbyes to it loyal, loving audience. Whether or not the Alternative Rock format begins on Monday has not yet been 100% decided upon. Further updates will appear here on this article and on the Chicagoland Radio & Media website.
UPDATE 2:15pm: RadioInsight.com is reporting that Merlin Media has applied to change WLFM-LP's call letters to WKQX-LP. WKQX-FM was the call letters of the alternative rock station on 101.1 FM, before Merlin Media bought the station and flipped the format to news in July 2011.
UPDATE 3:00pm: On the Chatbox feature on WLFM-LP's website, Program Director and midday radio personality Rick O'Dell had the following to say: "I wanted to make sure you got the word from me. The announcement was made today that WLFM will be switching formats on Monday, April 30. I speak for everyone at 87.7 when I say it was a wonderful, exciting three years as Chicago's smooth choice. We are grateful to have had your support." He then added: "Everyone on the WLFM staff will miss the incredible relationship we've had with you. There's been nothing like it in my career--I can tell you that." O'Dell later wrote: "We'll all be here the rest of the week, so we'll have our chances to say goodbye. And, who knows what might be down the road? I like to be an optimist in these kinds of situations."
UPDATE 4/25: It has been confirmed that the Alternative Rock format will officially begin on 87.7 this coming Monday morning.
UPDATE 4/29: Instead of starting the Alternative Rock format tomorrow, 87.7 will instead be simulcasting WIQI-FM/FM News 101.1 for the next week.