FM station drops low-rated all-news format for adult hit music
BY EMILY MORRIS Staff Reporter July 17, 2012 12:34PM
Updated: August 19, 2012 6:21AM
The music is back at the radio station that for years was alternative rocker Q101 and less than a year ago became an all-news FM station.
Now WIQI-FM (101.1) is playing throwback adult hits.
In late July, Merlin Media, controlled by former Tribune CEO Randy Michaels and private equity firm GTCR, switched the format of WKQX-FM (101.1), shutting off the music, turning to 24-hour news and hiring a local news staff.
Those staffers lost their jobs Tuesday morning when the station switched back to the FM music scene with an “adult music” lineup and changed its slogan from News 101 to i101. It promises to play such throwbacks as Alanis Morissette, Britney Spears and ’N Sync. On its website, the station claims to be packed with “stuff from the ’90s, stuff from the 2000s and some stuff that doesn’t make sense at all!”
WIQI didn’t fare well in the radio market, earning only a 0.3 percent share of listeners last month, according to Arbitron ratings. By comparison, all-news WBBM-AM (780) drew 4.3 percent, and WGN-AM (720) took 3.9 percent.
“It was a difficult decision to make, but after a year of minimal audience engagement, coupled with the format’s inherent expense, I felt it was time to make a change,” Michaels said in a statement.
About 25 to 30 Chicago journalists were laid off from the company Monday, according to sources who declined to be named.
John Gehron, chairman of the advisory board of Merlin Media in Chicago, would not release numbers but said a majority of the employees at the station were laid off.
Charlie Meyerson, who left WGN Radio in 2011 to report primarily on local politics as News 101’s Chicago bureau chief, found out Tuesday he lost his job.
Though he said the rumor mill had been churning out speculation that the company was planning layoffs, “I think a lot of people were surprised,” said Meyerson, especially about the job cuts and the complete transformation of the station’s content.
Gehron said the company hopes the new pop lineup draws women ages 25 to 44, a lucrative audience from an advertising standpoint.
At the time the station switched to the news format, Michaels said: “My favorite format has always been spoken radio. I’ve long had a nostalgic love affair with the big AM stations known for the format, and today — as music moves to the iPod — it’s time for spoken word to move to FM. I’m proud to be part of Chicago’s only 24-hour all-news station.”
The attempt to be the only all-news FM station was knocked out when, just as Merlin was adopting the format, WBBM-AM (780) announced it was giving news listeners an FM option. It dropped its adult contemporary music format on WCFS-FM (105.9) to simulcast WBBM’s 24-news cycle there.
Now, the new 101.1 music station faces competition from similar stations such as 101.9 “The Mix,” 93.9 “Lite FM” and 103.5 “Kiss FM.”
Merlin Media also switched its FM News 101.9 in New York to New Rock 101.9.