Merlin Media Adds Third Chicago Signal

Smooth 87.7 WLFM WLFM-LP 87.7 The X 877TheX WKQX Q87.7 Q101 Merlin Media Rick O'DellUpdate 4/30:Smooth 87.7” signed off following an infomercial at 12am and after a short period of dead air has begun simulcasting new sister “FM News 101.1” WIQI in order to transfer the audience to that station.

Update 4/27: Robert Feder reports the station will be branded as “Q87.7” when it debuts.

Merlin has also hired Jim Richards, most recently PD at Sandusky’s “Click 98.9” KLCK Seattle as Operations Manager of 87.7 and The Loop. Richards has a long history with Randy Michaels, working for him a Jacor, Clear Channel, and Tribune.

Update 4/24 6:40pm: Merlin Media registered on March 5. This was followed by by an anonymous registration of on April 11.

Broadcast Barter Radio Networks, the owners of the Q101 intellectual property quickly scooped up and today following our report of the call letter application.

Rick O’Dell, PD of Smooth 87.7 made the announcement on the station’s live chat on its website that the station would be changing format when Merlin Media takes control on April 30. Since it is impossible to link directly to the message, Chicagoland Radio & Media has transcribed his statement here.

Original Report 4/24 12:44pm: Merlin Media has signed an LMA to operate Smooth AC “Smooth 87.7” WLFM-LP beginning Monday, April 30. The station has applied for a call change to WKQX-LP, bringing the heritage calls back into the market.

WLFM has been the most successful of the so-called Franken-FM’s, low-powered television stations on Channel 6 operating as a defacto radio station at 87.75 FM, registering a 1.6 share in the March ratings. The station will begin airing news updates from new sister “FM News 101.1” WIQI beginning today at 1:00pm.

Time-Out Chicago’s Robert Feder has already tweeted that the station is expected to flip to Alternative Rock when Merlin Media takes over. In addition to WLFM and WIQI, Merlin Media operates Rock “97.9 The Loop” WLUP in Chicago. If the station does flip to Alternative, it would be returning the format to the market for the first time since Merlin Media took over then “Q101” WKQX and flipped it to News last summer. Merlin principle Randy Michaels had parked the WKQX calls on a still unbuilt station in Watseka, IL.

The Q101 intellectual property was sold to Broadcast Barter Radio Networks last summer which has continued to operate the brand online. Even with the return of the WKQX calls to Chicago, there is no connection between the operators of Q101 and Merlin Media.

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  1. RjD, the Daltonator. says

    Seems like a lot of work went into creating the smooth jazz brand to survive after the March 2016 LPTV analog sunset date, where they’d be left with Channel 877 on cable TV. Perhaps they were unsure of the continued availability of the cable TV channel?

  2. Joseph says


    Most FM radios can pick-up 87.7 Megahertz.

  3. Joseph says

    I thought Merlin Media’s “mission statement” was to acquire stations to run news or talk formats.

    I think the most likely direction for 87.7 will in fact be talk radio.

    1. Myron Falwell says

      At this point, WEMP and WIQI are hemorrhaging money, are dead last in the ratings, and are jokes of the industry. They did the impossible: make modern rock (hardly a profitable format) look like a million bucks in comparison.

      Leasing WLFM-LP was more of Merlin’s financial backers forcing them to do so. And if WIQI continues to lag badly, don’t be surprised if Merlin is forced into buying back the “Q101” brand and heritage from Broadcast Barter at a premium price. Or move WLUP to 101.1 and debut WKQX back at 97.9 as “Q97.9.”

      Either way, this shows that Merlin is destined to vanish into the night. Like magic. 😉

      1. Lance Venta says

        Not at all.

        I believe you’re basing your points based on the original report that GTCR was working on bringing Alternative back to Chicago. In reality it was always Merlin. The bankers have nothing to do with programming or forcing them to lease the station. It was an ability to add an additional broadcast outlet to a cluster.

        A startup spoken word station takes time to build. Look at 92.3 in Cleveland. People’s awareness of the brands just aren’t there yet. WIQI has just begun its first marketing campaign with billboards. The common listeners don’t know a new station is there.

        1. Myron Falwell says

          True, to a point. IIRC, analog channel 6, like most of the Franken-FMs, will have to shut down at some point; it’s a stopgap that is being leased and nothing but by Merlin. Eventually, should WKQX perform well enough to justify an actual FM signal, they will have a problem on their hands.

          Best case scenario for Merlin is that they try to take Rush Limbaugh as the centerpiece of an FM news/talk format for WIQI (as “IQ-101”), should Cumulus actually follow through with mandatory clearances for Mike Huckabee (just like they have with “Red Eye/Midnight Trucking” displacing C2C).

          Unlike “The Fan,” which had at least did their launch after off-air preparation, most of the “FM New” stunt had their preparation done ON-AIR. And that is where most of the criticism towards Merlin lies. Even CBS’ WNEW-FM, which is having similar trouble getting ratings in a market dominated by WTOP and WAMU, had a professional launch in comparison.

          1. Myron Falwell says

            Of course, the entire point may be totally moot if internet radio actually takes off prior to 2015 (am crossing my fingers on that one 🙂 )

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