Merlin Media finds its man for ‘Underground Alternative’

Merlin Media isn’t quite ready to launch its new alternative rock format on 87.7 FM, but at least it’s known who’s going to be running the show when that happens.

As of Monday, Merlin Media officially takes control of WLFM-LP (87.7), under terms of a local marketing agreement with Venture Technologies Group LLC. The smooth jazz format that’s been airing on the station since 2009 will sign off Sunday.

As it did last year when it took over the former WKQX and stunted for several days before launching all-news WIQI-FM (101.1) as FM News 101.1, Merlin is expected to bide its time for a while before alternative rock starts airing on 87.7.

In conjunction with the move, the company has revived the call letters WKQX for the new station, which will be marketed as Q 87.7 — Underground. Alternative.

Jim Richards, a veteran programmer and protégé of Merlin Media CEO Randy Michaels, is expected to be named operations director of Q 87.7 and Merlin’s other music station in Chicago, classic rock WLUP-FM (97.9), sources said. Richards, who spent 10 months last year as program director of KWJZ-FM in Seattle, has worked closely with Michaels for more than 15 years, including top programming posts at Jacor Broadcasting, Clear Channel Radio and Tribune Co., where he was vice president of content for Tribune Interactive.

In switching the new station to alt rock and combining its sales with The Loop, Merlin apparently hopes to increase its share of advertising revenue from young adult males.

Meanwhile, as FM News 101.1 continues to languish at the bottom of the ratings and bleed red ink, the station eliminated three news anchors Friday in a restructuring of assignments. Much of its output now comes from the station’s counterpart in New York through shared anchor arrangements.

The most prominent of those who left was afternoon news anchor and meteorologist Ed Curran, a 30-year veteran of Chicago broadcasting whose hiring last July was seen as a credible step by the startup news operation. Also forced out was anchor/reporter Katherine Kelly. A third, anchor Mike Wilson, resigned voluntarily.

In addition, John Kempf, known on the air as “Byrd,” a Loop personality for the last nine years, was fired. He also delivered afternoon sports updates for FM News 101.1.


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)