Randy wrecks another one: Lights out on FM News

If it weren’t for all the jobs that were lost and careers that were wrecked, this would be a day for gloating and celebration. Once again, Randy Michaels has exposed himself as the arrogant, inept charlatan we’ve always known him to be.

But he’s getting better at it: This time, it only took him a year to fail miserably.

With simultaneous announcements at 9am Tuesday, the CEO of Merlin Media pulled the plug on the company’s crappy FM News formats at WIQI-FM (101.1) in Chicago and WEMP-FM in New York. Both stations morphed into standard-issue music outlets.

“Effective immediately, alternative is back on the air in New York as New Rock 101.9 and adult hits are on the air in Chicago as i101,” Michaels said in a statement. “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. I’d like to thank the people who poured their heart and soul into the effort and I wish them all the best.”

Doomed from the start, FM News 101.1 debuted late last July with a chatty and condescending version of all-news purportedly aimed at young women. When Walter Sabo, chief operating officer of Merlin Media and architect of the format, was forced out, Michaels assumed full control of the company and stumbled through several other variations of news and news/talk without success.

An ill-conceived billboard campaign featuring disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich and the slogan “He Never Listens” proved as ineffective as it was inartful.

In the latest Arbitron Portable People Meter survey, FM News 101.1 ranked 41st with a 0.3 percent audience share overall. Among listeners between 25 and 54, the station tied for 38th with an identical 0.3 share. Calling it "the worst product launch in the history of Chicago radio" was no exaggeration.

The new i101 debuted with a playlist that featured *NSYNC, P!nk, 311, EMF, Goo Goo Dolls, Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch, Alanis Morissette, Poison, Britney Spears and Salt N Pepa. “Chicago’s current competitive market matrix creates an incredible opportunity for adult hits and i101 is the ideal weapon for the battle,” operations manager Jim Richards said in a statement.

In Chicago, Merlin Media also operates classic rock WLUP-FM (97.9) and alternative rock WKQX-LP (87.7).

Michaels formed Merlin Media last year with backing from the private equity firm GTCR shortly after he was forced to resign as CEO of Tribune Co. amid allegations of inappropriate behavior.


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)