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More On The Q101 Flip: Call Letters And Pure Conjecture

By Karl Klockars in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 23, 2011 6:40PM


The inimitable Robert Feder updates us today on James Van Osdol's announcement that he'll be assembling a historical tome on the frequency that's been home to alternative (or, "alternative") music for 20 years, and it seems he's striking while the iron is hot. The Kickstarter associated with the book (planned title: Smells Like Rock Radio) is looking for just shy of $10k, and he's already got over $2100 pledged. The news about Q101, however, doesn't stop there.

When I was in college taking radio classes, I was taught that the biggest way to signal a major change at a radio station wasn't changing the staff, the management, or even blowing up the format: it was changing the call letters. We saw it most recently when WCKG switched to WCFS, and Radio Insight has info which could indicate that the WKQX calls aren't long for this world. Merlin Media has reserved the domain name for, and reserved them "on Monday, June 20 prior to the public announcement of the acquisition of these stations by Merlin Media LLC." The calls of WIIN or "Win!" bring to mind #4 of Merlin's job page, reading "Play to win." And who can't already hear the Charlie Sheen quote-heavy imaging?

Other domains have been registered anonymously, including the URL, which is just generic enough to either be a red herring or a perfectly bland positioning statement for what wouldn't be an all-news station, as has been reported just about everywhere, but what I think might be in store: A news/talker akin to the aforementioned WCKG.

Here's my reasoning, and I make no claims of inside information or industry chatter; just some hunches from a decade in the broadcast industry, almost entirely at news/talk stations.* First there's this: An all-news station is ridiculously expensive. We're talking millions and millions in start-up costs. You have to staff anchors, reporters, editors, writers, producers, and management and they have to operate 24 hours a day, to say nothing of what the studios would require just in new equipment.

When Michaels and company ran the numbers, do you think they saw enough of a potential market share to bite into the Radio Fortress that is WBBM-AM? Enough to justify spending that kind of money? I, for one, don't think so. Michaels has built his reputation and his fortune on saving money, on consolidation, on being a cost-cutter. Not being the guy who throws a shit-ton of cash at an extremely risky start-up. And considering his unseemly ouster from Trib Tower and WGN, is it hard to imagine Michaels and other Clear Channel vets setting the stage for a radio vendetta intended to steal away part of the news/talk audience from his old station? (Not to mention a chunk from WLS-AM as well.)

Another factor to consider is just who's on the bench when it comes to radio people. Tons of talent has been let go from high-profile gigs in the past few years. Johnny B and Steve Dahl are the first two that come to mind. Mike North is between gigs. Steve Cochran is still out there, but based on his post-WGN comments on their then-management (Michaels and program director Kevin Metheny) his appearance doesn't seem likely. In terms of who's working now, Eddie and Jobo landed on their feet at the new K-Hits after a year of treading water at WLS but they did so for a salary cut. Roe Conn was reportedly down to his final days at the same station until he took a pay cut as well. There are people in the market who are undoubtedly willing to work for cheap...or at least cheaper. The one person who would be a perfect fit here?


Michaels has got to be smart enough to know that putting Mancow back on the frequency he was fired from a few years ago would be a huge story and immediately grab listeners. It also fits Michaels' syndicated shock-jock preferences. Fill in the rest of the dayparts with other local talent we haven't heard from in a few years - Dahl has spoken of having "a plan" he can't announce 'til July 10. Could he then reclaim his 'CKG afternoon-drive throne? Pepper in some news anchors throughout mornings, mid-days and PM drive, pipe in the overnights and you've got yourself a station that can bill well, grab some of the 25-54 demo that no talk station is going after (WGN and WLS both aim for 35-64) and make some cash. And it'd be nowhere near as expensive as staffing up a full all-news outfit.

Like I said, all this is a barely-educated guess. When WIIN All-News, Traffic and Weather on the Sevens, Live Local and First, When News Breaks Out We Break In, Your Chicago Source For News kicks off, feel free to email "You were soooooooooooo wrong" as much as you like. Honestly, if it's either an all-news or a news/talk, it's going to mean more jobs for radio types like myself. As for the jocks soon to be on the outs at Q101: Sorry, all. Personally, I went to high school in the 90's at the height of Q101's influence, and it's been a major part of my life soundtrack and willbe missed - but I do think this new venture has a lot of potential.

Merlin Media's tagline is "expect magic." In my experience, what passes for "magic" is nothing more than illusion, smoke and mirrors. With the track record of this company's head executive, the only thing to expect is (yeah, it's a cliche) the unexpected. Expect a lot more blowjob jokes in the coming weeks as well. You can at least count on that one.

* In terms of full disclosure, I've worked with or at least met just about every person I mentioned in this post, including time at the former WCKG and most recently for WLS, for whatever that's worth.