Friday, July 22, 2011

The new WWWN-FM: It's winning radio

The new WWWN-FM and Charlie Sheen... A "winning" combination!

Welcome to WWWN-FM - Winning Radio - a place where someone is always winning and where you definitely won't find the Cubs (or the White Sox.) And holding down morning drive is the one and only... Charlie Sheen! He's always winning!

Okay, so the new 101.1 isn't nicknamed "Winning Radio"... and Charlie Sheen isn't the station's new morning personality (with Randy Michaels however, it's never out of the realm of possibility...) but Merlin Media did officially change the call letters of the now-former WKQX-FM on 101.1 to WWWN on Thursday, while in New York, Merlin changed the call letters of the former WRXP-FM to WEMP-FM.

Both stations are currently in a "stunting" phase using Hot Adult Contemporary music after ending their respective Alternative/modern Rock formats last week and are expected to flip to a News/Talk format within the next ten days or so.

Merlin swapped the call letters of WKQX with those of a dark (not currently operating) station in Wateska, IL, which is owned by Randy Michaels, who is founder of Merlin (and 1 percent owner).

No word on what WWWN stands for, but it could stand for something related to women, which its new news/talk format is expected to target (and not anything related to Charlie Sheen or "winning", who departed Two And A Half Men earlier this year and used the term endlessly to describes his battles with Men producer Chuck Lorre.)

Meanwhile, WWWN launched its first on-air news briefs this week. Usually six minutes in length, the news brief features top headlines, traffic reports, entertainment stories, and some commentary.

Only time will tell if this new format Merlin Media is pimping out is "Winning Radio". If not, WWWN might have to trade in the "winning" attitude of Charlie Sheen for the "losing" one of Meg Griffin or the Cubs.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Merlin vs. CBS in a "Fresh" smackdown

Meet Merlin Media's new mascot. Don't let the Florida Marlins garb fool you. 

Ladies and gentlemen... grab a ringside seat because it's time for the Chicago radio smackdown between old standby The Church Of Tisch and newcomer Merlin Media!

In what promises to be the first of many clashes between CBS and Merlin, the two exchanged not-so-friendly letters to each other regarding the use of the word "Fresh".

The corporation that was once ruined by cheapskate Laurence Tisch sent a "cease-and-desist" letter to the company founded by the Court Jester. In it, CBS legal counsel Lauren Marcello warned Merlin Media COO Walter Sabo that WKQX-FM's (now known as WWWN-FM) use of the word "Fresh" infringes on their  copyright as The Church of Tisch uses the moniker for some of its AC stations around the country, including its soon-to-expire WCFS-FM here in Chicago, which simulcasts all-news WBBM-AM beginning on August 1. In the letter (which you can read here), CBS uses language such as "trademark infringement" and "unfair competition" and "cease and desist".

So how did Merlin respond? By sending a letter of rebuttal (which you can read here) to The Church Of Tisch penned by The Merlin Marlin, The New  101.1 Mascot, denying the use of the word "Fresh" on air.

Mr. Marlin also pointed out two Chicago businesses who uses the Fresh name in their  title and their respective websites. The letter concluded by saying the term is used by hundreds of Chicagoland businesses and has no plans to be one of them (and the letter was signed with a smiley face.)

So, you wonder who The Church Of Tisch would go after next? Will Smith, who was once known as The Fresh Prince? Or what about Kool & The Gang, who had a 1985 hit titled Fresh, which went to number nine on the Hot 100, and number one on both the R&B and Dance (12 inch sales) charts?

Yes, Fresh describes CBS Radio's inane way of thinking - keeping a format which turned out to be one of the biggest bombs in recent Chicago radio history - and The Church Of Tisch clowns' blocking local management from instituting needed changes. Ironic why The Church Of Tisch would be pissed off at Merlin for using the word "Fresh" - it was never in CBS Radio's vocabulary to begin with... just look at CBS' lame attempts at Top 40 radio in New York and Los Angeles...

Old cheapskate Larry Tisch - who never approached a "Fresh" way of running CBS  - would be proud.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Radio 101: Taking you back to the old school

Today's lesson on Radio 101: We're taking you back to the old school - with an old school jock.

As part of its soon-to-be launch of its news/talk format, WKQX-FM, which was known as Alternative/Modern Rock Q101, is heading back to its Adult Contemporary roots as part of its "stunting" until its new permanment format is ready to go.

First reported by Robert Feder at Time Out Chicago, WKQX is bringing back former morning man Robert Murphy to helm the 5-10 a.m. morning drive shift starting today, at least in the short-term (and sorry, he won't be bringing his straightjacket, in which he appeared in dozens of ads for the original "Q101" in the 1980's.) Murphy was morning personality at the station through much of the 1980's and early 1990's. He left the station shortly after the flip to Alternative.

Until News/Talk is up-and-running, the station plans to "stunt" with an Adult Contemporary or Hot Adult Contemporary format, which it had until 1992 (in the last few months of the format, Q101 played more up-tempo music during nighttime hours - and yes, the station was programmed by PD Bill Gamble, who would soon flip it to Alternative.)

Meanwhile, Chicagoland Radio & Media released more details about 101.1 FM's new format on Monday. 

An impressive roster of producers, reporters, and on-air talent has been assembled for the new radio station. A partial listing of individuals involved include Ed Curran (whose hiring was announced today), Rob Hart, Brant Miller, Sam Sylk, Lise Dominque, Charlie Meyerson, and Veronica Carter.

New call letters are being assigned to 101.1FM, with WWWN-FM as the front runner (and no, Charlie Sheen will not be involved with this station.)

But judging by the preparation of this project, Randy Michaels & Co. clearly have a "winning" attitude - gets an "A". But executing it is another matter. And if this turns out to be a "losing" proposition and gets an "F", let's just say... there are no refunds for this course.

Homework: Your assignment is to view this 1980's Q101 commercial of Robert Murphy in a straightjacket. Hey, you wish homework was really this fun...

Class dismissed - until tomorrow...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Meet WGN-TV's new late night host... a sheep

The late-night battle for viewers is quite fierce. Battling for audience - and all those ad dollars, you have Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson, George Lopez, Chelsea Handler, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Monique, and Frank Woolanski.

Wait a minute... who's Frank Woolanski??

In news first reported by CRM yesterday, Tribune-owned WGN-TV announced it was rebranding its late fringe sitcom block as WGN Night Cap, and its being hosted by a puppet named Frank Woolanski beginning this Monday. Every night, he'll appear in bumpers between the station's sitcoms from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. (Woolanski will not appear on WGN America.)

WGN currently airs Family Guy, Two And A Half Men, Entourage, Friends, According to Jim, and Curb Your Enthusiasm in late fringe. This fall, WGN plans to add new off-net sitcom 30 Rock to the block while Entourage and Curb exit the station's schedule as both off-HBO series are being pulled from broadcast syndication due to low ratings. WGN and other Tribune who currently air Friends recently extended their contracts to air the series through 2017 - and is being made available in HD beginning in 2013.

This comes as Tribune - a company still mired in Chapter 11 bankruptcy - is trying to find ways to attract viewers to its languishing station group. Recently, CW affiliate KIAH-TV in Houston rebranded and revamped its local newscasts as News Fix; and the company's My Network TV affiliate in Seattle (previously known as KTZZ-TV) changed its call letters to KZJO and rebranded itself as "Joe TV" in September 2010 with four animated series airing back-to-back from 5 to 9 p.m. weeknights branded as Cartoons From Hell. Similar to these two efforts, WGN is already using social media to promote Frank Woolanski via Facebook, Twitter, and through

So you're asking - who is Frank Woolanski? According to his Facebook page, he says he is an unemployed "sleep induction specialist" and he lost his job because he couldn't put people to sleep (he should've got a gig anchoring the local news instead.) He's a native South Sider (a plus... as far as I'm concerned ), and is into '80's hair-metal bands. He also claims his great-great-great Grandpa's wool was made into a jacket for mayor Richard J. Daley. His favorite foods are deep-dish pizza (of course) and Dr. Pepper (which coincidentally is a sponsor of WGN Night Cap.)

While he may not be able to top Svengoolie and Bozo as Chicago's best-known fictional character - at least not yet, the sheep is already funnier than Leno and Letterman.

Did you know? WGN did air a late-night talk show before - but it wasn't successful. In January 1992, Tribune launched the short-lived The Dennis Miller Show, and after months airing at 1:30 a.m. (after the station's late movie), WGN moved the SNL alum to 10:30 p.m. in June 1992, replacing Hunter reruns. After drawing even lower ratings than it did at 1:30 a.m. (and lower than the show it replaced), Tribune decided to pull the plug on Miller in syndication after seven months.

T Dog's Six Pack: Put away the beach ball

For the first time in a long time, its been an active time here on the blog with a lot of breaking local radio news and the demise of Q101- and its only going to get busier with Comic-Con and the Television Critics Association Press Tour coming up and Fresh 105.9's musty smell finally going away. Summer vacation? There's no summer vacation here at The T Dog Media Blog!


Q101's final week. Was Q101's final week perhaps the best material ever to air on Chicago radio? Letting the radio personalities play the music they chose... with a proper goodbye from the staff to its fans and listeners. Brilliant. And the final episode of Local 101 this past Thursday night - paying homage to local musical acts - was the best sendoff of any program - radio or TV - since the February 28, 1983 finale of M*A*S*H.

There is some good news for Q101 fans - the station will live on online - thanks to Broadcast Barter Radio Networks, which will stream the station's old format over Broadcast Barter has also bought the intellectual rights to all Q101 properties - even Robert Murphy's straightjacket from those wacky commercials from the 1980's.

WBBM-AM... now on FM too! In a long overdue move, CBS-owned WBBM-AM is simulcasting its signal on WCFS-FM (105.9 FM). Beginning August 1, the all-news station improves its reach including those who can't get the signal downtown and attracting younger listeners who otherwise would not tune in to AM radio - not to mention increasing revenue.

HBO. The Emmy Awards were announced this week with HBO programming receiving a whopping 104 nominations ranging from Boardwalk Empire to Game of Thrones. HBO's renting a U-Haul.


You, the consumer. Entertainment is sure getting expensive if you're a fan of Steve Dahl or if you use Netflix. Dahl is charging $9.99 a month for his podcasts beginning next month while Netflix users will have to pay $16 a month starting in September if they want to continue to stream content and receive DVDs in the mail. Yeah, the economy is really improving - for some.

The MLB All-Star Game. A sporting event which usually is the highest-rated program of the summer found itself getting beaten by NBC's America's Got Talent and set a record low viewership, losing two million viewers from last year. Reaction to Fox's telecasts were harsh on Twitter as the mid-summer classic has become nothing more than a boring spectacle.

Men Of A Certain Age. TNT's drama about the trials and tribulations of middle-age men was canceled Friday after nearly two years. In a cable TV sea of Jersey Shore, Evil Housewives and Cupcake Wars, this great character-driven drama stood out. Sadly, shows with really thin plots featuring singing "teenagers" are hot these days.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fresh goes stale

In news that first broke Thursday afternoon by Robert Feder on Twitter, CBS radio has finally pulled the plug on WCFS-FM, or Fresh 105.9 after three-and-a-half years of underperforming ratings and is replacing the Adult Contemporary format with a simulcast of top-rated WBBM-AM beginning on August 1st.

The move could be read as a preemptive strike against Merlin Media, which plans to flip WKQX from Alternative/Modern Rock to either all-news or News/Talk station. But basically, this move means CBS Radio can gain higher ratings and revenue from the simulcast on 105.9 FM. CBS recently started all-news simulcasting on a FM station in the Bay Area and has been a success from a ratings and revenue standpoint.

Launched on November 5, 2007 at 5 p.m. to replace talker/rocker WCKG-FM, Fresh was a lame, ill-convinced attempt to target females 25-54, using mostly uptempo pop acts. With the field already crowded with female demo powerhouses WLIT and WTMX, Fresh's on-air presentation was lacking at best. In addition, employee turnover was high with low advertiser revenue. Fresh disappointed as usual in the most recent PPM survey with a tie for 20th place - clearly earning its cancellation stripes.

You knew something was wrong with the "Fresh" branding when one of the artists played on the station is Kool & The Gang (which incidentally, had a single called "Fresh".)

With the long overdue plucking of this turkey, Fresh goes down as one of the biggest format flops in Chicago radio history, alongside Jammin' Oldies and the original version ('80's format) of The Zone. The Church of Tisch radio executives out of New York had the gall to think this format still had the potential for success. Even a few local CBS Radio executives wanted the Fresh format out as early as a year-and-a-half ago so they can simulcast WBBM-AM on 105.9. Unfortunately, Chicago CBS Radio execs were vetoed by The Church of Tisch morons in the Big Apple. It took the switch of WKQX-FM's format to all-news for CBS to finally take action. They basically slapped a "Fresh" label on something that was clearly stale. 

With the end of Q101 and now WCFS-FM, Chicago is left with two less music stations on the FM dial.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Q101 to say goodbye with Local 101

These days when a format change takes place at a radio station, it usually happens without notice and the radio personalities are usually thrown out onto the street without the chance to say goodbye.

Thankfully, that won't be the case Thursday as WKQX-FM (Q101) prepares to shift from Alternative/Modern Rock to either all-News or News/Talk. Before handing the keys over to new owners Merlin Media, Emmis Communications is letting its on-air personalities say goodbye to the listeners they connected with over the years. And to top it all off, Q101 is airing a special final edition of Local 101 (which showcased local rock bands) Thursday night at 11pm.

At the same time Q101 goes dark, sister alternative rocker WRXP in New York City is also exiting the format and is also presumably switching to News or News/Talk.

Merlin Media is taking over operations of Q101, WLUP-FM, and WRXP through a local marketing agreement at 12:01 am on Friday. But the programming plans for Q101 and WRXP is anyone's guess since the News/Talk format won't be ready for a couple of weeks. Could Merlin stint with a different format-a-day stunt that was tried at WNIB between for two months in 2001 before converting into WDRV and The Drive?

Meanwhile, many listeners are a praising Q101 for being very creative with their playlists in the station's final days. On Tuesday, former Q101 jock James VanOsdol tweeted: "Q101 sounds great today. Note to radio programmers: don't wait for a format change to let your air talent be real and play music they like."

Amen, brother. Amen.

Did You Know? The last time their was a simultaneous format flip in two different large markets was the June 3, 2005 conversion of Infinity's (now CBS Radio's) WJMK-FM in Chicago and WCBS-FM in New York from Oldies to JACK-FM. Both stations has since dropped the JACK branding and image and became Classic Hits stations.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Merlin Media to take over Q101, The Loop, WRXP early

Remember when Merlin Media purchased a majority stake in WLUP-FM, WKQX-FM (Q101), and New York's WRXP-FM from Emmis Communications and said it would take weeks for them to  take over all three outlets, perhaps as  soon as mid-August.

Well, scrap that: those changes now take place this week.

Merlin announced today it will take over the operations of all three stations via a local marketing agreement on Friday, which means the Alternative/Modern Rock format will be exiting Q101 and WRXP earlier than planned. Both stations are expected to flip to a news/talk format on Friday. No word yet on who the personalities will be for either station.

With the announcement, the entire on-air staff at both stations have been released from their contracts as of Thursday. Out at Q101 are morning personalities Brian Sherman & Steve Tingle; midday personality Christine "Electra" Pawlak; night jock Tim Pogo; afternooner Tim Virgin; and various fill-in and weekend jocks.

The move also marks the end of the Alternative/Modern Rock format at Q101 after 19 years and the end of the Q101 monkier after more than 30 years. 

Meanwhile, there are no changes planned for The Loop, which for now remains Merlin Media's sole music outlet.

With the departure of Q101 and WRXP, Alternative/Modern Rock loses two of the top three markets and the number count reporting to Mediabase drops to 68, a blow for an already struggling format. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Steve Dahl to his podcast listeners: pay up

THIS was the announcement fans of Steve Dahl have been waiting for weeks?

Speculation on "the big news" to be announced Monday at 12 Noon ranged from Dahl heading to Merlin Media to host a talk show at WKQX, a return to WLUP, or even a gig at WGN Radio.

And when noon hit, this was "the big announcement": if you are a listener to his podcasts, you'll have to pony up some dough. 

Seems like a cruel April Fools joke to play on someone in July.

Announcing the news on Twitter, the 34-year Chicago radio veteran plans to charge listeners $9.95 a month beginning August 1 to listen or download his podcasts, which he has been doing for nearly two years.

As you recall, Dahl was dumped from CBS' WJMK-FM (then branded as Jack FM) as morning personality in December 2008 after 13 months due to poor ratings. With a long contract and basically nowhere else to put him, Dahl was shifted to Jack in November 2007 from his longtime afternoon slot at CBS' WCKG-FM when the bosses decided to shift the station's format to Adult Contemporary. In order to reach out to his fans in his absence from radio, Dahl started original podcasts in 2009 with CBS, whom he was still under contract with. Those agreements and contractual obligations came to an end on July 9.

According to a spokesperson for Dahl, his daily podcast has been downloaded nearly 7.5 million times since its inception. 

More details are available at Dahl's website.

This isn't the first time a well-known radio personality has decided to go the pay-model route. After WLUP-FM canceled his show last year, Dr. Demento took his long-time radio show out of syndication and moved it to an Internet-only paid-subscription model

Dahl's decision has been panned on Twitter, Facebook, and various message boards, with many indicating they won't pay to continue to listen for him. But there are others who would gladly pay $10 a month because they believe the content is really that good. With this logic, it seperates the hardcore fans from the causal ones. On the other hand, Dahl greatly reduces his reach beyond the hardcores. And isn't asking fans to pay $120 or so a year a little bit steep? For that price - and his sake, he'd better be putting out the best content in the world.

Wait a all are laughing at what I just said, aren't you? Oh well. Welcome to The Island of Obscure Radio Personalities, Mr. Dahl. And you can forget Rudolph rescuing you - he won't pay the $9.95 to do so because he has that red nose to maintain. But for the price you're charging, I hear Gilligan and the Skipper are available.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

T Dog's Six Pack: The winning (radio) spirit

For the first time ever, the three items in the Winner's circle this week are all radio items - how about that? (of course its summer, and there's very little TV news to report on. But still....)

Winning Attitude.

John Williams. WGN Radio's John Williams raised more than $25,000 during his Thursday show for the Animal Welfare League to replace air conditioning units that were stolen last weekend at its shelter in Chicago's Washington Park neighborhood. Cheers and God Bless to Mr. Williams and his listeners for the donations - this is what local radio is all about. At a time when negative headlines dominate local news  - this is one story that stands out in a positive manner.

Tampa Bay CHR radio fans. Here we go again - 22 years after Randy Michaels and WFLZ-FM flipped from Oldies to contemporary hit radio to take WRBQ-FM, Cox communications' is borrowing a page from Michaels' "Power Pig" playbook - by flipping former Retro AC outlet The Point 101.5 (WPOI) to Hot 101.5 to take on FLZ- and attacking FLZ morning personality MJ (Todd Schmitt) and the station on-air and online - is a smart move. However, Hot 101.5 has ALREADY stumbled on the social media front. Removing negative posts about the format flip and banning posters isn't cool - or professional. Ever heard of free speech?

Steve Dahl. By using social media (Twitter and Facebook) to let fans know where he will end up after his CBS contract expires this weekend, Dahl is creating buzz in Chicago media and has everyone in the industry here talking. As Charlie Sheen would say, that's "winning". And smart. He'll announce what his next gig will be Monday at noon on where else? Twitter.

Losing Attitude.

Chicago baseball. I don't give a damn about what Crain's Ed Sherman says in his "winners and losers column" about Chicago baseball - he's full of shaving cream as usual- with ratings heading south for the Cubs and White Sox, Chicago sports fans are more than clamoring for the NFL lockout to end. The hell with this crap, bring on Comic-Con.

Tribune. With the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court ruling telling the FCC that the 2008 cross-ownership rules should get a do-over, Tribune and other media companies - grandfathered or not -  could be forced to divest their portfolios.
Nancy Grace. Okay, you love playing the heel in the media. But how's that working for you? Are you happy in your life? There's a difference between playing a heel in front of the cameras and being one off-camera. Skipping out on a syndicated show with your name on it because you managed to scam someone out of being credited for it tells us what little integrity and moral character you have.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Is the Alternative Rock format on the ropes?

More talk, less music - as in none at all. Say goodbye to Q101, who Winnetka-based Fall Out Boy credits for helping launch its career.

With Randy Michaels about to take over Emmis' WKQX-FM (Q101) in Chicago and  WRXP-FM in New York City and the all-but certain likelihood of shifting both stations from Alternative Rock to either all-news or news-talk, what does this mean for the format?

The Alternative format, (also known as Modern Rock) blends Punk Rock, New Wave, and Grunge music and was adopted by many radio stations in the late 1980's. In 1988, Billboard created a new Modern Rock Tracks chart (now named Alternative Songs Chart) to monitor stations playing such fare. But it was the explosion of Grunge in the early 1990's that put the format on the map, led by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Sonic Youth. Other bands becoming mainstays of the format were Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Green Day, and Chicago's own Smashing Pumpkins. Even some hip-hop artists made it onto the format, including The Beastie Boys, Eminem, and Kid Rock, and some Alternative Rock songs had elements of rap in them, such as P.O.D.'s Youth of the Nation.

But the last decade hasn't been kind to the Alternative/Modern Rock format. While the advent of the iPod and other MP3 players, satellite and Internet radio, terrestrial radio in general lost listeners but the Alternative/Modern Rock has been affected the most. The number of stations in the Alternative format have also declined in the last few years as audiences' taste shift.

According to Mediabase and All Access, the number of monitored stations in the Alternative/Modern Rock format stands at 70 as of this writing, with 74 Active Rock stations monitored and 34 Mainstream Rock reporting. But these numbers are easily dwarfed by other formats with Country at a whopping 230 stations, followed by CHR/Top 40 (180), Adult Contemporary (147), Hot AC (125), Rhythmic Top 40 (98), Urban AC (86), and Urban (76). Obviously, the splintering of the rock genre into three formats (four if you include Triple A) is a problem, with several acts appearing simultaneously on two charts, or even all three.

Also contributing to rock's struggles is the proliferation of FM Talk stations, the direction Q101 and WRXP are obviously headed. However, the FM expansion is not just unique to replacing rock music formats - "spoken word" formats replaced a CHR in Pittsburgh, and News/Talk replaced six Adult Hits stations, including Nine FM in Chicago and "Movin'" (a Rhythmic AC format) in St. Louis.

And another problem is the lack of advertiser support as the Alternative format as female listeners (who many advertisers pay a premium to reach) fled for the exits over the years to Hot AC and Top 40 stations, thus making the stations less attractive for media buyers. Much like the Smooth Jazz format (which attracted too many older listeners for advertisers' tastes), rock formats tend to skew too young and male - not the female 25-54 audience advertisers target.

As for Q101, the attitude amongst its listeners is "this is what passes for an Alternative format." Many complain about the music having too hard of an edge, with angry and depressing lyrics (which were popular 20 years ago, but how many times you can hear the same Nirvana-like song over and over again?) Others say several artists - Guns N' Roses and Nickelback in particular - do not fit the format. Since the Mancow Mueller era ended in 2006 with a nasty divorce, the station's moves (launching the lame Morning Fix, being "On Shuffle", etc.) alienated what was left of the audience (and even Q101 adding Mancow back in '98 was the beginning of the end from an ad revenue standpoint, as he was basically a female repellent.)

But while the Alternative format is down, it's certainly not out - there are some success stories. CBS-owned KROQ-FM in Los Angeles still does well, attracting a cume of two million listeners a month, even though it came in an unimpressive twelfth in the latest PPM survey. Clear Channel's KTBZ-FM regularly ranks in the top ten in Houston. And Simmons' Media's KXRK-FM in Salt Lake City does phenomenally well, placing third overall in the latest ratings book.

But with the coming departure of two of the largest markets in the nation, the Alternative/Modern Rock format will take a hit. The future of the format will likely live on where niche formats are thriving - satellite radio and online. But in the money-grubbing world of commercial radio, it's a fading format. The piece Alternative takes out of the revenue pie is only going to get smaller and smaller.