WGN Radio heads to 87.7 FM

WGN FMIt looks like WGN Radio has finally gotten its wish to land on an FM outlet – even if its temporary.

As first reported by Robert Feder Friday afternoon, Tribune Broadcasting has struck a deal to lease the 87.7 FM frequency from Venture Technologies Group,  effective Monday (Feb. 17) at 1:02 p.m. – one minute after its deal with WKQX to program the station expires. Vice president of creative content Tom Manley, is overseeing the station, whose call letters would reportedly be WGWG-LP and simulcast WGN.FM., an online feed separate from WGN-AM.

So why the unusual start time? Because a minute earlier – at 1:01 p.m., WKQX is ending its 87.7/101.1 FM simulcast to program exclusively on the 101.1 frequency, as Merlin Media’s local marketing agreement to program 87.7 comes to an end as Merlin struck a deal with Cumulus to take over operations of WLUP and WKQX  just three days into the new year. No word yet on an official branding name, but the station’s Twitter handle has already been renamed 101WKQX.

The move returns Jonathan Brandmeier to terrestrial radio after losing his WGN-AM slot to Steve Cochran. WGN FM’s only other offering includes a show from Harry Teinowitz.

The move comes as WGN Radio owner Tribune Broadcasting continues to hunt for an FM station. Due to FCC regulations, Tribune can’t purchase a radio station in Chicago due to cross-ownership rules given their ownership of the Chicago Tribune. Tribune plans to spin it and other papers off into a separate company later this year, freeing Tribune to buy an FM outlet. Since Tribune is leasing the 87.7 frequency from Venture Technologies, they would not run afoul of the cross-ownership rules, as they would be programming the station, not owning it outright. Also, like other stations on the 87.7 frequency, their future is unknown as the FCC has mandates all low-power stations flip to digital next year. The 87.7 dial shares a frequency with LPTV Channel 6.

No set format has been announced yet, despite an online report from another local media website stating WGWG would be “mostly sports”. However, Radio Insight reported Thursday that eight domain names were registered recently – all but one with “The Game” in the title. The domains were registered by Mindy Semetis Kaplan, VP of marketing at pizza chain Lou Malnati’s – and she is the wife of WGN-AM host David Kaplan.

Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean the station would be going “mostly sports”, as the whopping 1100-word online report is claiming.

The moves has no effect on WGN-AM and no personalities from the mothership are expected to appear on WGWG.