As first reported by Radio Insight, Cumulus Media announced Tuesday they have exercised their option to purchase Merlin Media’s classic rock WLUP-FM and alternative WKQX-FM. The duo had been run by Cumulus in a local marketing agreement since January 2014, regulating Merlin to strictly ownership status.
Cumulus already owns and operates all talk WLS-AM and classic hits WLS-FM. Last year, all four stations moved into new facilities at NBC Tower in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, also home to NBC-owned WMAQ-TV.
The sale closes the book on Merlin Media, who was founded by Randy Michaels after his controversial tenure at the Tribune Company ended. One of Merlin’s ambitious projects was launching FM all-news stations in New York City and Chicago to compete with CBS Radio’s established news operations and bought Chicago’s WKQX, WLUP, and WRXP in New York City from Emmis to do so.
But Merlin found launching all-news stations was far more difficult than they thought. Both WEMP/WRXP in New York and WWWN/WIQI in Chicago stalled at the starting gate and lasted about a year. The “News 101” experiment replaced the much-beloved Q101 in Chicago after 19 years as an alternative station. After a brief stint as an Hot AC station, the 101.1 frequency has since returned to the alternative format as Merlin moved it from the 87.7 frequency (now known as MeTV Music), which it had under a time-buying deal.
At the time, yours truly called the “News 101” stint one of the biggest media blunders in recent memory.
Afterward, Merlin sold its New York City radio station to CBS and a Philadelphia station to EMF Broadcasting, who recently bought stations in Los Angeles and Providence and converted them to the K-Love Christian music format.
Cumulus’ debt issue wasn’t a factor in buying out the stakes in both stations. Cumulus is paying $70 million for the LMA conversion to straight ownership.
In the Nielsen September 2017 PPM report, all three of Cumulus’ FM stations rank in the top fifteen with WLS-FM twelfth and both WLUP-FM and WKQX tied for fifteenth. WLS-AM however, ranks near the bottom of the ratings at 26th as it continues to shed its conservative-talk image.