Merlin Media to take over WLFM

Format change takes place this Monday

Merlin Media announced today it was taking over operations of low-power frequency WLFM (87.7 FM) and is flipping the Smooth Jazz format to Alternative Rock on Monday.

WLFM’s owner (Venture Technologies, LLC), will continue to own the station and the station’s license. Merlin already owns classic rock WLUP-FM and all-news WIQI-FM, which replaced former Alternative outlet WKQX-FM last July.

Merlin plans to operate the station via a local marketing agreement (LMA) – a term more familiar in the television industry where one station takes over the operations of another – in programming, sales, administrative, operations, etc. Its basically a de facto duopoly (or in this case, a triopoly) – without the ownership. In television, Several Sinclair Broadcasting duopolies are operated in this manner – for instance Sinclair wholly owns WBFF-TV in Baltimore, but has a LMA with WNUV-TV, owned – but not operated – by Cunningham Broadcasting (which is nothing more than a shadow company for Sinclair, according to some observers.) The business practice is controversial, as many say the LMAs are nothing more than skirting around the ownership rules.

Already, soon-to-be sister station WIQI is providing news updates to WLFM. And Merlin is already complicating changing the call letters to WKQX, which are parked on a small, non-operational station in suburban Wateska, IL.

With the pending format change, its deja vu for Smooth Jazz fans – on May 22, 2009, Clear Channel flipped WNUA-FM from Smooth Jazz to Spanish Contemporary. Some of the staff of WLFM were former WNUA alumni, including program director Rick O’Dell. Despite the challenged signal, WLFM pulled in respectable numbers.

WLFM also broadcasts on LPTV analog Channel 6, and is also available on Comcast cable channel 887. It is not known at this time if this agreement would continue with the pending format flip.

For the record, this would be the second Alternative station located “below the 90’s” on the radio dial in a major Midwestern market – in Detroit, Bell Media-owned CIMX-FM broadcasts on 88.7 FM, and is licensed to nearby Windsor, Ont. (hence the “C” calls.)

Thought: Is bringing back Alternative Rock a good idea? Back last July, yours truly examined the state of the format in this Think Tank. If done right, WLFM might actually have something here. But if it does the same type of radio that’s killing the format nationwide (many alternative rock fans often complained about Q101’s music in its later years), then this effort would be a waste of time.