If you’re been driving around Chicagoland for the last few weeks, you probably have noticed former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich unintentionally shilling for WIQI-FM, Merlin Media’s all-news station on 101.1 FM.
The ads come months after Merlin purchased controlling interest in the former WKQX-FM from Emmis and launched on all-news format August 1 and basically took their sweet time on planning a promotion strategy while ratings for the station reached near CW levels.
Three billboard advertisements are currently up all over Chicagoland: one with Blago behind bars with the tagline “he’s not listening”; another featuring Blago with the tagline “he never listens”; A larger, Blago-less billboard seen on expressways features the tagline “Lights On, News On”, complete with a real night light.
Yours truly has spotted the latter two recently: The “he never listens” Blago billboard in the 400 block of East 87th street in Chicago; at 119th and Wood in Calumet Park; at 150th and Dixie Highway in Harvey; and the intersection of Torrence and Glenwood-Dyer Rd. in Lynwood. Yours truly spotted the two large, Blago-less billboards off I-57: one at 141st street in Posen (near U-Pull It) and the other at 121st street in Calumet Park (although the light on the billboard didn’t work.)
“He never listens” can be taken several ways – it could means the impeached governor is a dope – or he won’t be listening to FM News 101.1 while he’s dropping the soap in prison.
But the off-beat campaign doesn’t have everyone laughing – in an article about the billboards on Crain’s Chicago Business website Thursday, Sheldon Sorosky, who was Blago’s lawyer in his two criminal trials, isn’t happy with his client being plastered all over town and says it even may be a violation of state law: according to the Right of Publicity Act, no entity can use someone’s likenesses without consent. Sorosky believes Merlin should have gotten permission to use the former governor’s image to promote the station. Merlin claims it has the First Amendment right to use his image, but legal experts say the claim is murky (in the comments section of the Crain’s article, you’ll notice a quip from Terence H. – yep, that’s me. Really, do article commenters always have to be prissy drama queens?)
But regardless of the controversy, its a win for Merlin Media, who also owns classic rock WLUP-FM and is leasing WLFM, soon to be an alternative rock outlet – the format it replaced on 101.1 with all-news last year. The story was featured on Crain’s website and mentioned on a few local newscasts Thursday. It’s this type of promotion Merlin was looking for all along and is likely to help the all-news station in the long term.
And as they say, any publicity – is good publicity.
But Merlin also a missed opportunity of sorts to capitalize on another person’s well-publicized woes: when management temporarily changed the call letters to WWWN, they could have used Charlie Sheen for a billboard campaign, since the call letters inadvertently referred to “winning” – a phrase Sheen often said in interviews after he was released from Two And A Half Men. Merlin could have advertised the station as “winning radio” (of course, it never would have worked.)
If the free publicity translates to more listeners for FM News and Merlin, look for The CW to start their own billboard campaign featuring a convicted felon to attract viewers to its languishing network. I hear Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. might soon be available.
(Editor’s Note: All three pictures above taken by yours truly. Click on the picture for a larger view.)