Q101 returns home to WKQX

Iconic branding to front alternative station once again

The Q101 branding in coming back to terrestrial radio.

Atlanta-based Cumulus, who is now owner of Alternative WKQX-FM, is bring back the brand after striking a deal with Broadcast Barter Radio Networks to reacquire the rights and intellectual property to the Q101 name. 

The branding should return sometime later this year. 

Owned by Matt DuBiel, BBRN brought the rights and launched an online station after former owner Merlin Media sold them in 2011 after launching the short-lived all-news FM News (the then-called WWWN-FM.) Merlin brought back the alternative format in May 2012 but as Q87.7 FM (now known as MeTV FM) while the all-news format continued at 101.1 FM – whose plug was pulled two months later after nearly a year of low ratings. After eighteen months as Hot AC WIOI-FM (i101), Alternative music returned to the frequency and so did the WKQX call letters – but not the Q101 branding. 

The Q101 name had been prominent in Chicago for decades. In the 1980s, WKQX used the brand for its Adult Pop format – the forerunner to the what is now known as Hot AC, Robert Murphy in the morning and all. In 1992, WKQX flipped to Modern Rock (also known as “Alternative”) and carried over the Q101 branding, attempting to capitalize on the growing popularity of the format, including “grunge” music. The station found a popular niche with Gen Xers, even creating a rivalry with fellow rocker WZZN-FM The Zone (now known as classic hits WLS-FM, also owned by Cumulus) from 2001 to 2005. 

With the station’s best ratings days behind them, Merlin bought Q101 and WLUP-FM from Emmis, ending Q’s nineteen-year run on terrestrial. The demise of Q101 and other Alternative and Modern Rock stations also raised questions about the future of the format in a piece featured on this site in July 2011. Cumulus began operating Merlin Media’s properties in 2014 and later took over full ownership of WKQX. 

Despite losing ground to Pop, Hip-Hop, and retro formats, Alternative rock is hanging in there, despite the increasing presence of gold and recurrent product on stations in recent years. Similar to what Audacy has done with B96 (WBBM-FM) by hiring a new morning team, Cumulus’ acquiring the Q101 branding signals their commitment to their heritage format for years to come, even as numbers (last PPM report had them ranked 21st) show the station is not relevant to listeners as it once was. 


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