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Merlin Media killing smooth jazz 87.7 to bring alt rock to TV Ch. 6 in Chicago

Chicago's Smooth 87.7 says goodbye


Editors’ note: Since the publication of this article the smooth jazz format has returned to the Chicago airwaves. Read this December 31, 2014 update for more details.

In a move whose logic I honestly don’t understand, Randy Michael’s Merlin Media has entered into a local marketing agreement with Venture Technologies Group, which owns the low-power TV channel 6 WLFM-LP in Chicago. Venture has operated the station as Smooth 87.7 with a smooth jazz format, taking advantage of what I call the “back door” to the FM dial enjoyed by the last few analog channel 6 stations whose audio can be heard at the far left end of it.

The agreement becomes effective today, April 29, and as of 6 PM Central Time the station is still playing smooth jazz, airing the last edition of the local Chicago music program, but with top of the hour news headlines provided by Merlin Media’s FM news station 101.1. Ironically, Merlin Media plans to bring alternative rock to WLFM, the very format that Merlin killed on 101.1 FM when it started News 101.1 last year. Previously the station was known as Q101, and was the pioneering commercial alt rock station in Chicago for almost 20 years.

All the more ironically Merlin Media plans to brand the station as Q87.7 using the old Q101 call letters WKQX, obviously trying to capitalize on the old station’s caché, if somewhat belatedly.

The reason why I’m puzzled by the deal is that the analog audio signal of channel 6 TV stations is going away by September 1, 2015, when the FCC requires all remaining low-power TV stations to convert to digital. Now, I can understand why Venture would want to find someone to lease the signal for its last three years, bringing in some rent with minimal investment. I have a harder time understanding why Merlin Media would want to lease a signal that has only three years left to live.

As Time Out Chicago’s Robert Feder points out, Smooth 87.7 was doing pretty well in the ratings for a fringe quasi-FM signal, beating out plenty of true-blooded commercial FM stations–including News 101.1–to rank 24th in the market. I’m guessing that Merlin must be getting a pretty good deal on the LMA compared to a real FM station with comparable ratings. But what good will that be when the signal goes silent on Aug. 31, 2015? Perhaps Merlin will treat 87.7 as a test signal to see if it might be worth bringing commercial alternative to more expensive real FM signal, or even bring it back to its old home at 101.1.

On the Smooth 87.7 website, GM Pat Kelley has posted a farewell message in which he acknowledges that the decision to lease out the station and end the smooth jazz format

is due primarily because the current FCC has refused to provide assurance that WLFM can continue to broadcast on 87.7 FM in September 2015. In a strange twist, the FCC of the current Administration has killed Smooth Jazz in Chicago by failing to act on our requests to secure the audio future of 87.7 FM.

He promises that they “are still fighting” and calls on listeners to contact Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to help the fight.

Blaming the FCC for killing smooth jazz in Chicago is kind of stretch, given that Clear Channel did the job first when it flipped the former smooth jazz stalwart WNUA to Spanish-language in 2009. On top of that, TV channel 6 was never intended to be an FM radio service, and analog low-power TV was intended to provide video service, not only audio. Finally, once the digital TV transition had been set in motion only a fool would have bet that low-power TV stations would not eventually be required to make the transition. In fact, I consider WLFM to be lucky for being able to hang on as long as it has.

It’s reasonable and obvious to say that if you want to operate a radio station, then you’re best off buying an actual radio station. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the FCC hold open a loophole that was never designed to exist in the first place.

UPDATE: After reading all the comments to this post, I’ve written a follow-up guide to finding jazz on the Chicago radio dial. Yes, there is still jazz on Chicago radio!


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40 Responses to Merlin Media killing smooth jazz 87.7 to bring alt rock to TV Ch. 6 in Chicago

  1. Michi Eyre April 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Remember there’s always the other back door, leasing an HD-2 and getting a translator.

  2. Linda Wiley April 30, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    I am extremely disappointed that this channel is gone. Now I don’t have anything to listen to at work. Tom Joyner’s signal is too weak, and although I admire Steve Harvey, I don’t care for his show. I can’t stand hip hop. This station was a great alternative for me. I guess I’ll listen to my IPOD all day.

  3. R.J. April 30, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    OMG. I cant believe this station is gone. This was the only station I could listen to at work. Tom Joyner goes off or reception is weak. v103 line up sucks and Steve Harvey format is not that appealing. I guess its back to CD’s and IPOD music. What a bummer!

  4. Maribeth May 1, 2012 at 6:17 am #

    Extrememly disapointed to not have my smooth jazz. I listened to that station almost exclusively except to get news/traffic on an AM station. So bad that all those wonderful musicians will now have to be found elsewhere, but not sure what station, anyone can you tell me what other station I can listen to with smooth jazz. This is the 2nd time that these folks have made a bad choice to make changes. So sad!!!!

  5. Just Me May 1, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    I am and independent voter, but it upsets me that the present administration gets blamed for everything including if the sun does not shine. Clear Channel dropped WNUA a few years ago, was that the present administrations fault too? Wise up Smooth, obviously market share is not resulting in the money that these companies are looking for. I was an avid fan of WNUA and at times I would listen to 87.7. 87.7 was ok but then they started playing all sorts of music that was not jazz. Just when they would get into a good groove they would play some other music. Let’s face it, if the money was there, Smooth Chicago would not been at the edge of the dial. I hope that Smooth Jazz returns to the airwaves, but I also hope that they don’t continue to try to be a jack of all trades by playing everything under the sun!

  6. Steven May 1, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    I’m very disappointed that this has happened. I knew something was going on when they started playing old R&B music a few months ago. It’s a shame that management can’t get it right when it comes to smooth jazz listeners. Chicago has had a large smooth jazz following since the inception of WNUA. I wonder if smooth jazz artist will continue to come to Chicago now that we have no way of listening to new music form smooth jazz artists.

  7. maureen May 1, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    It sucks that they took away 87.7, there are no other Chicago stations playing this kind of music. And we certainly don’t need the talk radio – enough of that already, plus the news is always bad!!

  8. Karen May 2, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    This is truly terrible!!! Chicago is JAZZ!! Why do all Jazz stations continue to be banned??? I can’t stand more than half of the garbage on the radio stations now! Please give back a station that Chicago can call our Jazz Station one more time !!

  9. Vince May 2, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Welcome to the world of radio. i, for one, have already experienced this last September when Q101 went dark. im happy to see that there is some hope of the alternative sound coming back to the airwaves

  10. Vince A. May 2, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Can’t believe my favorite FM station is GONE!!!!

    I feel so sad , first it was on 95.5 then moved to 87.7 now it’s gone.

    When I clicked 87.7 on my TuneIn Radio of my iPhone, it’s BBCRadio 1 England 98.8 that comes up , it sucks!!

  11. Linda May 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    Like everyone I’m disappointed and appalled that we now have no jazz stations in Chicago! 87.7 provided such wonderful reprieve from the talk radio calming my morning drive and giving me some good listening in the evenings and great option to tv. Thanks for a great run 87.7! We were true fans!

  12. Bert May 2, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

    Well, I climbed in my bus Tuesday and hit the button set to 87.7 and my heart plummeted. I mean the company on the bus is limited,and the bright part of my day was listening to those rich melodic sounds, and old and new familiar friends crooning to my soul. No one feeds the soul anymore. I mean hip-hop, rap, and rock all have their place. Why can’t we? You know every one can’t carry an ipod to work. Thanx for the gift 87.7. U done good.

  13. Robert May 3, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    I agree that this all started will some greedy, less-than-fore thinking execs at Clear Channel releasing 95.5 into the hands of someone who saw them coming-(If you know what I mean). I say let us, the listeners who buy the CDs and records, pool together to buy an actual Smooth Jazz Radio Station, and give Chicago and all those great artists what they so richly deserve! When are we going to stop letting those we don’t even know control how we even enjoy our leisure listening time? we need to stop playing, and get serious!

  14. Hide May 3, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    OMG! Not again! Why does Chicago have no Jazz stations? It alleges to be Jazz City. Only one, 90.9 College of DuPage, now out there. Office reception is next to imposs. BUT, 90.9 does play TRUE jazz. HELP! Jazz Lovers where are you??? Doesn’t someone with deep pockets love Jazz? Help Chicago out, please.

  15. Mike S. May 5, 2012 at 12:38 am #

    Chicago doesn’t have any alt rock station either so screw jazz. Bring on the rock.

  16. Delores Miller May 5, 2012 at 3:26 am #

    1st it was WNUA 95.5, now its 87.7. What the He– is going on with smooth jazz in Chicago. You have a loyal support base-me for one. I am a jazz lover and while 87.7 was “smooth jazz” it was my radio station of choice. FCC we want our smooth jazz station back!

  17. Bernard May 5, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    First, WNUA-95.5 went off the air when this administration was elected. Remember the commercials celebrating President Obama?. The Republican controlled FCC is at it again this re-election year. Chicago is home to the President, everything else will be taken away from the voters to frustrate and anger us.

  18. Spanky May 8, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    So sad that the city that has so many wonderful jazz venues has no jazz radio stations…not a good way to represent our city! I too will miss the smooth jazz alternative =0(

  19. Shaun May 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Sad to see Jazz leave Chicago once again. I guess Pandora will be my Raido now in the car. The new station sucks!

  20. Yvette May 9, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    This is terrible. The Jazz format is a nice alternative when you don’t want to listen to all of the other shows on the radio. First, 95.5 now 87.7. I guess I will have to listen to Pandora.

  21. Martha Nalls May 9, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    I’m soooo sad they took my jazz station 87.7 off the air,that was the only station I listen to.First it was 95.5 and now this for spanish and a talk station.REAAAAAALLY….THIS SUCKS BIG TIME:(

  22. La Toya Hill May 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    I am pissed off right now and VERY UPSET that this station is gone!! This was the only station that played real music! I don’t listen to all that other crap. I am going to start a [etition to bring this radio station! Anybody with me? This is crazy nonsense!!!!

  23. LaTonya Mc. May 10, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    This is horrible to take away 87.7. Many of us listen to that station in our work place and it’s great riding music. The other stations WGCI and V!)# play the same loud, hip hop mess all day long! Well I guess it’s CD’S and IPOD”S!!!

  24. Aaaron May 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Chicago have no Jazz stations ?????

    Jazz station 95.5 then moved to 87.7 now it’s gone??????

    I love JAZZ music

    Bad news

  25. Kip May 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    I am truly sadden by the loss of smooth jazz in Chicago. I often listen to this station at work during group therapy with my patients. It was relaxing music for them as well as for me.

  26. Sheryn May 12, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    I was shocked to turn on my 87.7 radio station today!! I’m so very disappointed to lose the smooth jazz station. There was nothing more relaxing to listen to this station when driving, at home while reading, or having background music for dinner guests. Truly will miss this wonderful station.

  27. Denise S May 13, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    I am truly disgusted that Chicago no longer has a smooth Jazz station. Jazz is a huge part of Chicago’s history. No other radio station can compare to Chicago Smooth Jazz. Please bring this station back. This station not only helps me get through work, but it also soothes my mind and relaxes me, after a stressful day. Why can’t Chicago bring this station back to stay. Please do something!!

  28. Michael May 13, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    I am with the majority. I think the worst thing to come out of this epic loss is the fact that loud, obnoxious, dark, unhappy, angry, negative rock music has replaced the once fun, uplifting, beautiful, and lovely sounds of jazz, Brazilian music, and smooth jazz. This move to put more rock music on FM only hurts Chicago’s image as a city even further. Chicago is a mecca to jazz, blues, and R&B artists. We are not a city “built on rock n’roll.”

    I just hope that the format turns up on another station some time in the future. I also hope that 87.7 doesn’t go the way of WZZN, back in 2003, and morphs into an even harder version of Q-101 (with metal mixed in). I think of all the trash and hardships this city and its media (especially radio) has gone through over the last ten years, this move, to a hard, nasty, loud, alt-rock format is the worst to date.

  29. Rw May 14, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    I suggest listening to pandora at work. It’s free and all you have to do is go to pandora.com and type in a song or artist and it creates a custom radio station for you. I always listen to my Kenny G station at work which plays plenty of the smooth jazz hits.

  30. sandi kowalski May 14, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    I, along with many many others is missing what Chicago represents. Chicago Jazz.. Im tired of hip hop, rap that type of genre. Chicago jazz gives you a good feeling when listening to it. I searched all the chicago FM stations for another jazz station, I can not find any. Anyone know of a station in chicago with similar music? This whole thing is ashame.

  31. Michael May 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    The thing about smooth jazz is that most, if not all the songs that were played on WNUA and WLFM were fun, soothing, beautiful, sexy, etc. What I tried to listen to on that new station was pathetic. How can someone unwind, enjoy leisure, or heck…make out to such loud, annoying music? Yes, I am listening to Pandora at home and work myself to solve the problem. Sometimes, WVON (late at night on certain days) plays some songs similar to what was on the now former WLFM, in addition to real jazz and old school R&B. Far better than this rock station.

  32. Radar May 15, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    Found WNUA the very 1st day it was ever on the air. Freaked when it was gone. Elated about 87.7. Now, just resigned to the sad facts.

    HOWEVER, awhile back, when I was trying to find out what happened to WNUA, I stumbled upon UltraSmoothJazz, an internet “station”. Hate to say it, but it’s even better than WNUA and 87.7 combined. The only problem is that I can’t get it on my radio.

    You may want to check it out.

    http://www.ultrasmoothjazz.com

  33. Linda Jones May 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    I will miss smooth jazz, it’s far better than what you playing now. This rock station suck!!!

  34. Paul Riismandel May 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    I’ve written a follow up to help Chicago radio listeners find jazz on their radio dials:

    There’s still jazz on Chicago radio, despite the death of Smooth 87.7

  35. venice bradford June 10, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    I am upset that the jazz station wnua is longer on the radio, I been listening to this radio station since 1988 the first year it started. This was the best radio music on the air. Every Sunday morning would be my coffee brunch listening. now i have to listen only through streaming internet. Bring that radio station back.

  36. Sherise June 13, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    This is terrible because there isn’t anything on the radio. Well,it’s time to listen tomy smooth jazz cd’s because regular radio sucks!

  37. Dan June 20, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    I found this place because I was searching for news on Q101. While I don’t listen to smooth jazz, I feel for you guys because it reminds me of the backlash when Q101 was taken off the air. This new station doesn’t play the same hard rock as Q101 which is disappointing for me to say the least. Chicago would have been better off if Randy Michaels didn’t have his talk radio station which is bombing right now.

  38. Shirley A. Hollimon July 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    All of my Friends & I are upset @ discontinuation of WNUA & now the 87.7 station. We have no soothing music to wake to in the mornings. Hip Hop & Rap just doesn’t do it for us or Steve Harvey early in the AM!!

  39. pepss9 July 21, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Merlin Media has ruined chicago radio, the stations owned by them need to find new owners or become independant.

  40. Amber August 8, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    I am absolutely floored!!!! I don’t believe they have taken 87.7 from us also. Unbelievable. I grew up on 95.5 and when that station turned Spanish it was hard to cope….but then there was a ray of light when 87.7 appeared; now that too had disappeared and my lightness has turned I darkness. This station is gone and people don’t even realize the true value of music(real music) unfortunately this generation is doomed. ALL BECAUSE THERE IS NO JAZZ STATION IN CHICAGO. I’m so unhappy! 🙁

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