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Randy Michaels pulls the plug on FM News in Chicago and New York

Merlin Media’s Randy Michaels

After less than a year on the air, former Tribune and Clear Channel honcho Randy Michaels has thrown in the towel on his FM news experiments in Chicago and New York City. His Merlin Media company aimed the stations to appeal to young women, but instead ended up with watered-down, amateurish broadcasts that quickly sank to the bottom of the ratings. Chicago’s WIQI has been flipped to the so-called “adult hits” format, while New York’s WEMP has returned to the commercial alternative rock format the frequency hosted before the FM News debacle.

In late 2010 Michaels was pushed out of Tribune for running the joint like a middle-aged frat party without scoring ratings successes. Then he got back in the game the following year at the helm of Merlin Media, which bought prominent stations in major markets like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

He immediately made waves in Chicago when he killed the long-standing alternative rock station Q101 to make way for the failed FM News station. He brought alt rock back to the Chicago dial earlier this year when he bought LPTV channel 6 station WLFM-LP that sneaks onto the bottom end of the FM dial, dumping its smooth jazz format. Fans of the old Q101 had to chuckle when the much lower powered alt rock WLFM–which doesn’t even have a legitimate FM license and frequency–beat out the FM News disaster on its old, much more powerful frequency.

Unfortunately, the mercy killing of FM News was accompanied by the layoff of 27 Merlin Media staff in Chicago.

The only talent that Randy Michaels ever brought to the radio industry was his real estate instincts and his ability to ruthlessly cut costs in order to boost profits in the short term. But the man has never demonstrated any ability in programming, as evidenced by his mismanaging of Tribune’s radio stations and the mystifyingly incompetent foray into news radio. It’s not that new radio is inappropriate for FM or that FM listeners don’t want news. Rather, what they don’t want is an inferior product that panders and talks down to its target demographic. What I fail to understand is how he snookers management and investors into letting him play make-believe radio with their very real stations and money.

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