Randy Michaels’ Credibility Magically Disappears
By guest blogger Akeim
(Akiem’s opinions and editorials are independent of Radiofacts.com)
On 101.1 in Chicago and 101.9 in New York City, the news was all bad.
Randy Michaels is, of course, the former Tribune executive who was exiled from the Trib because of what can be termed as gross “workplace misconduct” while there. It was said that he basically tried to turn the place into a frat house.
This isn’t surprising for Randy Michaels. Considering he was once the guy who gave Chicago “Hell 94.7” as an actual radio format, nothing should surprise anyone about this guy anymore. He once again looks like a radio mess.
Most recently, he wanted to come back to radio in a big way. In collaboration with an investment firm based in the Windy City, Michaels established Merlin Media. The first two purchases Merlin made were on two radio stations in Chicago and one in New York.
The two in the Chi were both heritage rockers—WKQX Q101 (alternative) and WLUP 97.9 the Loop (classic rock). The one in Gotham was WRXP 101.9 (adult album alternative).
Q101 and 101.9 RXP both flipped formats to FM News formats designed at trying to dethrone the heritage All-News stalwarts at 780 WBBM in the Windy City & 1010 WINS/880 WCBS in the Big Apple.
Michaels’ main reason for flipping both of the stations to All-News is because he’s been the one more than anyone else in the radio industry pushing the ongoing meme that trying to do music formats in radio doesn’t work anymore.
He believes, like many radio experts that the future of radio is News, Talk, and Sports formats. They contend that music radio is becoming too expensive & that average listeners aren’t listening to the radio anymore for music. They say that’s now the job of internet radio and other music providers.
But as the months went on, the audience for FM News 101.9 and FM News 101.1 was never anything to look at. It turns out that in the most recent ratings book for FM News 101.9 WEMP-FM, they were outrated & outcumed by WKXW-FM 101.5.
That, my friends, is a New Jersey-centric talk & Classic Hits station out of Trenton that explicitly states that they’re an alternative to New York and Philadelphia talk stations. Of course, the New York ratings only account for Northern New Jersey which is part of the NYC market, but it says something when Townsquare Media’s Jersey Talk outlet is outcuming an FM News station with its transmitter atop The Empire State Building.
Maybe Merlin Media would’ve been better off looping Jersey Shore episodes on 101.9. It certainly would’ve cumed better among younger demographics than FM News did.
The news wasn’t much better in the City of Broad Shoulders. In the most recent ratings book, the feeble news successor to Q101 was only able to manage a 0.3. That’s lower than the ratings of a Hot AC station at 102.3 WXLC—that serves only northern Chicagoland.
In fact, Randy Michaels was so into his news project that it was rumoured that he’d be doing the exact same thing in Philadelphia. When he purchased WKDN 106.9 in Camden, New Jersey, speculation was that he’d launch an All-News competitor to another CBS heritage news outlet—KYW 1060. But, between the mass departures from the FM News outlets, including that of Walter Sabo, it seemed as if operating news was becoming more Hell for Michaels.
That’s when speculation began that the two News stations in New York and Chicago would magically change to Talk outlets. The news station in Chicago was so desperate that they even brought along Eric Muller (Mancow) to do afternoons. Mancow, a noted libertarian, is a former morning host at Q101 & is currently on WJJG 1530—a Joliet talk station.
The blabber in Philadelphia already underwent such a change to News/Talk/Information—WKDN became WWIQ “IQ 106.9” after stunting with all-Sean Hannity for a period of time.
The Philadelphia station capitalized on Glenn Beck & Sean Hannity recently losing their affiliates in the City of Brotherly Love. In addition, Premiere Radio Networks & Clear Channel who syndicate Rush Limbaugh’s show was in the midst of their contract ending with CBS’s Talker WPHT-AM 1210. Rush has since relocated to IQ along with Beck, Hannity, and Larry Mendte who is local.
Yes, there is no such thing as the “Excellence in Broadcasting Network”—that’s just a Limbaugh gimmick.
The last time Rush was on an FM News Talk station was News/Talk 96.5. When it lost Rush to WPHT, ratings plummeted and it flipped formats to an 80’s Rock format called 96.5 The Point.
But, that didn’t mean that Merlin was closing the book entirely on music formats, or they wouldn’t have purchased the 87.7 WLFM-LP station from Venture.
Merlin purchased out 87.7 earlier this year and flipped its Smooth Jazz/AC format to alternative under the brand “Q87.7”. The station also retained the old WKQX calls of Q101 & touted its availability via the HD2 of FM News 101.1.
Now, this is where it gets good:
We know that the ratings for the FM News stations were atrocious at worst & mediocre at best. In the June book, IQ 106.9 hasn’t even shown up.
But, as Robert Feder brilliantly explained in a column on Time Out Chicago, despite Michaels’ stance that Talk is the trend of the future, music is outperforming talk in Chicago.
Even though in the June book it’s getting knocked for a Loop courtesy of Hubbard’s WDRV 97.1 the Drive, WLUP-FM is still performing at a 3.3 share. Even the WKQX on the “Franken FM” frequency is doing well with a 1.9—outrating and outcuming ESPN’s Sports station WMVP-AM 1000.
That’s at the center of the Michaels hypocrisy in this whole mess. It can be said that his whole rationale for establishing Merlin Media was to be a leader in the “Talk Revolution” that he, Howard Stern, and many other radio experts (all smarter than myself, by the way) have been harping on for a while. Some have hypothesized as well that he did it primarily to out-Tribune his former bosses.
It can be said that Michaels had a better chance of making his grand News project work in Chicago than he did in New York. Nothing less than the best is expected in the Big Apple & they are already served well with two All-News stations. But just like NYC’s, The Big Apple’s also had to deal with the constant departures, programming fallacies, and the embarrassing episode of Michaels being booked for driving drunk while in Ohio.
Michaels’ whole rationale was that anyone can do All-News in any city and he’d make it succeed in this radio climate. But this is Randy Michaels we’re talking about. I at least admit that I have much more to learn about radio since I only know about 30% of it. Randy Michaels is a veteran who has been in the business for a long time even during the days of the old Jacor. You would think he’d know by now.
When I first heard of the announcement that the stations in Chicago and New York City would be changing formats after Merlin assumed the Emmis LMAs, I was even willing to give both stations a year and a half—until Christmas of this year until we find out where the stations really are in their respective radio landscapes. It turned out that their plan for a News format targeting women was more demeaning than it was complimentary.
Cumulus has since done it right at 106.7 in Atlanta. They fused the hard news style of a WBBM along with Merlin’s soft news approach to establish their All-News outlet in Atlanta. It has debuted to rave reviews.
Now, we have seen the unraveling of Randy Michaels’ plan to lead radio’s spoken word revolution. This column wouldn’t be written if the new formats were News/Talk like we had all expected. But, the fact that both new formats are music formats mean that Michaels is looking at the ratings. He not only sees that his music stations are outperforming the News/Talkers, but that dethroning CBS in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia is the radio equivalent of trying to climb Mount Everest 3 times.
This is why Michaels is trying to extend as much of an olive branch as possible to Alternative Rock fans in New York. The new station in Chicago has kept the WIQI calls as Gen-X “i101”. But, 101.9 changed to Alternative Rock as “New Rock 101.9”. Its brand is brilliant and to the point—“New Rock for New York”.
Not only is Michaels returning 101.9 to Rock, he’s also in the process of returning the WRXP call letters to the station as well.
Randy Michaels is undoubtedly smarter than me when it comes to radio. But, by how much is now in question. Michaels now knows that he’s not the leader of a vast new revolution in talk radio.
Does this mean that more spoken word formats won’t pop up? Not by a long shot. Talk stations want younger listeners and they’re not even considering AM radio. Advertisers want younger listeners and they’re not pouring money into AM radio the way they used to.
That’s where CBS has been smart. They see money, not in right-wing political chat, but in sports. CBS knows that the era of Rush, Beck, Hannity and others is slowly coming to an end. That’s why they’ve launched sports station after sports station after sports station over the past 5 years since the debacle that was Free FM.
And early next year, CBS’ hard work will culminate in the launch of the CBS Sports Radio Network that will debut across all CBS and Cumulus’ sports outlets.
Is it possible that Michaels may try again at News/Talk? He may, but when we talk about Randy Michaels, we also have to mention his massive ego. The debuts of these two music stations are a huge blow to it. Michaels had the right concept for a format—just the wrong focus. He should’ve listened to his competition and analyzed what demos they appeal to, how often they run news, and what is their main area in their market of focus.
What no one is talking about is that this could be change of the 101.9 in New York may be the 2nd good move Merlin has made since they debuted last year. The first was changing the Smooth Jazz station to Alternative. Merlin could be onto something with this station with WRXP’s calls and a K-Rock/WNEW-like sound. A huge format hole has been filled in NYC that before now was assumed by college radio stations like Fordham’s 90.7 WFUV.
And i101 seems to be aimed at one station—Hubbard Broadcasting’s WTMX Mix 101.9. But the reason why there’s no buzz about the new station in Chicago is because Lite, Mix, XRT, and Rewind already play a significant amount of 90’s music.
But as for now, the News/Talk/Sports revolution has been put on hold in radio thanks to Randy Michaels.
One of FM News 101.1 Chicago’s low points was when it posted billboards throughout Chicagoland saying that former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich never listens to the station—an ode to his being found of trying to sell the U.S. senate seat of President Barack Obama.
My guess is that the Obamas didn’t listen whenever they went back to visit their hometown—and neither did many, many, many other Chicagoans.