Approximately a year after launching twin all-news stations on FM signals in New York and Chicago, Merlin Media has abandoned the format, changing to alternative-music programming for WEMP in New York - now "New Rock 101.9" - and adult hits for WIQI "i101FM" in Chicago.
Prior to today both stations had been struggling in the Arbitron ratings. WEMP in New York had a .6 share of the total audience in the most recent release, putting it just outside the top 25 while WIQI was tied for 20th with 1.6 share in Chicago.
"It was a difficult decision to make," CEO Randy Michaels said in a statement, "but after a year of minimal audience engagement, coupled with the format's inherent expense, I felt it was time to make a change." Michaels went on to thank the staff that had, "poured their heart and soul into the effort," wishing them the best in the future.
In New York the flip adds another chapter to the markets checkered history with the alternative format. The most recent incarnation was CBS Radio's WXRK at 92.3 FM which changed to Top 40 in March of 2009, "I expect to see the audience rapidly embrace New Rock 101.9. The market is wide open and the listeners are passionate for this type of music," says Jim Richards, Interim Operations Manager of WEMP and WIQI.
In Chicago when Merlin launched the news format it ended a 19-year run for alternative on the 101.1 FM frequency. It might have made sense to put alternative back on the frequency except, since that time, the company acquired the 87.7 signal and launched Q87.7 Underground Alternative. So in place of news the company debuts an adult hits format that early on is featuring a wide variety of artists including Alanis Morissette, Poison, Britney Spears and Young MC in the same sweep.
The changes were probably met with celebrations in the halls at CBS Radio's operations in both markets, where the company has heritage all-news outlets that had been the target of Merlin's new format.