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FM News 101.1 Staffers Reflect On The Now Former-Station

Earlier today, the shocking news was revealed that Merlin Media had decided to kill the FM News 101.1 format on WIQI-FM and flip the station to a jockless Adult Hits music format. A few dozens of the station's staffers are now out of work due to the format flip. CRM reached out to some of the now ex-employees to get their reflections on FM News 101.1 and what their future plans are.

Anchor/Reporter Monica DeSantis had just moved to the morning shift, along with the newly hired Greg Jarrett. Advanced weekly ratings showed audience shares more than tripling and moving upward. It was too little too late, though. DeSantis calmly reflects on her time at the station, saying: "I knew this was a risk taking a job with a brand new station going into a brand new format in Chicago. It was a year of constant changes and some rough starts trying to find our niche. It was stimulating, exciting, nerve wracking, but an experience I would not trade even as it came to an end. I thoroughly enjoyed the talk show format with Greg Jarrett and had just been informed that our ratings in the morning had a significant increase. But ownership decided that a total format change was a better investment and given that it was their money, I respect that decision. I look forward to a new opportunity in the Chicago market. Thanks to the listeners and good luck to my former co-workers. This isn't a goodbye, but a see you again in the future."

Greg Jarrett, even though he was only a full-time part of the station for the last three weeks, had a clear understanding of the overall situation. In an discussion with CRM today, Greg Jarrett had the following to say:
"Today came as a shock. In my opinion no-one knew. I should say, everyone knew of the possibility, everyone was hoping for alternate scenarios. The recent spike in AM drive audience response apparently gave many false hope, including me.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to come back to Chicago, even for a short time. This exercise was invigorating and somewhat vindicating. I only wish it had been more long lived. For my sake, and for all those very young and talented staff members who worked so hard. Thank you to the people who wrote, edited, and produced. Monica De Santis is a pro who deserves a prime spot in Chicago radio. Rob Hart is a warehouse of Chicago knowledge and broadcast expertise. Patrick Baldwin faced an uphill battle producing AM drive and raising a new baby. I am sure they were similar tasks. Andy Friedman worked his ass off and deserves kudos for his loyalty and sacrifice to staff.

As far as Randy Michaels goes, I harbor no malice. In fact I appreciate the opportunity Randy has given me over the years. Randy has tried to save radio and believes in it. I challenge all the hostile posters to get a wad of money from people who want an immediate return and who demand input, to do anything differently. It is easy stand aside and throw stones from the cloak of anonymity. It is easy to criticize when no-one knows who you are or what your resume has or lacks in bona fides. Words mean little when they come from an empty well of vituperation. I am happy to put my name on any words I utter in praise or condemnation of an individual or entity. Anyone who does not do so is a coward, or is ashamed of their name or resume. (Or they post in the hopes their words will influence their cause.) In short, mom's advice always take precedence, 'if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.' Or better yet, 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you..'

I love Chicago and wish I could afford to live here with no job. I depart for a house we own on the West coast (again). Unless of course someone out there has a major radio gig and wants to bet on a host with a track record that is not speculation, but you can print in a graph that shows success in morning radio in Chicago."

Reporter/Anchor Lise Dominique quickly summed up her FM News 101.1 experience this way: "Such a wild roller coaster ride of a year. I don't regret one moment."

WIQI-FM reporter Charlie Meyerson passed on to CRM what he was also posting on his Facebook page, saying: "End of the road for FM News Chicago, an outrageously innovative radio news service for the 21st Century, staffed by a group of courageous and visionary journalists. As I hope my postings here over the months have made clear, I had loads of fun and mastered many new (digital media and reporting) skills, and we improbably won a fistful of awards, including an RTDNA Murrow and an Illinois Broadcasters Association Silver Dome.

A little more than a year ago -- literally the night I left WGN-AM as news director -- I was offered the chance to help start up this station. Now, a grand review of What I Want To Be When I Grow Up resumes in earnest. Who needs a pioneer in radio news (WXRT, WNUA, WGN, FM News) and Internet news (chicagotribune.com)? Tell your friends! Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.."

Anchor/Reporter Matt McClain is thankful for his time with the station, telling CRM: "FM News was staffed with the best, and most talented, people I've ever worked with in my 14 years in the industry. I've never had so much fun in broadcasting, and I will miss them all very much. I have no regrets working there, even if it didn't last as long as any of us had hoped. After working my way up in the industry from a small market in Missouri, eventually to WFLA in Tampa, and then WIQI in Chicago, I now begin yet another a new chapter in my life...looking for my next job in broadcasting. If anyone is interested in someone that's won nearly three dozen awards, send me a message: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.."

Reporter/Contributor Sarah Jersild said of her time at WIQI-FM: "This is the most fun I've had on a job ever -- and I'm incredibly grateful for the chance Andy gave me to get into the industry. I hope I get to keep working in it." As for what Sarah has planned for her future... "I'm a content person -- whether it's in print, on air or online, I'm going to be telling stories and helping people understand what's going on around them. But first, I'm going to be nursing a massive hangover from the goodbye gathering with the amazing people I had the luck to work with for the last year. (Seriously -- those last two, or three, or six vodka-cranberries were excessive.)"

News anchor JoAnn Genette looks at the situation with her usual cheery attitude and sense of humor. "I am a mommy again for the summer," she says happily. Half-jokingly, she reports: "I was offered a job at the Illinois Department of Employment today. A woman in line asked if I would like to start work as a school bus driver next week. I may take that gig. Ha Ha."

Overall, JoAnn Genette has nothing but good thoughts about her time at 101.1 FM. "I'd do the whole Merlin thing again in a second and I worked with some of the best people you could meet in radio. ...and how I will miss Veronica Carter's eggs. She brings everyone eggs!"

Adding "...truthfully, today's mass termination was quick, painless, and very kind, Randy didn't need to be there. I'm surprised everyone is attacking Randy so much on blogs and boards. I'm not mad at Randy at all. The dude tried something new. He paid us all ridiculously awesome salaries. He gave us amazing creative freedom to play around. I'm always smiling and looking at the bright side of things...so maybe I'm a fool, but overall it was a really awesome experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat... but I will miss Veronica Carter's EGGS!"

Anchor/Reporter Veronica Carter passed on her thoughts on the experimental station format, saying: "From the get-go I loved the concept of FM News and understood most of the changes that were made along the way. I just don't think they stuck to anything long enough. I loved working for Andy Friedman and Diana Bodkins and even after 24 years in the business, I learned a lot about news writing from them. I made some friends and earned a lot of respect for quite a few people." Regarding her future plans Carter says: "I hope to stay in the business, news is in my blood! Openings? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!"

News Director Diana Bodkins had this to say today: "We were shocked and saddened by the news this morning. What a year it has been. I had the privilege to manage some of the most dedicated, talented and hard working people in Chicago. Although it was short lived I believe we created ground breaking was in which to deliver news." Asked about what's next for her, Bodkins stated: "I hope my skills and proven track record as both a news director and program director will be sought after by another station soon."

Operations Manager Andy Friedman was highly complimentary and classy on the whole experience, saying to CRM today: "As a station, we had our struggles, but what made it worth coming to work every day was the upbeat attitude and professionalism of the great team. To the very end, the newsroom worked to make things better and not get scooped on any story. I'll always remember, especially, some of the recent college grads who worked awful hours and turned out amazing radio. A lot of future stars were born at FM News. Toward the end I think we really hit our stride and the listeners responded. Too late.

Oh well. Even though I'm disappointed, I'm still hugely appreciative to Randy Michaels and the management at Merlin for the opportunity. it's a year I'll never forget. What an experience.

And congrats to our competition -- when you're great, the listeners are loyal. They deserve this one.

As for me, it's wide open. I have 12 years experience doing corporate Internet content, and I also love broadcasting. After saying my goodbyes, I'll focus on my next move. I'm sure my former FM News team members will be making some great moves as well; they're a talented group!"

News Anchor Dave Williams was one of the first hires at FM News 101.1, one of the first real standout stars of the station, and also, the first major exit from there. Upon hearing of today's news, he offered this quote: "I've never seen a more tragic bloodbath. So many talented people working from the heart, bereft of artful direction. The most exciting startup of my forty-plus years in radio, dashed by smoke and mirrors. Merlin has no magic.

Still, I'd do it all again. I am hopelessly in love with Chicago."

A person wishing to remain anonymous heaped praise on his co-workers and said that they truly believed that they could make FM News a success in Chicago. The problems seemed to come from decisions forced upon them from the top of the company. One quote from this person says a lot: "(FM News 101.1 was) a radio experiment where we weren't sure what we were supposed to be doing, while we dealt with massive shifts in direction, an automation program built for music rather than news, and a news content system not built for automation."

Another anonymous quote given to CRM today from a now ex-employee of Merlin Media sums up what many of the staffers felt in the last year, saying: "You can't please people who don't know what they want." That being a reference to the ever-changing plans and directions for the station, which came directly from the ever-changing mind of CEO Randy Michaels.

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