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WIQI-FM Flips Formats Once Again

One month ago, WIQI-FM abruptly canceled its FM News 101.1 news/talk format and flipped the station to a classic hits format, focusing primarily on music from the 1990s. There were some late 1980s and early 2000s music worked in, but what set the station apart from others in Chicago was the station's focus on the 90's hits.

Over the last week, i101 began confusing some listeners, by mixing in some current and recent Hot Adult Contemporary hits in to the playlist, including artists like LMFAO and Flo Rida. As of just before Midnight last night, the 80s and 90s music is gone and i101 has become just another Hot A/C station, playing mostly current & recent pop hits -- the same music that can be found on other Chicago radio stations, including WTMX-FM and WLIT-FM.

Fan reaction to today's switch has been brutal. The Facebook page for i101 has not received one single positive comment about the dumping of the 90s music. Here is a very small sampling of comments just from the last two hours:

"What happened here??? Are you suffering from an identity crisis? Where are the 90's songs? I like Adelle and Gotye, but it doesn't mean they fit your format. There are a few CHR stations I could tune to listen to contemporary hits. Please, go back to normal! I miss my favorite music that you used to play. Have been listening for 30 minutes and I can barely stand it anymore..."

"Everything that is on this morning is horrible..."

"Seriously, there are enough current pop rock stations in Chicago! Go back to what people liked - the 90's and EARLY 2000's..."

"I was so happy to discover a station that was playing 90's music....please stop playing the new crap! "

"I am so going back to Pandora until they fix this crap!"

"What's going on!? You guys had the best radio station ever and now you just have another B96! Those first few weeks were awesome! Go bad to old format please!! I don't want to take the station off my favorites already."

"What happened? I had to change stations this morning because you were playing all newer pop music....you really had a cool thing going with the old school hits :("

"Dear i101,
I thought we had something special. I really loved you and then I find out you betrayed me. I turned on my radio this a.m., and heard you, as I do every morning. But today you said some horrible, nasty things! Adele???? Kelly Clarkson????? Really? If I wanted to hear that, I would tune into 96.3, 103.5, 102.3, or 103.7. I really thought you were different. We just might be over, i101!!!"

"Don't think you'll be making 101 friends today, I'm not sayin I'm just sayin..."

WIQI-FM is owned by Merlin Media, LLC, which is run by CEO Randy Michaels. Even though the company's radio stations have Operations Managers, Program Directors, Music Directors, etc., all primary decisions regarding what is heard on the Merlin Media airwaves is made solely by Randy Michaels himself. Michaels is a notorious "tinkerer" when it comes to his radio stations. Formats are constantly tweaked, altered, or dramatically changed on a whim, with little advance thought given to the decisions. WIQI-FM's previous format, FM News 101.1, seemed to have made major changes about every three weeks, making it near impossible to achieve a steady audience, as every time the station gained traction, orders from the CEO to make shifts stopped that traction. It would appear as if the CEO's "tinkering" is still happening at WIQI-FM, even though it is no longer a news format.

The FM News 101.1 staff was forced to work under a cloud of confusion, not knowing what their roles were supposed to be from day to day, as the upper executives of the company could not make up their minds what they wanted to do with the station or wanted their employees to do. None of that has changed, even though 101.1 FM has gone from news to music.

At the end of last month, Merlin Media announced to staffers (not publicly) that they would be moving Pete McMurray and Jane Monzures to mornings at i101, giving them a new radio home after removing them from WLUP-FM to make room for longtime Randy Michaels/Clear Channel employee Maxwell. The Merlin Media Chicago sales staff were told to find advertisers for i101's new morning show, which would be starting within two weeks. Now, more than two weeks into August, i101 is still without a morning show. McMurray has been reduced to only providing occasional sports reports to his now-former WLUP-FM morning show, while Jane Monzures is still waiting to hear if/when she will be needed on the air next.

The confusion at the Merlin Media stations is far from over... Chicago radio insiders are now openly talking about Merlin Media's investors' extreme disappointment with the current CEO, as well as the company's lack of direction and success. Merlin Media's primary investors, Chicago-based investment firm GTCR, could be looking at ousting Michaels before the end of this year, installing an interim CEO of their choosing (a radio executive, whose name should be very familiar to Chicago radio fans), and possibly selling off the company's four radio stations in 2013. Plans on purchasing more radio stations in other markets, including stations in Florida and California, have all been scrapped.

The mood of the executives at Chicago's Merlin Media offices at the Merchandise Mart has been described by one insider as "desperate and angry."

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