||This article possibly contains original research. (March 2014)|
|City of license||Chicago, Illinois|
|Branding||The Game 87.7|
|Frequency||Analog television channel 6 (VHF)
87.7 MHz (FM)
|First air date||May 16, 2003|
|Callsign meaning||diambiguation of LMA partner WGN's callsign|
|Former callsigns||W55DF (2003
WLFM-LP (2006 –2012 )
WKQX-LP (2012 –2014 )
|Affiliations||NBC Sports Radio|
|Owner||Venture Technologies Group, LLC
(Operated by Tribune Broadcasting under a local marketing agreement)
|Sister stations||WGN, WGN-TV, CLTV, WGN America|
WGWG-LP is a low-power analog television station on VHF television channel 6 which is licensed to Chicago, Illinois in the United States. Owned by Venture Technologies Group, LLC, and operated through a local marketing agreement by Tribune Broadcasting as a sister station to WGN, it broadcasts a sports talk radio format branded as The Game with its transmitter located atop the John Hancock Center, using a quirk in the analog broadcast band where the television station's audio signal is audible on 87.7 FM at the far left end of the standard FM radio tuning range/dial.
The station was previously run by Merlin Media, LLC as WKQX-LP until January 2014, when a new agreement was reached with Cumulus Media to run an alternative rock format in a simulcast with sister station WKQX (101.1 FM) until February 17, 2014. Cumulus ended its LMA with WKQX-LP on the same day, with Tribune Broadcasting entering into a concurrent LMA of their own, and flipped it to a sports talk format.
WGWG-LP is technically and legally a television station, but since the channel 6 analog TV frequency can be heard on 87.75 MHz on the FM band, the facility essentially operates as a radio station and has aired radio-oriented formats, mainly music. The image on-screen for the station displays still pictures of Chicago landmarks and a visual identification with the station's calls and city of license to serve the visual requirements of maintaining television service, along with traditional aural station identification. Because of its low power status, the station is also not subject to the FCC's educational and informational programming requirements. The station is also available as an audio channel locally on Xfinity's cable systems on channel 877.
Until sometime in 2014, the FCC database reflected the station's city of license as Rochelle, Illinois, a community in Ogle County located south of Rockford and located in that television market. However beyond a fringe signal, the station's signal does not get far beyond Chicago's western suburbs and only reaches Rochelle at select times when the weather is optimal for signal reception. The WGWG-LP signal is still under analog-era restrictions to Chicago proper which restricted interference towards WITI from Milwaukee and KWQC-TV from Davenport, Iowa, which had their analog broadcasts on Channel 6 and continue to use that designation for their digital virtual channels.
When WGWG-LP first signed on the air in 2003, it used to broadcast on channel 55 (under the W55DF call sign), but later moved to channel 6 because of Qualcomm's MediaFLO service expanding to the Chicago area. Its programming once consisted of infomercials, home shopping services, MTV Tr3s, and Azteca America. It became WLFM-LP in 2006.
On March 9, 2009 Venture announced that it signed letters of intent to lease out their channel 6 signals on both WLFM-LP and KSFV-CA in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley, which would pave the way for the launching a dance format on the stations. Programming was to have begun under that format June 1, 2009, and be patterned after Mega Media's New York City outlet WNYZ-LP and be branded as Pulse 87.
In the interim, on April 1, 2009, channel 6 switched to an alternative country music format as 'The L'. One month later, Venture announced it would not pursue the deal with Mega Media, which would later cease operations in October. Channel 6 continued with the alt-country format which was gaining many fans until a format change in Chicago opened a new opportunity.
On May 22, 2009, WNUA (95.5 FM) dropped its smooth jazz format for Spanish contemporary music. That afternoon, channel 6 immediately picked up the abandoned format, becoming an affiliate of the Broadcast Architecture Smooth Jazz Network, and adopting the name "87.7 Chicago's Smooth Jazz". Channel 6 originally broadcast still photographs of Chicago and Jazz musicians on its video signal, since all television licensees are still required to transmit video while on air. In the summer of 2011, channel 6 began airing traffic maps and a weather scroll on its video signal. WNUA originally broadcast a mainstream jazz channel from Broadcast Architecture on its HD-2 channel of its HD radio signal, but was quickly discarded after channel 6 switched to smooth jazz, also using a Broadcast Architecture source.
Initially, WLFM's smooth jazz format consisted of round-the-clock programming from the Broadcast Architecture Smooth Jazz Network. But later on the station added two local weekday hosts, both veterans of WNUA's former smooth jazz format: midday host Rick O'Dell (also the station's program director) and evening personality Loni Taylor. In addition, channel 6 featured "Paul Wertico's Wild World of Jazz" with local host Paul Wertico (a professor at Roosevelt University) on Sunday nights at 9 pm, featuring a mix of contemporary and traditional jazz. "The Sounds of Brazil," heard Saturdays at midnight on channel 6, hosted by radio personality Scott Adams, was also a longtime WNUA staple. The remainder of the broadcast day remained satellite-fed from Broadcast Architecture weekdays, with the morning show co-hosted by Kenny G and former WVMV/Detroit radio personality Sandy Kovach, the afternoon-drive show hosted by Dave Koz, and the overnight show hosted by former WJZZ-Atlanta radio personality Maria Lopez. Saturday's lineup featured satellite-fed programming from Broadcast Architecture, including the Smooth Jazz Top 20 Countdown hosted by radio personality Allen Kepler, the midday show hosted by Kenny G, the early afternoon show hosted by Norman Brown, the late afternoon Dave Koz Weekend Show, the evening show Dinner Party hosted by former WNUA radio personality Bill Cochran, and the late night show Chillin' with Mindi Abair. Sunday's lineup featured a mix of both local and satellite-fed programming from Broadcast Architecture, starting with the return of two former WNUA Sunday morning programs, Sunrise Soundscapes and The Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch hosted by Rick O'Dell, the satellite-fed afternoon show hosted by Norman Brown, a newly added local show called 60 Smooth Minutes heard Sunday nights at 6 pm, and the evening show Legends of Jazz hosted by musician and former WNUA radio personality Ramsey Lewis. Channel 6 General Manager Pat Kelley is also a veteran who was fired from WNUA in 2009.
In July 2009, channel 6 began simulcasting on a subchannel of WCHU-LD (33.2, mapped to virtual channel 61.2 via PSIP). In June 2011, channel 6 became available on Comcast digital cable as channel 877.
In October 2010, WLFM tweaked its format to "Smooth Adult Contemporary" (again using a Broadcast Architecture source). The format is a mix of mainstream and urban adult contemporary tracks with a few smooth jazz instrumentals per hour.
LMA with Merlin and move to alt-rock
On April 24, 2012, Merlin Media, LLC entered into a local marketing agreement with Venture Technologies Group to take over the programming and ad sales for WLFM-LP as of April 30, 2012 (with Venture Technologies retaining the station's license and ownership). Later on the 24th, Smooth 87.7's Rick O'Dell revealed on the station's website that smooth jazz would be replaced on April 30, 2012. Venture Technologies management termed the LMA with Merlin as a "business decision" based in part on the future status of low-power analog TV stations, whose signals must be turned off or transitioned to digital by September 2015. (Venture, in a "goodbye" message on the "Smooth 87.7" website, went so far as to lay blame on the Obama administration's FCC for the format change.) "Smooth 87.7" ended before midnight on April 29, 2012, with David Sanborn's "Chicago Song" the last song played. Afterwards, the station changed over to a simulcast of Merlin's all-news station, WIQI (101.1 FM). (Twice-hourly news updates from WIQI were added to WLFM on April 24, Merlin's first noticeable change to the station.) A call sign change from WLFM-LP to WKQX-LP took effect on May 1, 2012.
Though the smooth jazz format would depart from 87.7 FM, the format would continue on a HD3 subchannel of Merlin's WLUP-FM (97.9-HD3), which launched on May 3, 2012. Additionally, WLFM-LP alum Rick O'Dell launched an online radio station, SmoothJazzChicago.net, on November 12, 2012; the channel would be added to the HD2 subchannel of WTMX (101.9-HD2) in January 2014.
Long-term speculation indicated that the new format for WKQX-LP would be alternative rock, one heard on the former WKQX radio before Merlin purchased and changed that station ("Q101") to all-news (as WIQI) in 2011. Indeed, news surfaced that WKQX would debut alternative rock on May 7, 2012. However, Merlin started the format one night earlier than planned, possibly due to Elmhurst-based WJJG (1530 AM) picking up a partial simulcast of an online version of "Q101," which continued after Merlin dropped the format from 101.1 FM. (The "Q101" branding and related intellectual properties, including live streaming, were not acquired by Merlin.) After 7:00PM on May 6, 2012, "Q87.7" ("Underground. Alternative.") formally launched, with "Satellite" by Chicago band Rise Against being the first song played. "Q87.7's" playlist emphasizes more-recent artists and songs as compared to the old "Q101" and other alternative- and active-rock stations. The station, perhaps inspired by its low-FM dial position and its uncertain future ("Already there are some people maneuvering to shut us down"), cultivates a hard-edged "outlaw mystique" in its presentation and interaction with listeners, targeting a younger audience that may normally listen to music through online sources; a welcome message on the station's website at its launch noted that "older radios won't pick us up... so if someone has a radio that doesn't get 87.7FM, then they just don't get it!"
LMA with Cumulus Media
On January 3, 2014, Merlin Media announced a local marketing agreement (LMA) with Cumulus Media that would see Cumulus take over operations of (and have an option to purchase) Merlin-owned WIQI and WLUP-FM (97.9 FM). The deal, which also sees Cumulus inherit Merlin's LMA to operate WKQX-LP, is a relinquishing by Merlin of the operations of its last remaining radio stations; the company had previously sold off single stations in New York City and Philadelphia in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The deal also sees an expansion of Cumulus' Chicago reach; the company already owns and operates news/talk station WLS (890 AM) and classic hits station WLS-FM (94.7).
In announcing the deal, Cumulus indicated that it would move the alternative rock format from WKQX back to WIQI, the long-time home for the format (and the WKQX call sign) before Merlin acquired the station and converted it to an all-news format in 2011. The return of alt-rock to 101.1 took place at 9AM on January 10, 2014, with both 87.7 and 101.1 simulcasting alternative for approximately 30-45 days; once the simulcast ended, alt-rock would remain on 101.1 (which re-adopted the WKQX call sign on January 16, 2014). Cumulus' long-term plans for WKQX-LP were initially unclear, as the company ruled out the possibility of flipping any of its Chicago stations to country music under its Nash FM brand.
LMA with Tribune, flip to sports talk
Cumulus later revealed that they would end their LMA with WKQX-LP upon the conclusion of the simulcast period with 101.1 on February 17, 2013; concurrently, Tribune Broadcasting announced that they will enter into a local marketing agreement of their own for WKQX-LP as an "FM expansion" for sister station WGN (720 AM). Venture also applied to change the callsign of WKQX-LP to WGWG-LP.
On February 17, 2014, the Chicago Tribune confirmed that WKQX-LP would flip to a WGN-produced sports talk format known as The Game at 1:02 p.m. CT. Jonathon Brandmeier will host its morning show, while WGN AM host David Kaplan moved to the station to host a late-morning show. Howard Griffith and Alex Quigley will host an early afternoon show, the afternoon drive will be hosted by former WMVP personalities Harry Teinowitz and Spike Manton, and Mark Carman will host an evening show. The remaining dayparts will carry NBC Sports Radio programming. It also serves as the alternate station for WGN's Chicago Blackhawks coverage during conflicts with Chicago Cubs games, ending a previous agreement with WIND (560). The arrangement will last through September 2015, the FCC's deadline for converting low-power television stations to digital broadcasting. The fate of The Game after this point is unknown at this time. On February 19, 2014, WKQX-LP changed its call letters to WGWG-LP.
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