WLUP FM 97.9, the fabled classic rock station that’s home to morning host Erich Mancow Muller and four decades of radio history, is being acquired by a nonprofit Christian broadcasting company, according to an FCC filing Monday.
Educational Media Foundation has agreed to buy The Loop from Merlin Media for $21.5 million and plans to convert it to a noncommercial contemporary Christian music station under its syndicated K-Love brand. Pending government approval, the deal will mark the end of a legacy that began when owner Phil Chess of Chess Records flipped the call letters from WSDM to WLUP in 1977.
Radio Hall of Famer Steve Dahl, who rose to stardom on The Loop in the early ’80s, said: "As I look back on my 40 years on the radio in this market, I am reminded almost daily of The Loop’s impact not only my career, but also rock and roll history in Chicago, and around the world. They just don’t make brave risk-taking local radio stations like that anymore, and that’s everybody’s loss. I hope the last song they play there is AC/DC’s 'Highway To Hell!'"
Noted Lance Venta of Radio Insight: “From rock to hot talk to modern AC [adult contemporary] to classic rock — and being stuck in baseball and historical lore thanks to Steve Dahl’s Disco Demolition Night — the station will go down as one of the most important radio stations in history. And now just another historical footnote.”
Since 2014 The Loop has been operated under a local marketing agreement by Cumulus Media. As part of a bankruptcy filing last month, Cumulus withdrew plans to buy the station, setting in motion Merlin’s search for a new owner.
Marv Nyren, vice president and market manager of Cumulus Chicago, declined to comment on the sale Monday.
Muller, whose contract was nullified in the Cumulus bankruptcy filing, said: “Well, I love Christian music and wish them all the best. The Loop lasted 41 years. I had hoped we'd be on to celebrate her 50th. Lots of great folks will be without a job and that's very sad.”
Tom Taylor, publisher of the authoritative industry newsletter Tom Taylor Now, called The Loop purchase a “huge score” for Educational Media Foundation. The company recently bought KSWD, the former Entercom classic rock station in Los Angeles known as The Sound, and converted it to the K-Love Christian music format as KKLQ. In 2013 EMF bought WWIQ in Philadelphia from Merlin Media and converted it to K-Love as WKVP.
“They're very, very sharp, business-wise, and very strategic,” Taylor said of the company headquartered in Rocklin, California, near Sacramento. “They buy based on a formula of x dollars per person under [covered by] the signal.”
EMF stations in the Chicago area include WJKL FM 94.3 in Glendale Heights, WOKL FM 89.1 in Round Lake Beach, and WZKL FM 91.7 in Woodstock. All of them broadcast the K-Love format. WSRI FM 88.7 in Sugar Grove and WAIW FM 88.1 in Wheaton broadcast EMF’s Air1 contemporary hit Christian rock format.
Since all of their stations are noncommercial, funding for K-Love and Air1 comes from listener donations during seasonal pledge drives.
Merlin also is seeking a buyer for alternative rock WKQX FM 101.1, which Cumulus operates under a similar local marketing agreement. Cumulus owns news/talk WLS AM 890 and classic hits WLS FM 94.7.
In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, The Loop ranked 15th with a 2.9 percent audience share. Among listeners between 25 and 54, The Loop ranked 10th with a 3.5 share.
Monday’s best comment: John Hartness: What made the Tribune company great? Joseph Medill and his grandson, Colonel Robert McCormick. They understood the technological advances in printing and editorial content would propel their product into the paper of choice in Chicago, the Midwest and the world. From embracing the Linotype in Medill's time, to creating a continuous paper source from Canada and cold type in McCormick's time, the Tribune was known as the "Star Wars" in the industry. McCormick embraced radio and television by creating WGN and the Mutual Broadcasting network when those industries threatened newspapers. Working with his cousin, Joe Patterson, they established 4-color printing, comics and sections devoted to women, farmers, business and more. Not to mention "The Book" for advertising sales. They were men ahead of their time. It appears after over twenty-five years of the inception the internet (1991), Bruce Dold has discovered it should be a venue for news. Welcome to the 21st century, Bruce.