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WRME-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 Weigel Broadcasting, it broadcasts a gold adult contemporary format branded as 87.7 MeTV FM. The station is operated out of Weigel's headquarters at 26 N. Halsted Street in Chicago's Greektown neighborhood, with its transmitter located atop the John Hancock Center.
|Branding||87.7 MeTV FM|
|Repeater(s)||WMYX-HD2, 99.1 Mhz, Milwaukee|
|First air date||Summer 2005|
|HAAT||385 meters (1,263 feet)|
|Class||Low-power television station|
|Callsign meaning||W Radio MeTV|
|Owner||Venture Technologies Group |
|Sister stations||WCHU-LD, WCIU-TV, WWME-CD, WMEU-CD|
|Webcast||WMYX-HD2 stream on Radio.com (similar to WRME-LP outside of Milwaukee imaging)|
WRME-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. Because of its low power status, the station is not subject to the FCC's educational and informational programming requirements, allowing a full 24/7 format without interruption for other programming. Until December 2018, WRME-LP was also available locally on Xfinity channel 877.
To maintain the visual requirements of maintaining television service, WRME-LP's video signal displays a screen layout reminiscent of that used by cable radio service Music Choice mixed with The Weather Channel's automated Weatherscan service. On the top of the screen, the current artist/song title is displayed, with the station logo to the right, while below it, a consistently panning map of the Chicago metropolitan area displays the latest expressway travel times and weather radar conditions for several parts of the region. Finally, along the right side of the screen, a visual station identification with the station's calls is in the bottom right corner, along with a display ad for Xfinity and the hour's current featured advertiser.
WRME-LP has broadcast various formats, including alternative country, smooth jazz, and alternative rock. From April 2012 through January 2014, the station was run by Merlin Media, LLC as WKQX-LP, 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, switching it to a sports talk format known as The Game. However, after poor ratings, Tribune replaced the sports talk format with an interim simulcast of its flagship station, WGN (720 AM). Weigel Broadcasting assumed control of the station on February 23, 2015—shifting to an oldies format co-branded with its classic television network MeTV.
When WRME-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 was a mix of mainstream and urban adult contemporary tracks with a few smooth jazz instrumentals per hour.
LMA with Merlin and move to alt-rockEdit
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. On December 28, 2015 Rick O'Dell announced that the online radio station, SmoothJazzChicago.net, will be shut down on December 31, 2015.
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 emphasized 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 MediaEdit
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 talkEdit
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, 2014; concurrently, Tribune Broadcasting announced that they would 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 hosted its morning show, while WGN AM host David Kaplan moved to the station to host a late-morning show. Howard Griffith and Alex Quigley hosted an early afternoon show, the afternoon drive was hosted by former WMVP personalities Harry Teinowitz and Spike Manton, and Mark Carman hosted an evening show. The remaining dayparts featured NBC Sports Radio programming. It also served as the alternate station at the time for WGN's Chicago Blackhawks coverage during conflicts with Chicago Cubs games, ending the previous agreement with WIND (560). The arrangement was initially slated to last through September 2015, the FCC's original deadline for converting low-power television stations to digital broadcasting (in October 2014, the FCC voted to tentatively delay the low-power digital transition). On February 19, 2014, WKQX-LP changed its call letters to WGWG-LP, which is disambiguation of LMA partner WGN's callsign.
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; with the new Tribune LMA the city of license became Chicago. Beyond a fringe signal, the station's signal does not get far beyond Chicago's western suburbs and would only be visible/heard in Rochelle at select times when the weather is optimal for signal reception. The station's signal range remains 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.
On November 20, 2014, Robert Feder reported that Tribune would discontinue The Game on December 31, 2014; Jonathon Brandmeier's program, which was simulcast from Tribune's Internet radio station WGN.fm, was also immediately dropped. The decision came in response to its low advertising revenue, along with poor ratings: holding only an audience share of 0.4, the station ranked 36th place among all Chicago radio stations. On December 31, 2014, WGWG-LP was changed to an FM simulcast of WGN as an interim measure until the end of Tribune's LMA with Venture Technologies Group.
LMA with Weigel BroadcastingEdit
On December 30, 2014, it was reported that Weigel Broadcasting, who owns WCIU-TV and several other low-power TV stations in Chicago, would take over WGWG-LP in February 2015. The station marks Weigel's first venture into the radio industry. On January 30, 2015, it was reported that Venture Technologies Group had asked Tribune to maintain its control of the station and the WGN simulcast through at least February 2015. On February 9, Weigel announced that it would assume control of the station on February 23, 2015, and program it with an oldies format branded as MeTV FM, a brand extension of its MeTV classic television network (which is seen locally on fellow low-power station WWME-CD); the call letters were changed to WRME-LP. To cultivate word of mouth and building upon MeTV's own launch where it was only available in Chicago, then Milwaukee until its national launch, WRME does not stream online, and remains itself exclusively over-the-air, though it does display a 'last played song' playlist in chronological order online. The format is a gold-based adult contemporary music format, with a broad playlist of approximately 3,500 songs and an emphasis on soft rock ("Light My Fire" by The Doors was noted in 2018 as the hardest rock song on the station's playlist, its inclusion having been extensively debated among station staff).
By May 2017, despite the obstacles posed by its frequency and signal, WRME was tied with its full-power competitors WJMK and WLS-FM at an audience share of 2.7, putting it 14th in the market. It was also announced that Weigel would syndicate the branding and format through a partnership with Envision Networks. By February 2018 WRME had risen to 6th in the market and second in middays.
FCC mandates end of low-power analog TV broadcastingEdit
The FCC had established September 1, 2015 as the date for the termination of all analog low-power television service. However, on April 24, 2015 the FCC decided to suspend that cutoff date indefinitely, and WRME-LP remains on the air. On May 17, 2017, the FCC announced July 13, 2021 as the new low-power analog television shutdown date.
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