EVER WONDER how an all-news radio format with commercials would sound on FM?
Looks like Philadelphia will soon find out.
Merlin Media, headed by controversial former newspaper executive Randy Michaels, announced Tuesday that it had won the bidding for WKDN Camden, situated atop the dial at 106.9-FM.
If Merlin follows the same course it took this summer with FM outlets WWWN, in Chicago, and WEMP, in New York, then Camden's current home for nondenominational Christian "Family Radio" will soon be a news/talk rival for CBS Radio's long-mighty KYW NewsRadio (1060-AM).
A rebranded, all-news WKDN also could inflict ratings damage, especially in drive time, to FM public-radio outlet WHYY.
Merlin hinted at the path in its news release, first published by RadioInk.com and Radio-Info.com. "Merlin Media is now actively looking for staff that can pronounce Schuykill [sic], Wissahickon, Manayunk, Tredyffrin, Gwynedd, Pennsauken and Bryn Mawr."
That staff should also know that Schuylkill is spelled with an "l" in the middle.
So far, the Merlin stations in Chicago and New York, which also challenged well-established CBS news stations in their respective markets, have "both barely kicked in at all," said Sean Ross, executive editor of music and programming at Radio-Info.com.
"It is a very hard thing to do, to launch an all-news station, especially if you're doing it from scratch," he said.
They began with a female-friendly approach, excluding sports and business, and with a focus on female lifestyles, Ross said.
The stations have tweaked their formats since their slow starts to emulate their competitors, said Tom Taylor, editor of Radio-Info.com.
"What works is the standard, and that's what KYW does," Taylor said.
The well-funded Merlin Media is keen on buying other FM stations in top-10 markets presumably to copy the news format elsewhere, Taylor said.
Employees might want to read up on Michaels, whose legal name is Benjamin Hobel. Michaels, arrested in October in Ohio for allegedly driving while intoxicated, is a former disc jockey who worked his way up to become CEO of Jacor Communications in the 1990s. Jacor was later sold to Clear Channel Communications for $4.4 billion.
More recently, a New York Times piece on his reign as CEO of Tribune Co., the Chicago media conglomerate, alleged a work environment that "came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, jukeboxes and pervasive sex talk." The October article prompted Michaels to resign a few weeks later.