Randy Michaels: "We Are Learning and Un-Learning."
Merlin Media CEO Randy Michaels has been the talk of the trades ever since it was announced that he had financial backing and would be purchasing three stations from Emmis Communications. Michaels and Emmis' Jeff Smulyan have been friends for a long time, and, in fact, have been talking for many years about putting something together. With private equity firm GTRC ready to invest and Emmis ready to sell two stations in Chicago WKQX-FM and WLUP-FM and one in New York City, the deal was done. Merlin was born. It's been a little over a month since Chicago and New York changed formats to spoken word. What is the report card from Randy Michaels? "Well, I think they sound like they are new." Here's more...
"I think they sound like we are still working out bugs in the systems, the new equipment. We have architected these stations in a way that has never been done before. They are fresh. They are complex. They are in the cloud. The content is available to stations we have now and stations we will have in the future. It's being set up in a very different way and there are a lot of kinks and bugs to work out. We are using a different style guide than I am aware of being used before. We are not only teaching people a lot of new things, there are a lot of old things to un-learn. We are trying to focus on the impact of news. One of the reasons that I like Walter Sabo is that he is one of the few guys in the country who has been on this stage for a long time."
Michaels and Sabo are featured in an upcoming cover story in Radio Ink magazine. In it, the two detail how this deal came together and how the two of them started working as a team to formulate the Merlin game plan. It's an entirely new and innovative format, they say, not being done anywhere else. Michaels explains. "In Chicago last weekend, it drove me nuts. There was a lot of police activity on Lakeshore Drive. I don't know whether there was a bake sale or a march. To me, if you are at a news station and the police are on Lakeshore Drive, they are there for a reason. What is the reason? Is there a traffic accident? Is there a hold up? Is there a gorilla loose from the zoo? Tell me what's going on. So much of what gets covered on the news doesn't really tell people why it's important to them and what is really going on. So, we are really trying to do something that is not conventional."
The stations were receiving a lot of criticism on the boards and blogs (and from the Michaels haters) for not sounding polished enough. Michaels doesn't pay any attention to that stuff but admits "It's is a long way from achieving success. Having said that, it's on the air. It sounds pretty good for how long it's been on the air. I think it shows all the promise that I would expect. We'll get there. New York, because they had a little more time to prepare, is better out of the gate than Chicago. But, Chicago, in the last 10 days, has improved tremendously. For where it is, I am thrilled. For where it could be, we have a long way to go. I think that's what you would expect."
There is much much more from Michaels as well as Sabo and Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan about the formulation of this new company. There will be a lot of detail that you have not reador seen anywhere else. If you would like to read the Randy Michaels cover story, you should subscribe NOW
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