Change is rarely easy and especially when it touches your daily life. The bottom line was that KYW’s many fans did not want their favorite radio station to leave Cleveland. The KY “Sound 11 Survey” along with its familiar voices had been important part of their lives for nearly a decade. Its many listeners woke up with it on their clock radios, listen to it all-day and then fell asleep with it at night. Unfortunately, its days were numbered. That was too bad. It provided Cleveland with the very best in music, news, talk and sports. KYW-AM used its 50,000 watts advantage to its fullest extent by giving its listening audience what it wanted the purest enjoyment. To its credit, it rarely missed a beat.
Its staff throughout the spring of ’65 continued to do its very best even though the handwriting was on the wall. With a well-earned reputation for program excellence, its many shrewd programmers fulfilled their daily tasks with both grace and style. Few knew what NBC might have in store. However, they sensed that nothing would be exactly the same once the National Broadcasting Company took over. Yet, industry-wide profits continued to soar that year topping $636 million. Powerhouse AM outlets, like KYW, enjoyed exceptionally high revenues in those days. In the case of KY-11, its growing wealth was closely connected to its uncanny knack of selling tremendous amounts of spot advertising day in and day out. It took a team of highly dedicated individuals ranging from KYW DJs, managers, and programmers to clerks, receptionists and the cleaning staff to achieve that impressive goal.
As you might have already construed, business caginess and financial success were one and the same at KY-11. Sometimes the way in which a broadcaster selling team presented itself to potential advertisers ultimately tipped the scales one way or another. In most cases, the flasher the show and the higher the station’s profits the better the chances of that outlet hooking a big fish. For example, in January 1965 Cleveland’s radio market ascribed to the Radio Response Ratings Service (RR). It ranked KYW as the number two “overall” station slightly behind the present leader WHK. The key word here was “overall.” That meant that certain KYW shows blew away their competitors while others not so much. However, KYW’s well-trained promoters were nobody’s fool. They used their station’s number two rating to their fullest advantage by repeatedly mentioning the many positive aspects of their highly successful programs while barely mentioning their lower rated offerings.
The positive publicity they generated month after month regardless of the ratings proved sufficient enough for eager advertisers who were interested in selling as many items and services as they could as quickly as possible through this popular station. Most of their advertisers rarely read between the lines. KYW’s sales approach went far beyond the clever maneuvering of aggressive business agents and cunning promoters. The responsibility for prompting high sales volume repeatedly rested in the skillful hands of fast-talking jocks, music librarians and program coordinators. Working collectively, they brought to life the many clever ads that were broadcasted daily on KYW-Radio. That highly polished, well-seasoned business strategy was aimed at sustaining a loyal listening audience that dutifully purchased the many products they advertised. KY-11’s managers could depend on their fans tuning in as long as their station was fun. Local ratings may go up and down, and the public might be fickle at times, but one thing held true. Advertisers knew full well who their customers were and they catered to them directly through local radio outlets that welcomed them into their studios.
Ratings were similar in many ways to report cards in that program developers frequently measured a show’s success or failure based on that station’s present standing. Low ratings compelled many programmers to routinely cancel or change shows. Those that relied on their hunches generally won out in the ratings war. In fact, KYW-Radio had its program evaluation process down to a fine science. Here’s how it worked on the news and information side. While KYW-Radio continually reminded its listeners of its highly reliable newscasts led by ace reporters such as Tom Carson, Ken Courtwright, Paul Sciria, its programmers periodically stirred things up by injecting thought-provoking news related spots. One of those thirty to ninety second responses called “Cleveland Wants to Know” gained a great following. Q&A columns found in both the Cleveland newspapers served as its basis. “Cleveland Wants to Know” responded to important questions asked by their very attentive listeners. Experts in many fields lent their expertise.
You had to have creative people both on and off the air if you wanted to remain number one in the Cleveland radio market. Harry Martin was exactly what KYW-Radio needed to bolster its morning ratings in the early ‘60s. His daily comedy bit called “Congo Curt” featured a well-intended, but highly inept jungle explorer. His misadventures appealed to almost everyone. Being able to make people laugh at a drop of a hat was no easy task. Each segment of “Congo Curt” required a great deal of production time upfront. Yet, he did it successfully over and over again. WBC had made a major commitment to Clevelanders to provide them with the finest in entertainment, news and talk, and Harry Martin’s off-beat comedy was a crucial part of fulfilling it. However, that pledge by the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company extended far beyond Martin’s daily pranks. Keep in mind that the mid-1960s symbolized a time of social upheaval when major issues, such as civil rights, were heating up. Surprisingly, some powerhouse AM radio stations such as KYW successfully bridged that growing racial gap by periodically presenting one-of-a-kind programs that crossed that color line. One example of that growing commitment came through loud and clear in February 1965. Following the untimely death of one of America’s smoothest African American male vocalists Nat King Cole (1919-1965), that outlet paid tribute to that icon by broadcasting a special show at 9:30 p.m. on February 17th. Jim Runyon narrated it. That same night it also broadcasted a program on the Second World War.
Throughout this period, its extraordinary staff received its fair share of attention from local media circles. For example, one of its foremost newscasters Ken Courtwright signed yet another lucrative contract in 1964 while Jerry G joined Jay Lawrence in a number of well publicized appearances including Halle Brother’s “Go-Go-Go Fashion Show” sponsored by Seventeen magazine on March 13th. Downtown was still number one in retailing and large department stores continued to spent lots of money on all kinds of special advertising that included among other things fashion shows. Besides, adding favorite local radio personalities to those shows provided some glamour. Like so many other successful retailers of that same decade, Halle Brothers gladly welcomed large crowds of shoppers. On the flip side, station officials enjoyed the tons of positive publicity and increased revenue they derived from sponsoring those personal appearances. Although many competitors appreciated the full-court press being employed by KYW to promote its many spectacular events, other factors such as escalating overhead costs and smaller listening audiences limited their ability to compete in that way.
In spite of all the fanfare, radio newscasts still ranked second in the minds of most listeners. They still relied primarily on the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cleveland Press and the Akron Beacon Journal for the bulk of their news and sports. As everyone knew, federal regulations mandated that all radio stations broadcast news on the hour. Some like KYW-Cleveland took it a step further by providing newscasts on the half hour and whenever breaking news unfolded. Its daily talk shows also furnished important news and information to their many followers. Speaking of talk shows, few were surprised when Harve Morgan received the much coveted Ralph H. Besse award for his outstanding performance as Cleveland’s premier nighttime talk show host. Eleven hundred AM had no trouble whatsoever in selling numerous hours of advertising based on its numerous top quality newscasts and daily talk shows. Receiving community awards gave KYW’s savvy sales team the kind of ammunition it needed to sell even more spot advertising time.
We must not forget that fierce competition fueled in many cases by overly enthusiastic station managers also played a crucial part in determine the winner and losers in the local ratings war. The reality was that broadcasting represented a very mixed up world where one station might have high ratings one month only to be toppled by an upstart the next. Case in point was the continual battle for Cleveland’s top radio spot that was being waged by KYW and WHK in the early ‘60s. The fact that WHK was Ohio’s oldest commercial broadcaster and a leader in Cleveland radio for more than four decades did not prevent its chief nemesis KYW Program Director Ken Draper from bragging that his outlet was number one in the April ’65 ratings. In the case of Metromedia–owned WHK, its 5,000 watts could not match the range or sound quality of KYW–Cleveland. Fourteen-twenty AM did indeed offer some first rate programs even though its new “contemporary music” format was not particularly a big hit with locally-based audiences. Similar in program style to its New York flagship station WNEW, WHK-Radio lacked the enormous listening audience to draw upon when matched against WNEW-AM.
In terms of the DJs themselves, AM radio has always been a great place for nomadic broadcasters. As we mentioned earlier, those wanderers were never guaranteed job security which meant that the slightest infraction on their part might send them packing. Jim Stagg found that out the hard way.  Apparently, KYW managers had discovered that he had signed his name to a bar license in Lorain, OH and that some state liquor agents, in a recent raid, had caught underage customers drinking there. The last thing Westinghouse officials wanted to deal with during this swap was a lengthy legal battle involving one of their popular radio personalities. It proved to be the deciding factor that prompted Stagg’s suddenly dismissal. Having been dragged through-the-mill by unsympathetic Westinghouse managers, you might think that his best option was to leave quietly. But, that was not Jim Stagg’s style. His lawyer argued that he was not involved in the tavern’s daily operations and that he had transferred the license to his relatives quite a while ago. Whatever might have been going on behind the scene, Stagg’s very vocal supporters were extremely unhappy when they learned that he had been fired without a proper hearing.
As everyone knew, KYW management had always held its staff to a very strict code of conduct. It’s hard-nosed GM Perry B. Bascom firmly believed in it. When provoked, Bascom could end a promising career with a simple stroke of a pen. Living in fear of being “Bosomed,” many KYW jocks considered suing the station after having been exposed to his uncontrolled rage. However, suing often proved costly in that word would get around quickly that you were “difficult” to manage. Branded a troublemaker was not the reputation you wanted shadowing you in the years ahead. As a radio personality you might win a battle here and there, but ultimately you would lose the war. Many jocks chose instead to lick their wounds and move on to another radio station rather than fight the establishment.
On another totally unrelated area, simulcast radio broadcasting increasingly came under scrutiny in April 1965 when the FCC began pressuring AM stations to broadcast twelve hours of independent programming on their various FM outlets. Federal officials gave them an October deadline to comply or face the possibility of losing their licenses. Federal officials believed that program variety was important as more and more people were turning to the FM dial. In Cleveland’s particular case, both KYW and WHK agreed to comply with it while others like WDOK, WERE and WGAR said they would try to meet the autumn deadline. WJW-Radio, on the other hand, pretty much ignored it. Recognizing the enormity of that task, led the feds to eventually back down. The issue of independent FM broadcasting was pretty much shelved until ‘68 when it reappeared. Trying to buy additional time led WGAR-Cleveland to request an exemption in the summer of ‘65. They knew the new NBC station would soon be broadcasting its own shows many of which were currently being carried on WGAR-FM. Its promoters sought additional time in the hope of picking up some other desirable alternatives prior to the October deadline. WGAR managers admitted that their FM audience enjoyed NBC’s “Weekend Monitor” and that it accounted for its positive ratings.
KY-11 did some quick reshuffling of its AM lineup following Jim Stagg’s quick departure. At the same time, a new program director came on board to assist KYW in its transfer from Cleveland to Philadelphia. Originally hired as a graphic artist, Tony Graham (1933-1992) rapidly became one of the top guns at KDKA-Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the KYW radio audience did not care a great deal about his business qualifications. They were only interested in what they heard broadcasted over their radios. A familiar voice Bob Irwin took Stagg’s place prior to the arrival of a Philadelphia DJ Don L. (Scotty) Brink. Brink took over the 2 pm slot which enabled Jay Lawrence to return to his Midnight gig. Lawrence had served as KYW’s afternoon jock following the totally unexpected firing of Stagg. Without any warning, both Ken Draper and KYW’s News Director Art Schreiber packed up their things and moved to Chicago’s WCFL. Draper remained in the Windy City until 1968. He later headed a well-known Hollywood consulting firm Programming Incorporated. Its many accomplishments included creating the soon to be legendary rock station in New York WPIX-FM.
To casual outsiders, the KYW-WRCV swap was moving along nicely. That was exactly what managers at both stations wanted to convey. However, behind the scenes confusion reigned and particularly among the few remaining KYW staff. They wanted to know what was going to happen to them when the swap was over. Many insiders in the radio game thought that this was no way in which to handle this important issue and especially for a successful radio enterprise such as KYW-Cleveland. Confusion in its ranks certainly did not speak well for the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company’s shrewd management team. Its Board of Directors responded to this growing confusion by sending its chairman Don McGannon to Cleveland on June 7, 1965. He attempted to untangle this mess by explaining how those changes would or would not directly affect Cleveland employees. McGannon continually reminded everyone involved that everything was moving along as planned. Station officials had every reason to believe McGannon since many of the Cleveland employees had already received lucrative new contracts from either WBS or NBC. In Philadelphia, WRCV was now known as KYW even though its Cleveland counterpart continued to rely on the KYW call letters. The National Broadcasting Company told its many Cleveland listeners not to worry that the new station would have its own identity very soon. The positive moves by NBC and WBC made all the difference. They waylay any of the earlier fears expressed by some staff members that something had gone terribly wrong and that the managers were trying to cover it up. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A number of tape recordings captured the fury of the day when the switchover transpired. There was definitely some drama in the air on the morning of June 19th as both the National Broadcasting Company and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company announced the exchange.
But, you had to be up pretty early to hear it live. Assigned the honor, Jay Lawrence repeatedly joked about NBC’s David Sarnoff and his entourage arriving in Cleveland any moment to oversee this major event. His show was extremely boisterous with all kinds of bells and whistles to signal the occasion. The party atmosphere he created that particular morning closely resembled a three-ring circus. It was pandemonium from start to finish beginning with sidesplitting men on the street interviews and ending with “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
KYW-AM ended its nine years in Cleveland at exactly 4:59 a.m. on June 19, 1965 when Jay Lawrence said good bye to Group W and said hello to NBC’s newest affiliate WKYC. After veteran SOHIO Reporter Bill Tompkins delivered its first newscast, this brand new NBC station was up and running. At the other end, a soft spoken announcer said “Good Morning this is KYW 1060 AM in Philadelphia, a Group W station, owned-and-operated by the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company.” Cleveland’s listening audience wanted to know if there was any special significance to the new WKYC call letters. Some speculated that NBC had come up with them at the last minute. However, that was probably not the case. Similar sounding to KYW strongly suggested that the all-new WKYC might have hoped to ride on the coattails of its successful predecessor. However, NBC’s management team put a somewhat different spin on the whole thing. Apparently, they believed that using similar call letters might lessen the amount of confusion for Clevelanders as they got use to the newest station in town. Even Jay Lawrence seemed somewhat confused during his first hour of broadcasting. At one point, he started to blurt out KYW and then quickly corrected himself. He admitted that old habits die hard.
That switch immediately strengthened Cleveland’s total operational capacity as many of the former KYW radio managers remained at their posts. The same could not be said for KYW-Philadelphia where personnel changes revolutionized everything. Two noteworthy developments involved KYW’s Perry Bascom and WBZ’s Richard H. Harris. Bascom left for Boston while Harris transferred to Philadelphia. That same Richard Harris later served as Group W chairman. Meanwhile, business in the newest Cleveland station continued on as usual. Martin & Howard still did their morning gig with the other jocks doing their daily shows. Although those DJs remained hard at work they still worried about their future on the new 1100 Cleveland. Whether the new outlet would achieve its specific broadcasting goals and objectives depended on it continually gaining a steady stream of new listeners while ever expanding its advertising base. One interesting side note revolved around the growing number of top quality newscasters that were joining the new WKYC-Radio lineup. It included a slew of veteran broadcasters and reporter ranging from Bob Becker and Virgil Dominic to Joe Mosbrook and John O’Day The Cleveland Plain Dealer expressed every confidence that the new WKYC-Radio would continue to offer the very best in daily programming. That same newspaper also believed that NBC would keep its popular Top 40 format at 1100 AM while maintaining its classical music format at 105.7 FM. In a “look at us” ad in the June 19th Broadcasting, The Business Weekly of Television & Radio the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company listed all of its current stations that included the new KYW-Philadelphia.
In terms of Jim Runyon, his fabulous timing, dry wit and an impeccable radio voice empowered him to become a leading local jock very rapidly. Unfortunately, he was not happy with the kind of treatment he had received at the new Radio 11. Officials at RCA-NBC really liked Runyon’s style which meant that he received a very generous annual salary estimated to be $22,000. However, that high salary came with a stiff price. He was expected to work seven-days a week. Runyon was one of its big guns and WKYC-radio didn’t want to lose him. But, that was exactly what happened following his June 18, 1965 show. Dissatisfaction with how the station exchange was conducted prompted his unexpected resignation. As you can well imagine, Runyon’s unsolicited action sent shock waves throughout the National Broadcasting Company. Network officials responded by sending a group of Philly radio pros to Cleveland. The higher ups in New York had hoped that they could smooth over ruffled feathers quickly. Led by the former GM at WRVC Arthur Watson (1930-1991), those highly trained experts wanted to hold on to as many former Group W employees in Cleveland as possible and that included “A Runyon named Jim.”
The rub in it all was that Watson was first and foremost a news junky. Specifically, he wanted WKYC-Radio, like its predecessor KYW, to support a large news organization. Watson noted that WRCV–Philadelphia had nearly doubled its ratings by doing just that. His common sense approach towards radio broadcasting didn’t go unnoticed by his colleagues and friends in Rockefeller Center. He later proudly served as President of NBC Sports. However, leaders inside both camps found it hard to deny that Top 40 had been a big winner for KYW-Radio. Its repeatedly high earnings were a testimony to its greatness. Experts throughout the commercial radio industry said that RCA-NBC would be silly to toss aside such a winning formula. When all was said and done, WKYC debuted as a Top 40 rock and roll station in the summer of 1965. Its first broadcast as a Top 40 station was a Beatles countdown. Only time would tell if that program format would yield the kind of high revenues that NBC both wanted and needed.
During his brief stay in Cleveland, Watson repeatedly reassured his nervous staff that the transition was moving along well. He knew it would take weeks perhaps months before all the wrinkles would be finally ironed out. But, that didn’t concern him. He also seemed to fully understand why some KYW stalwarts such as Dick Goddard (1931-2020) and Tom Snyder (1936-2007) chose to relocate to Philly rather than stay in Cleveland. Apparently, they liked working for the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and they wanted to be a part of a station they respected and trusted. However, Watson was equally sure that former WRCV’s very trusted weatherman Wally Kinan (1919-2002) and that station’s prime newscaster John “Bud” Dancy (1937-2021) would readily fit into the busy Cleveland scene. Westinghouse had even bigger changes in store for the new Philadelphia-based KYW. Plans called for its middle-of-the-road format to be completely and totally scrapped for an all-news lineup. This news format closely resembled the one first introduced earlier that spring on its sister station in New York 1010 WINS.
That significant change represented the next logical step for WBC as the public increasingly demanded more extensive news coverage on their many AM outlets. It was the perfect solution although it posed a certain degree of financial risk for the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company. As you might have already figured out, venturing into unchartered waters without a safety net to catch you was not something to be undertaken by the light hearted. However, initial surveys of local listeners strongly indicated that this new format should be an immediate winner. Also, the decision by WBC to experiment in the highly populated New York and Philadelphia markets seemed to make a great deal of sense in the mid-‘60s. Their daily lineups featured hours upon hours of local, regional and national news supplemented by human interest features along with plenty of sports, frequent traffic updates and pertinent weather forecasts. Ten sixty on the AM dial has retained that program format with minor changes to the present day. In November 2020, KYW-FM also adopted the same format.
From the NBC network’s perspective, this newest Midwest outlet would have to prove its financial value repeatedly. It could not be simply an updated version of the once popular WTAM. These new 50,000 watts broadcaster would have to be a totally different kind of animal. Of course, NBC acknowledged that fact and responded enthusiastically by publishing a full-page Cleveland Plain Dealer ad on June 21, 1965 in which it promised Clevelanders relevant programming along with the best news coverage possible. However, those promises did very little to remove the hurt feelings many still felt over the callous firing of one of their favorites Jim Stagg. “A Runyon named Jim” charged Westinghouse with promoting “bad faith” when it fired one of his closest colleagues and friends without any warning. He argued that Stagg’s firing had needlessly threatened his future job prospects. As everyone in the commercial radio business already knew few station owners sided with known “troublemakers” preferring instead to hire eager jocks waiting in the wings. Abundant complaints surfaced regarding those “unfulfilled promises” made to Jim Stagg by KYW-Radio. Allegedly, the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company had told him that he could be released from his present contact if KYW changed hands. But, WKYC’s new GM Bob Martin remained skeptical about the whole thing reminding everyone that Radio 11 had the discretion to hire or fire anyone it wanted at any time. That power to hire or fire someone at will rapidly became a bone of contention between jocks and station managers alike. In fact, Runyon was not buying any of it and resigned form WKYC claiming that Stagg’s dismissal was totally inexcusable. DJs and managers also argued as to whether this recent station trade should be legally considered an acquisition or exchange. Runyon’s lawyers argued that those actions represented an acquisition with all the legal stipulations related to such a deal. NBC’s legal counsel totally disagreed saying it was an exchange with few legal ramifications. To be perfectly honest, most listeners didn’t care one way or another what it was. They wanted Stagg back on the air end discussion.
When you as a mid-‘60s program director got wind of the fact that a great talent like Jim Runyon was available you acted quickly, and that was exactly what his previous boss Ken Draper did. He immediately hired him for his morning show at WCFL. In response to Draper’s actions, Bob Martin announced that RCA-NBC would be filing an injunction against Runyon. That legal action would prevent him from broadcasting in Chicago at least for the interim. Jim Runyon’s reaction to Martin’s harsh ultimatum was instantaneous. He cried “foul” claiming that his contract had permitted him under certain specified circumstances to begin to broadcast at another outlet without having to face possible repercussions from his former employer. As a last ditched effort, Runyon argued that WKYC’s should have willingly released him from any further obligations after having read more carefully the fine print found at the bottom of his contract.
That same August, WGAR-FM said farewell to its few remaining NBC programs and joined the expanding ABC-Radio network. At the same time, WKYC, taking a cue from its sister station WHK, began tapping into the potentially lucrative revenue stream pouring forth from its many local rock and roll bands. Labeled the “Cleveland Sound,” WKYC radio personalities started showcasing different bands every hour. It was that station’s response to popular Motown and the Philly sounds. WKYC’s broadcasters boasted that Cleveland bands literally outperformed all others. Maybe they were stretching the truth a bit, but it worked. Over the next several years, some record companies signed groups including the “Raspberries,” “Twilighters” and “Visions” to lucrative contracts. Pulse Radio Ratings, Arbitron and Nielsen between June and October ‘65 listed WKYC-Radio as Cleveland’s number one station. A new audience-base was unfolding right before our eyes. However, closer scrutiny strongly suggested that the hoopla surrounding the change of ownership followed by the heated controversies regarding the firing and resignations of some of that station’s favorite jocks must been largely responsible for much of its extraordinary initial success. Undoubtedly, free advertising provided through daily news headlines helped to focus the public’s attention towards these new 50,000 watts powerhouse at the expense of other competing local stations. Over time, more scathing alienation between easily provoked WKYC disc jockeys and their tight-fisted bosses occurring in conjunction with dwindling audiences forced NBC officials to stop popping their champagne corks.
Business problems began surfacing in July ’66 when The Cleveland Plain Dealer started to question the positive publicity pieces regularly being released by the WKYC-Cleveland studios. Something was definitely going wrong when Harry Martin started to complain about the poor way he was being treated by station officials. Behind the scenes, he and his side kick Specs Howard wanted out of their contracts. Leaders in Cleveland morning broadcasting for the past four years, rumors had been circulating for several months that the duo wanted to relocate either to Chicago or Detroit. Those rumors continued to fly for several more months culminating with Martin’s firing on November 8, 1966. Specs Howard stayed on a bit longer. Two and a half months later, this fabulous morning duo reemerged on the ABC owned and operated station in Detroit WXYZ. Their new morning show called “Day is Here” ran seven days a week to mostly positive reviews. However, the Detroit radio market proved to be far more competitive than Cleveland’s and they lasted a mere two years. Specs Howard soon returned to his old haunts at Radio 11.
A fast–talking pair of jocks out of Texas called Charlie & Harrigan filled the void created by the sudden departure of the much loved team of Martin and Howard. Within two years, Charlie & Harrigan left Cleveland for KFMB in San Diego. However, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Another very popular Cleveland radio celebrity was also about to call it quits at Radio 11. Jerry G., who had traveled with the Beatles on both of their highly successful U.S. tours and had hosted a TV dance program that rivaled Don Webster’s nationally syndicated “Upbeat” show, also wanted out of Cleveland. Apparently, Chicago beckoned him as well as he headed west to WCFL. America’s “Second City” was fast becoming a haven for former Cleveland DJs.
WKYC may have become a big city broadcaster literally overnight, but it still needed a dynamic new voice to fill the void created by the departure of Harry Martin, Specs Howard and Jerry G. It required someone with both magnetism and sex appeal. After interviewing a number of viable candidates, the National Broadcasting Company finally decide to hire a former pre-med student from San Antonio, TX called Bob Cole. He possessed a smooth Texas drawl and RCA-NBC officials counted on him to draw in large numbers of female listeners into his new mid-day time slot. Cole lasted exactly three years. What the National Broadcasting Company programmers were unable to envision when they hired him in 1967 was the possibility of stiff competition from Larry Morrow at Cleveland’s newest rock and roll radio sensation WIXY-1260. An outgrowth of WDOK-AM, this new Top 40 outlet made its debut in December 1965.
Morrow may have been new to Cleveland, but he was already well-known to many CKLW listeners as “Duke Windsor.” Now called Larry “The Duker” Morrow, this very confidence jock instantly drew a line in the sand to see whether he or Bob Cole would draw in the greatest number of new listeners. At first, it looked as if WKYC-Radio enjoyed a decided advantage over WIXY-1260. Being a 50,000 watts powerhouse, WKYC could draw upon NBC’s vast war chest whenever necessary. The same could not be said about WIXY. It was only a 5,000 watts outlet with a signal that abruptly ended at the Cuyahoga County line. But WIXY possessed something that WKYC did not have a highly imaginative publicity department and very smart owners Norm Wain, Bob Weiss and Joe Zingale. That station’s undefinable aura that drew large numbers of people towards fun jocks such Larry Morrow soon tipped the balance in favor of this decided underdog. Over the next decade, 1260 AM proudly showcased many top DJs. They included the likes of Billy Bass, Victor Boc, Jerry Brooke, Mike Kelly, Dick “Wild Child” Kemp, Lou King Kirby, Chuck Knapp, Bobby Magic, Mike Reineri and Joey Reynolds. Remember Joe Finan, he was there too. Those radio personalities did very well against WKYC’s favorites such as Chuck Dann, Alan Douglas, Chuck Dunaway, Jay Lawrence and Jim LaBarbara. In fact, WIXY’s astonishing success drew the nationally renowned jock Chuck Dunaway to leave the rather drab NBC studios at 1405 East 6th Street for the riveting new WIXY facilities at 3940 Euclid Avenue.
Of course, a host of unexpected economic and social forces repetitively tinged the Cleveland radio scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. They symbolized a troubling period in U.S. history when previously held beliefs were being vilified by teens and young adults alike. Escalating Cold War tensions, growing civil rights agitation and increasing opposition to the Viet Nam War appeared to sap America’s earlier confidence and vitality as a nation. They unequivocally affected the course of commercial radio for the next two decades. Certain FM stations helped this cause greatly by seeking out larger and larger numbers of disgruntled radio listeners. Many of those new FM listeners directly ascribed to this counter culture that did not hesitate to challenge the long held beliefs enthusiastically expounded by most conservative elements. Spurred on by the election of Richard M. Nixon as the 37th U.S. President in 1968, those expounding this new counter culture saw old style conservative thinking as highly outmoded in today’s ever changing, fast-paced world. They further claimed that conservative elements were responsible for this nation’s growing despondency and that their selfish interests were destroying any remaining scraps of decency left in the nation. In terms of the emerging FM audience itself, many of them resolutely supported that embryonic Cultural Revolution no questions asked. They insisted that those new FM outlets reflect their more radical views by playing bolder, more meaningful music over traditional “bubble gum” hits. The sudden appearance of this radicalized counter cultural greatly worried many commercial radio broadcasters who were ill prepared to deal with this phenomenon.
Its sudden arrival led to previously unpredicted advances in conventional broadcasting and the music industry. Many pacesetting clubs and equally broad-minded recording studios inspired young musicians and singers alike to experiment with avant-garde sounds. Beginning with some of the leading underground clubs in London such as Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill that customarily welcomed inventive groups such as Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, this highly impulsive music experience soon jumped across the pond to New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Trendy clubs in the states such as the Fillmores, the Scene, Whiskey a Go-Go, the Troubadour and Family Dog proudly supported their daring efforts.
That ground-breaking sound encompassed a broad range of extravagant and sometimes uncompromising new musical genres. They ranged from baroque ensembles and operettas at one end of the spectrum to folk music and American jazz at the other. Many of these forward-thinking performers used anything and everything they could get their hands as a way of loosening up the stranglehold that less culturally inspired rock and roll music still had on leading Top 40 AM stations. Inescapably, rock and roll music splintered into different kinds of one-off sounds. Formerly referred to as Underground Rock, it soon evolved into what was called Progressive Rock. By 1969, Progressive Rock was throwing an even wider net to embrace bigger, newer audiences who wanted to break away from more conventional rock and roll music.
So how did this trailblazing sound sweeping the FM dial affect giant AM stations? The key to radio success no longer resided exclusively in the hands of AM powerhouses like WKYC-Cleveland; but rather, with previously underappreciated local FM outlets. The FM band provided Progressive Rock the ideal broadcasting vehicle in which to test its very distinctive sound. Its importance in large and small communities alike grew considerably as access to FM radio became much easier. As you might have expected, AM radio traditionally controlled both morning and afternoon drive times in most cities well into the 1970s. It took the rising number of FM radios in cars to change those listening habits forever. That meant that leading crossover artists in the late ‘60s such as Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), Jim Morrison (1943-1971), the Iron Butterfly and Janis Joplin (1943-1970) had a tough time gaining their fair share of drive time. They were often fighting against ingrained popular performers that ranged from Herb Alpert (b. 1935) and Engelbert Humperdinck (b. 1936) to Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) and Barbra Streisand (b. 1942).
With all its faults, commercial radio remained the main source of entertainment, information and news for young listeners into the late 1960s. However, that was rapidly changing as larger and larger numbers of teens and young adults were buying portable radios with FM bands. They wanted to avoid the boring sounds coming out of local AMs. At that same time, the quality of FM broadcasts was improving each and every year. That was something AM outlets could not boast. With the possible exception of added echo chambers and some limited experimentation with something broadcasters like to call “AM stereo,” the actual sound quality for most AM stations had not improved considerably for years. Imprecise, erratic sounds interrupted by large amounts of static coming from nearby electrical wires, large steel structures or thunder storms severely restricted AM’s ability to broadcast the kind of clean, crisp sound its many listeners now demanded.
Also, please keep in mind that most AM programming in the ‘60s and ‘70s was not targeted precisely towards younger audiences. In its wake, those listeners repeatedly turned to the FM side of the radio dial to get away from the monotonous programming that characterized most large Top 40 stations of that era including WKYC. The FCC’s ban on simulcast broadcasting that took hold starting in ‘68 may have encouraged even greater numbers of FM listening, but it did not necessarily promote greater earnings. In fact, most advertisers of the late 1960s and early 1970s considered FM radio a less than profitable market. Featuring long album cuts with only brief commercial interruptions was not what publicists generally wanted. After all, that was not where the bulk of the broadcasting money went even if FM broadcasters led the vanguard when it came to breakthroughs in musical artistry and presented. As we pointed out earlier, AM broadcasters were labeled as fast-talking announcers whose prime responsibility involved squeezing in as many ads as possible in-between a limited playlist. However, that was not the prime force behind the new FM rock music sound.
That “freedom of expression,” first promoted by ingenious FM radio personalities through custom made, free flowing formats was viewed by many in the commercial broadcasting field as a major breakthrough. It truly represented a new adventure in music and talk. FM rockers in Cleveland led by WMMS, WNCR and WNOB undeniably left their mark on Northeast Ohio radio in the enterprising ‘60s and ‘70s. You might wonder why those locally-based “underground stations” stood out among the crowd? The answer is quite simple. It began in ‘68 with the Metromedia owned outlet in Cleveland WMMS-FM. Its new programming closely followed the underground format first perfected by its very successful sister station in New York WNEW-FM. WMMS at 100.7 FM not only featured its own distinct shows; but also, featured a late night syndicated show hosted by WNEW-FMs top jock William (Rosko) Mercer (1927-2000). WNCR at 99.9 FM rapidly followed WMMS’s example as did WNOB in nearby Newbury, OH. Interesting side note, the shrewd programmers working at WNOB took a somewhat different approach when they chose to affiliate with the new ABC-Radio’s “Everything is Love.” Hosted by who else but Brother Love, 107.9 FM also enjoyed a loyal following into the ‘70s.
Was 1100 AM aware of the fierce rivalry unfolding on the flip side of the dial? Of course, it was. However, WKYC managers remained hesitant when it came to drastically altering their daily schedule. That was due to the fact that any significant changes in programming had to first go through a time consuming process that originated with its penny pinching Board of Directors. The prevailing attitude among the commercial radio industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s was that as long as most AM stations, including WKYC, continued to generate sufficiently high revenues then why change anything. WKYC’s staff had convinced itself that FM’s success was merely a passing fad and that it would end soon. They may have been able previously to eliminate any growing FM competition; however, unforeseen new developments on the AM side of the dial in the 1960s did not help their cause. Such things as WIXY-1260’s meteoric rise in the Cleveland ratings in the mid-1960s had compelled successful program planners at major stations such as WHK to drastically change their traditional formats. Gone were the days when WHK with its Color Radio Channel 14 ruled the Cleveland AM airways. Closer to home, WKYC-Radio was still looking for its own unique identity while the world around it was changing outrageously quickly.
As we saw earlier, WIXY’s programmers knew the steps necessary to groom a loyal listening audience in spite of their station’s obvious weak signal. Its many highly electrified jocks, hard hitting news, over the top ads and crazy features that included multiple episodes of Dick Orkin (1933-2017) as “Chickenman” along with its ability to play records at 47 not 45 rpms gave that AM outlet a decided edge over its chief competitors such as WKYC.  Such things as the “WIXY Triple Play” and the “WIXY Six Pack” distinguished it even further. These regular song rotations without commercial interruption were used by WIXY managers to their full advantage. Don’t worry they made up for any lost advertising time by broadcasting a series of ads back to back with loud jingles and plenty of community-based announcements. Top ratings quickly translated into high profits for 1260 on the AM dial. Its rapid success forced some of its chief competitors including WHK and WJW to retreat to the safer ground called the new “contemporary” sound. In adopting those newer, blander programming formats local broadcasters like WHK and WJW were essentially giving up the Top 40 fight to WIXY whether they admitted publicly or not. The sudden groundswell in new FM listeners only added to the financial woes.
In spite of the growing cynicism in the late ‘60s over the long-term value of Top 40 broadcasting, that overwhelmingly favored radio format was anything but dying. Instead, it was changing over time. You had only to look at the recent success enjoyed by locally-based outlets such as WERE-FM to see what was exactly unfolding within the exciting Cleveland market. Now called G-98, the former WERE-FM suddenly roared to life in a way it had never done recently. At its core, WGCL’s all-new “hits radio” format was a refurbished, slightly more sophisticated version of traditional Top 40 radio. G-98 enjoyed a much clearer signal when measured against most of its AM competitors which enabled it to broadcast with much greater clarity the same kind of energized programming previously reserved for only the AM side of the dial. Its immediate success set the stage for a number of equally popular, static-free Top 40s FMs throughout the Midwest.
Another facet of FM radio to gain a substantial new loyal following was called “beautiful” or “easy listening” music. It served more discerning listeners who demanded a quieter, softer sound. Who can ever forget the mellow tones of the Larry Gold orchestra or the Holly Ridge Strings? One of the early leaders was Boston’s WJIB FM-97. It literally came out of nowhere to become that city’s number one FM station by the late ‘60s. People love to listen to ‘JIB in their cars and homes. It also served as background music in many hotels, office buildings and retailers. Two other pacesetters in Cleveland were WDOK-FM hosted by two favorites Wayne Mack (1911-2000) and Tom Armstrong (d. 1985) and WQAL-FM featuring Frank McHale and Tall Ted Hallaman (1927-2010). Whatever the programming choice might have been, the crisp new FM sound won hands down over its less clear AM rivals.
How could Cleveland’s 1100 AM possibly competed against the likes of successful local FMs whose radio signals were completely static free? Like so many other large businesses, radio stations were definitely creatures of habit. The fact that WIXY-1260 had surged ahead in the local Top 40 radio market by February 1969 did not mean that it totally controlled the younger listening audience in Cleveland. WKYC still had a chance to find its niche in the regional radio market and that was where Specs Howard entered the picture. He convinced the WKYC higher ups to embrace a more upbeat sound he called “Power Radio.” This new “Power Radio” format was intended for young professionals between the ages of 25 and 34. Much of the problem facing WKYC-Radio stemmed from a disinclination on the part of the National Broadcasting Company to regularly introduce newer, more enlightened program strategies into their daily lineup. As I’m sure you have guessed by now, NBC might have talked the talk, but in the end, it rarely walked the walk.
Had that network been an early, nationally-recognized leader in Top 40 broadcasting then WKYC-Radio might have stood a reasonable chance of succeeding over the long-run. Let’s face it, 1100 AM wasn’t really a big hit with late ‘60s radio listeners. Much of the fault rested with WKYC’s lackluster management team. Many of them outsiders, with little understanding as to how successful local radio operated, suddenly discovered much to their displeasure that they could not begin to compete against likes of other, locally–oriented broadcasters. Time was running out fast as the dominance of AM radio was rapidly being upended by upstart FM stations. New blood might have been able to save that 50,000 watt giant, but the chances of doing that successfully seeming more and less likely as the clock continued to tick.
Suddenly out of nowhere a John Adams High School grad named Nick Mileti (b. 1931) and a real go-getter entrepreneur known as Tom Embrescia (b. 1946) entered the local radio scene. Over the past fifty years, Tom Embrescia has forged quite a financial empire that included over fifty stations and a host of other equally profitable endeavors. One of their earliest joint business ventures in 1972 resulted in them purchasing WKYC–radio from the National Broadcasting Company for $5.5 million. Their first order of business as the station’s newest owners involved changing its call letters from WKYC AM and FM to WWWE-AM (3WE) and WWWM-FM (105M). It was unclear at the time as to whether the “E” in the AM call letters stood for entertainment or Embrescia or the “M” for Music or Mileti. However, in the public’s mind that really didn’t matter. What did matter to them was the fact that 105.7 FM with its revamped classic rock format posed a direct challenge to WMMS. Major programming changes also greatly changed the direction and scope of possibilities for 1100 AM. Nick Mileti’s close ties with several of Cleveland’s professional sports teams prompted that critical change in its AM programming. He believed that his new 50,000 watts radio station, with a capability of reaching 38 states and much of Canada after sundown, could eventually become a regional sports broadcasting leader much in the same vein as New York radio’s WFAN. As part owner of the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers, Mileti insisted that all life broadcasts of both professional teams be carried on his new flagship station.
As you might have already figured out, the debut of 3WE radio marked the end of 1100 AM’s sixteen year reign as one of Cleveland’s leading rock and roll station. It had successfully survived messy lawsuits and questionable business deals only to succumb to previously unimagined cultural and social changes that affected radio audiences everywhere. Such unheralded developments abruptly altered the radio listening habits of most Clevelanders in ways that more traditional broadcasters such as NBC could not comprehend. The reluctance of the National Broadcasting Company to spend the money necessary to keep up with the times doomed WKYC-Radio 11. By the early 1970s, it was obvious to leaders in the commercial radio industry that NBC no longer wanted to own and operate a Top 40 radio outlet in Cleveland. Unquestionably, WKYC-Radio had not produced the kind of consistently high profits that NBC had been use to receiving from its WRCV-Philadelphia station. WKYC was as much a victim of the times as much as anything else. But, for many Clevelanders the abrupt end of WKYC as a Top 40 rock and roll station meant much more than an NBC tax write off. For many of its most enthusiastic listeners the moment when 3WE sports radio went on the air was indeed “the day the music died.”
- “Radio Response Rating, Cleveland, Ohio, Second Cycle,” Billboard, The International Music-Record Newsweekly, January 2, 1965. ↵
- “Carson Overcomes Airwave Obstacles,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 14, 1965. ↵
- “KYW Launches Info Show,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 17, 1965. ↵
- Bert J. Reesing, “Perkins Attains Goal: Foreign Correspondent,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 17, 1965. “Radio Programs –KYW-1100 KC.” February 2, 1965. ↵
- “Halle’s and Seventeen’s Go-Go-Go Fashion Show,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 12, 1965. ↵
- “Besse to Get Award for Leadership,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 11, 1965. ↵
- “WHK, KYW Beset by Tension, Turmoil,” Billboard, April 3, 1965. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- Alvin Beam, “Cut Simulcasts, Stations Told,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 22, 1965. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- Bert. J. Reesing, “Indians’ Orchids Due for TV Weatherman,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 28, 1965. ↵
- Bert J. Reesing, “Look What TV Plans for Football Fans!” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 11, 1965. ↵
- “Schreiber Quits KYW to Join Chicago Station,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 12, 1965. ↵
- “KYW Move Due in 2 Weeks,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 5, 1965. ↵
- “Moving Day,” Broadcasting, June 7, 1965. ↵
- “The Great Swap Takes Place June 19,” Broadcasting, June 14, 1965. KYW Swap: https://youtube.com/watch?v=-Z3Moxn1p0Y. ↵
- James B. Flanagan, “Daly in Lions’ Den with Capp, Condon,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 14, 1965. ↵
- “Group W, Westinghouse Broadcasting Company,” Broadcasting, June 19, 1965. ↵
- “Jim Runyon Signs Off,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 19, 1965. ↵
- James B. Flanagan, “NBC Returns to Cleveland,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 20, 1965. ↵
- “NBC Comes Back Tomorrow,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 18, 1965. ↵
- Flanagan, “NBC Returns to Cleveland.” ↵
- Bert J. Reesing, “12-Inch Portable TV Operates 3 Ways,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 22, 1965. ↵
- “Hello Cleveland…NBC Calling,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 21, 1965. ↵
- James B. Flanagan, “Jim Runyon’s Fate in Lawyer’s Hands,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 28, 1965. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- “Jim Runyon Working for Chicago Station.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 8, 1965. ↵
- “WGAR to Switch from NBC to ABC Radio,” Broadcasting, August 16, 1965. ↵
- James B. Flanagan, “Nation Needs Cleveland Rock,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 12, 1965. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- “Thank You for Making WKYC Radio #1,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 25, 1965. ↵
- James B. Flanagan, “Meeting May Decide Whether Martin, Howard Leave,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 20, 1966. ↵
- Bert J. Reesing, “2 TV Specials Slated Tonight, Unfortunately at the Same Hour,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 9, 1966. ↵
- “Day is Here! Martin and Howard, Seven Days Each Week, 6 a.m.-10 a.m. WXYZ-1270, An ABC Owned Station,” Detroit Free Press, January 30, 1967. ↵
- The Chatter Brothers, “Jerry G. Gone” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 31, 1966. ↵
- James B. Flanagan, “Texan Bob C Replaces WKYC’s Jerry G,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 2, 1967. ↵
- Interview with Media Specialist and Author Mike Olszewski on August 13, 2021 and August 27, 2021. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- “Evolution of Radio Broadcasting,” https://open.lib.umn.edu/mediaandculture/chapter/7-2-evolution-of-radio-broadcasting/. ↵
- Interview Mike Olszewski. ↵
- “First NBC Radio Properties Go,” Broadcasting, January 30, 1972. ↵