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|Broadcast area||Cincinnati, Ohio|
|Branding||Cincinnati's ESPN 1530|
|First air date||September 16, 1929|
"W Covington, KentuckY"|
(original city of license)
Cincinnati Bengals Radio Network
Cleveland Cavaliers Radio Network
(Citicasters Licenses, Inc.)
WCKY is an AM radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, broadcasting at 1530 kHz with 50,000 watts, and its transmitter is located in nearby Villa Hills, Kentucky. It is a class A clear channel station, sharing the frequency with co-owned station KFBK in Sacramento, and can be heard, particularly at night, over most of the eastern U.S. The station is owned by iHeartMedia and uses the on-air nickname Cincinnati's ESPN 1530.
WCKY carries a sports talk radio format, and is the Cincinnati affiliate for ESPN Radio, including Mike & Mike, and Scott Van Pelt. The station also features local sports talker Mo Egger. WCKY is the flagship station of the Cincinnati Bengals (along with WEBN, and are also simulcast on WLW after Cincinnati Reds baseball season ends). The station also broadcasts football and basketball play-by-play of the University of Kentucky Wildcats & Louisville Cardinals. On November 10, 2014, iHeartMedia Cincinnati announced that both WCKY and sister station WSAI have joined the Cleveland Cavaliers Radio Network.
WCKY was founded by L.B. Wilson, a longtime broadcaster in the region. The station went on the air on September 16, 1929 at 1480 kHz. Originally, WCKY was licensed to Covington, Kentucky, and was treated as a Kentucky-based station. This status helped WCKY's case before the FCC to increase power from the original 5,000 watts to 50,000 watts in 1939, even though it was literally across the river from Cincinnati and fellow 50,000 watt station WLW. It gradually moved its studios to Cincinnati, though it remained licensed to Covington until the early 1960s. During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, WCKY was used to broadcast news and information to the area, due to its southerly directional signal pattern. During the mid-1960s, it was the flagship station for the Cincinnati Reds, identifying itself as "your 50,000 watt Big League Baseball Station".
Perhaps one of the best-remembered programs in the station's history was the night-time "WCKY Jamboree" that ran from the 1940s until early 1964. It featured recorded country music with disc jockeys such as Wayne Rainey, Nelson King and Jimmy Logsdon. During the program, mail order merchandise was offered over the air. This program was widely popular due to WCKY's powerful signal especially to the south.
Wilson's family owned WCKY until the 1970s when it sold the station to The Washington Post, who in turn sold it off to Mishawaka, Indiana-based Federated Media. WCKY switched to News & Talk and became the first all News/talk radio station in Cincinnati. The line-up included local host Mike McMurray and for a short time now national host Doug Stephan. Syndicated personalities included Bruce Williams and Larry King. WCKY was the local home for Rush Limbaugh when he debuted.
Sold to Jacor Communications in 1994 along with sister station WOFX-FM (then WIMJ), WCKY's format changed with the times, from easy listening in the 1960s, to a country format in the '70s and '80s, to a news/talk format in the '80s and early '90s. Jacor was purchased by Clear Channel Communications (now known as iHeartMedia) in 1999.
In the 1990s, a swap of call letters by Jacor Communications turned 1530 AM to WSAI, while the WCKY talk format and call sign were merged with WLWA 550-AM. The "new" WSAI featured a standards format. Nick Clooney returned to the station as afternoon host starting September 13, 1999, moving to mornings in November to replace Bob Braun, who left for health reasons. WSAI eventually switched to an oldies format in early 2003. "Real Oldies 1530 WSAI" played the Top 40 hits of the 1950s and 1960s, recreating the WSAI station from the sixties, including several former WSAI disc jockeys.
In 2005, a company initiative to add liberal programming as a counter to Clear Channel's Conservative juggernauts, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, resulted in a format change to a liberal/progressive talk format, with the WCKY call sign returning in 2005. The new WCKY was nicknamed "The Revolution of Talk Radio" and became one of Air America's few 50,000 watt affiliates in the east. The station introduced listeners from states all over the region to Air America personalities like Al Franken, Randi Rhodes, Marc Maron and Mike Malloy. The station served as the flagship station for Trash-talker Jerry Springer's liberal show as well. As such it attained a small but loyal following outside of Cincinnati but ratings in the conservative Cincinnati market were about half of the former oldies format. The WSAI call sign quietly returned to its previous frequency on the AM dial as sports/talk "1360 Homer" (which first appeared on-air in 1997 under the WAZU calls).
On July 7, 2006, WCKY and WSAI switched programming once again, with WCKY carrying the sports/talk programming as "1530 Homer", and WSAI airing the liberal/progressive talk format. A short while later the liberal talk format was eliminated on WSAI in favor of syndicated talk and consumer advice shows that appealed to a largely female audience. WSAI went back to a sports format in July 2007, this time as a 24-hour ESPN Radio affiliate to complement WCKY. WCKY and WSAI would switch network affiliations again on February 15, 2010, with Fox Sports Radio moving to WSAI and ESPN Radio moving to WCKY, dropping the "Homer" nickname on-air in favor of "ESPN 1530."
Due to its 50,000 watt status, WCKY can be heard at night as far away as Chicago, Detroit, Wichita, and Miami. The station has a long history of a powerful night-time signal. Its country music programming of the 1950s and 1960s brought listener responses from many points even outside the United States. In 1964, in connection with WCKY obtaining Reds games, the station held a contest for the farthest listener. The winner was a U.S. serviceman stationed in Japan. The runner-up was in West Berlin. Dating back to the early 1970s, the station leased out much of the overnight hours to religious ministers because of the signal's overall reach. It is a practice that has survived numerous format and call sign changes to this day, although with a reduced presence following the most recent change to sports talk.
WCKY enjoys clear channel status on the East Coast of the United States, as well as much of the Midwestern United States, during the nighttime hours. Its west coast counterpart is KFBK in Sacramento, California (which is also owned by iHeartMedia). KFBK and WCKY are both Class A broadcast facilities on this channel in the United States. KFBK and WCKY both alter their signals at night to limit their signals interference towards each other at night; however, as Class A stations, both stations also receive more protection than other stations on this channel. This also explains why WCKY does not have to alter its signal to directional until three hours past local sunset; as the only station it is required to protect is KFBK, and since sunset in Sacramento is three hours later than in Cincinnati the signal will not travel toward KFBK until after dark.
Flagship station for:
Cincinnati affiliate for:
- University of Kentucky Wildcats football and basketball.
- University of Louisville Cardinals football and basketball.
- Press release (November 10, 2014). "iHeart Media Cincinnati Joins Cavaliers Radio Network". NBA.com/Cavaliers. NBA Media Ventures, LLC. Archived from the original on November 12, 2014. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
iHeartMedia Cincinnati announced today that Fox Sports 1360 WSAI and ESPN 1530 WCKY will join the Cleveland Cavaliers Radio Network...
- Toby Eddings, "Clooney, Kinard and Pensacola, too," The Sun News, January 23, 2000.