|Broadcast area||Chicago market|
|Branding||ESPN Chicago 1000 AM|
|Slogan||Chicagoland's Leader In Sports|
Chicago Bandits (NPF)
Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (NCAA)
|Owner||The Walt Disney Company |
(Sports Radio Chicago, LLC)
|Operator||Good Karma Brands|
Good Karma: WAUK, WKTI, WTMJ, WTLX
First air date
|June 19, 1926|
Former call signs
|610 kHz (1926-1927)|
620 kHz (1927-1928)
970 kHz (1928-1941)
Call sign meaning
|W Most Valuable Player|
|Class||A (Clear channel)|
WMVP (1000 kHz) is a commercial AM radio station in Chicago, Illinois, United States, carrying ESPN Radio's sports radio format, along with a number of local programs. It is owned by ABC, Inc. and operated by Good Karma Brands. The station's transmitter is located in Downers Grove.
WMVP airs both local programs and nationally syndicated sports shows. Weekdays begin with Golic and Wingo, a national program from ESPN, while Waddle and Silvy, Carmen and Jurko, and Kap and Company are more focused on Chicago sports. WMVP is currently the flagship station of the Chicago Wolves, the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues of the NHL. Until 2016, it was the flagship station of the Chicago Bulls of the NBA (now heard on WSCR). WMVP also airs Northwestern Wildcats football and basketball games whenever flagship station WGN is unable to air the games due to other broadcast agreements. It also carries ESPN Radio's national play-by-play of Major League Baseball, the College Football Playoff, and the NBA.
From 1926 to 1987, 1000 AM was WCFL, the radio voice of the Chicago Federation of Labor. WMVP is a Class A radio station, broadcasting at 50,000 watts, the maximum power for commercial AM stations. It shares 1000 AM, a clear channel frequency, with KOMO Seattle and XEOY Mexico City. WMVP uses a directional antenna to avoid interfering with those other stations. WMVP's powerful nighttime signal allows it to be heard by listeners around the Midwestern United States and Central Canada.
In 1922, the American Federation of Labor began discussions regarding owning and operating its own radio station. By 1925, the AFL decided not to enter the broadcasting business but to purchase time for organized labor's message on commercially operated radio. The dream stayed alive with the Chicago Federation of Labor, who believed having an owned and operated radio station would be an effective way to spread its message. In 1924, the Federation gave its approval to work toward establishing a radio station. The original plan for WCFL called for it to be a non-commercial station, operating on the support of its listeners; in a sense it was one of the first large-scale efforts at public radio. Spearheading the drive to make WCFL a reality was the Federation's Secretary, Edward Nockels (1869–1937); without his efforts, there would have been no radio station at all.
WCFL officially began on December 4, 1925; the Federation's hopes were temporarily dashed when the US Department of Commerce (there was no Federal Communications Commission until 1934 and no Federal Radio Commission which preceded it until 1927) refused to grant WCFL a wavelength on January 13, 1926. Just five days after what could have become an end to the station, the Federation announced it would go ahead with building it anyway.
The first WCFL transmitter stood on Chicago's Navy Pier (then called Municipal Pier); the Federation was able to lease the pier's North Tower for 10 years at $1 per year and its willingness to make WCFL available for city broadcasts. Initially the Illinois Manufacturers' Association attempted to keep WCFL off the air by protesting the use of public property for the station's transmitter and broadcasting site. The station purchased the land in Downers Grove where the current transmitter operates in 1928 and broke ground there in 1932. The Federation originally purchased 100 acres (0.40 km2) of land in the western suburb; 20 of them were allotted for the WCFL transmitter, while the other 80 were subdivided as lots for 258 homes and 72 businesses in "WCFL Park". Nockels believed having a union-based community spring up around the WCFL transmitter would be beneficial to both those purchasing lots and building homes and to the station itself. The labor union entered the real estate business shortly before the Depression hit. After selling no lots in the early part of the 1930s, the Federation put WCFL Park on hold, reviving it again in 1939 with the building of a model home on one of the lots, all of which would eventually be divested.
AM 1000 began operation as WCFL in test broadcasts on June 19, 1926; the Commerce Department granted it call letters on July 10, 1926. It was officially on the air the next day at 610 KC with 1,000 watts of power, one of the last non-profit radio stations to take to the airwaves. The first broadcast consisted of two hours of music. In November 1926, with an eye toward being self-sustaining, the Federation added a shortwave station to the Navy Pier transmitter site, planning to use WCFL Radio Telegraph to help offset broadcasting costs. The station initially used studios at Navy Pier, but during the winter of 1926–1927 found that the weather often made them inaccessible. By 1927, WCFL was broadcasting from 623 South Wabash in Chicago (today the home of Columbia College, Chicago,) producing a quarterly radio magazine, and operating on 620 kHz;the frequency being shared with the Lane Tech High School radio station, WLTS. In 1928, WCFL applied to the Federal Radio Commission for an increase in its transmitter power and hours of operation. Several other radio stations were now also operating on the 620 kHz frequency along with WCFL and the Lane Tech station. The commission disagreed with the reasoning that such increases were necessary to serve union members. Further, it cut the operating power of WCFL to only 1,500 watts. General Order 40 brought WCFL to the 970 KC frequency, shared with KJR in Seattle, still at 1,500 watts and now allowed to operate in daylight only. The Federal Radio Commission had labeled the station as a "propaganda" type, not truly worthy of a license. The FRC would grant WCFL a 5,000 watt license in 1932, but it would take some years of expensive discussions to attain clear-channel, 50,000-watt status.
While the original idea of a self-supporting WCFL was based on each Federation member's donation of $1 a year for all station operating expenses, by 1926, 30% of the membership had donated. The donations continued to spiral downward as time passed, especially after 1928, when WCFL's operating power was cut and it was limited to "dawn to dusk" broadcasting—from sunrise to sunset. The dawn-to-dusk operation limitations were lifted in 1929, but there was still no clear channel yet for WCFL. 1929 found the station notifying the Federation that unless members made their dollar donations, WCFL would need to implement some type of commercial broadcasting to stay afloat. This was the reason why the transmitter land had been purchased in 1928, but no construction was able to be done on the Downers Grove transmitter site until 1932. By 1930, commercials had become a reality on WCFL; the station did not show a profit until 1940.
In 1927, WCFL broadcast the Gene Tunney-Jack Dempsey championship boxing match at Soldier Field, challenging the National Broadcasting Company's exclusive claim to the event. This led to an arrangement whereby WCFL became one of three affiliates in Chicago of the Blue Network of NBC; WCFL broadcast non-sponsored, or sustaining, NBC programs not carried by WENR or WLS, as well as selected major sporting events and any broadcast speeches by union leaders aired by the network. WCFL became a member of the Mutual Broadcasting System in December 1949. When the Federal Communications Commission forced NBC to sell the Blue Network, WCFL's affiliation continued with the network through its new identity as the American Broadcasting Company, ending with the merger of WENR and WLS in 1959. Prior to this, the station offered selected programming from the network. WCFL was also to become an affiliate of the Amalgamated Broadcasting System in 1933, but that network collapsed after only a month of operations, prior to its planned westward expansion from New York. The usual broadcast day included dance and classical music, comedy, as well as radio programs in 11 different languages designed to reach out to Chicago's immigrant population.
Television, WCFL-FM, and evolution to Top 40
WCFL was also involved in early experimental television broadcasts, and operated a shortwave repeater station, W9XAA, in the 1930s. This was the first television station in Chicago. On June 19, 1928, Ulises Armand Sanabria, a local television pioneer, made the first Chicago television broadcast using the WCFL Navy Pier transmitter to send the video portion of the signal and Chicago radio station WIBO for the audio portion. Those with receivers were able to see a head and shoulders view of Edward Nockels, the Federation secretary and driving force behind WCFL. It's also possible the broadcast was simulcast by the WCFL shortwave station, W9XAA. Accounts of later broadcasts at WMAQ specify their shortwave station was used for this purpose. As the Federation tried to revive their "WCFL Park" real estate project near the Downers Grove transmitter, the decision was made to abandon W9XAA in 1937, preferring to concentrate on gaining more transmitter power for WCFL. New Federal Communications Commission rules insisted that shortwave stations have a minimum of 5,000 watts of power; the cost to WCFL to upgrade to this level would have been around $10,000. In the 1941 NARBA reallocation, WCFL moved to 1000 kHz. The same year, it was granted a Class 1-B clear channel license, and increased its power to 10,000 watts. In 1948, its power was increased to 50,000 watts.
In 1948, the Federation was granted a license for an FM radio station, WCFL-FM on 104.3 MHz. Its transmitter was atop the American Furniture Mart, where WCFL's studios and offices had been located since 1931. WCFL-FM went on the air March 12, 1949, and simulcast its sister AM station's programming for six hours a day–from 3 PM to 9 PM. This time the Federation was impatient for its new radio station to become profitable, having gone from 1926–1940 before WCFL was "in the black". On January 10, 1950, WCFL-FM went off the air permanently; the Federation believed its dollars were better spent for its AM radio station. Today the frequency is occupied by WBMX, and the call letters belong to a station in Morris, Illinois that is now owned by the Illinois Bible Institute.
During the 1940s, the Federation's thoughts turned once again to television, and in 1953 it applied for VHF channel 11 in Chicago. The Federation lost the bid to the city's educational groups, who would put WTTW on the air in 1955. An early 1960s try netted the Federation a license for Chicago UHF channel 38. In June 1968, plans were made for building a transmitter and antenna atop Chicago's John Hancock Center, as well as other construction needs to get WCFL-TV on the air. By late 1970, the Federation had begun to look at other uses for the station's license which didn't involve the organization. Christian Communications purchased WCFL-TV in August 1975, with the FCC approving the license transfer in early 1976. At the time of the sale, WCFL-TV had yet to be on the air; it became WCFC-TV and, later, WCPX-TV.
The station carried general entertainment over the decades but by the late 1950s WCFL evolved into a popular music station, which had banned all Elvis Presley records from its playlist in late November 1957. The pre-Top 40 talent lineup included Dan Sorkin in the morning, Mike Rapchak (1920–2006) following him and Sid McCoy's all-night jazz program. It was Sorkin who introduced a young Chicago comedian, Bob Newhart, to Warner Bros. in 1959. Bob Elson did both White Sox games and interviewed celebrities at the Pump Room; his sports cohort, Milo Hamilton, also wore two hats, talking football and playing music. Rapchak, who quit on the air in 1965 due to WCFL's new format, returned there in 1978, once again playing big band and jazz music.
Top 40 at the "Voice of Labor"
Between 1963 and 1965, WLS was the only Top 40 station in Chicago. This situation was unusual, as most major cities had two or even three stations featuring pop music. Consequently, WLS had become somewhat complacent as it had no real competitors. This all changed in 1965, when WCFL became a Top 40 music station, competing with WLS. The station also moved from the American Furniture Mart where it had been since 1931, to the then new Marina City, where it remained for the next 20 years. While the station itself was on the 16th floor of the Commercial Building (today the Hotel Chicago Downtown), WCFL also had a "VIP Room" on the fifth floor where the "WCFL VIPs" (DJs) hosted various events such as record parties and autograph sessions for listeners who were members of the WCFL VIP Club. One of the station's first promotions was the "Bold" campaign-describing itself as a bold, new way of presenting today's music and its listeners (who wore "I'm Bold!" buttons) as bold enough to want a change.
General Manager Ken Draper ran the station from 1965–1968 and brought many of the original staffers with him from the big Cleveland rock station (KYW/WKYC) he had run before. These included not only DJs but also chief engineer Mike King (later, Jim Loupas), and members of the crack newsroom team, which included the unstoppable Jeff Kamen. WCFL gained fame in 1966 when Kamen followed Chicago Civil Rights leader and comedy star Dick Gregory to Mississippi and wound getting beaten by the KKK while reporting on a voter registration protest. The network TV film of the attack was seen by millions. A still picture ending up on newspapers' front pages. Prior to Draper's establishment of an eight-person news department, news was gathered by taking the copy from the station's news wires and reading it on the air.
In their Top 40 years, some famous disc jockeys on WCFL included Jim Runyon (1931–1973), Joel Sebastian (1932-1986), Dick Williamson, (who was already with WCFL at the time of the format change), Jim Stagg (1935–2007), Ron Britain, ("America's First Psychedelic Disk Johnny"), who did a second stint at the station in 1978, the legendary Dick Biondi, whose Mutual Radio syndicated Dick Biondi's Young America show was heard here 3 years before his actual arrival, Barney Pip (1936-1994), Ron Riley, Sid McCoy and Yvonne Daniels (1991) with late night jazz  during the earliest days of the change to Top 40. In late 1966, WKYC popular afternoon DJ Jerry Ghan (now Jerry G. Bishop)(1936-2013) also decided to follow Draper to WCFL for AM drive. Later, WIND's former long-time morning man Howard Miller (1994), who was a decided departure from the youthful staff, came to helm 'CFL's 6-9AM spot in 1968. He was replaced before long by Clark Weber, long-time WLS morning man.
The DJ secretary during this era was Connie Szerszen, who went on to forge her own career on the air in Chicago radio, appearing on WIND and other stations. WCFL General Manager Ken Draper also hired Carole Simpson as one of radio's first female newscasters; Carole went on to a big career with ABC-TV. Also on staff at that time was continuity director Barbara Sternig, who left for LA once the Beatles broke up, became Rona Barrett's writer, and later Senior Reporter in Hollywood for the National Enquirer. Draper is also credited with the introduction of the Sound 10/WCFL survey, which became a competitor to the WLS "Silver Dollar Survey" that station issued weekly beginning in 1960. From 1966–1970, the station produced six "branded" record albums. Later in the SuperCFL-era Larry Lujack (1940-2013) and Art Roberts (1931-2002) came to WCFL.
WCFL's coverage of The Beatles 1965 and 1966 US tours was provided by Jim Stagg, who traveled with the group. The station began a weekly British Countdown program with British DJ Paul Michael, in 1965.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, WCFL also featured a popular Sunday night program of "underground" album-oriented music called Ron Britain's Subterranean Circus. Due to madcap DJ Britain's sure ear for the innovative and his highly inventive sketches, plus WCFL's powerful AM nighttime signal, these programs gained huge listenership not just in the Chicago area, but in other parts of the country as well. Britain's "Sub Circus" made WCFL one of the few AM stations to feature this kind of music, which was a major staple of "underground" FM stations. The station also supported local bands with its Sunday evening "Chicago Countdown", hosted by Ron Britain, featuring the recordings of Chicago area music groups.
The comedy feature Chickenman, a satire based on the Batman TV series, originated on Jim Runyon's morning drive-time show in the fall of 1966. It was created by WCFL staffer Dick Orkin, who was also brought from Cleveland to Chicago by Ken Draper. All the voices were done by Orkin, Runyon, and Jane Roberts, who also did WCFL's morning traffic reports as "Trooper 36-24-36" (She became Mrs. Jim Runyon.). The Chickenman program was subsequently syndicated to radio stations worldwide.
In August 1968, sales manager Lew Witz replaced Draper as WCFL General Manager. Witz continued to make changes to the station during his tenure. It was Witz who lured Larry Lujack away from WLS in 1972, and the "less talk-more music" philosophy continued. On August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon announced his resignation from the office of President of the United States. The announcement occurred at 8 PM Chicago time, but there was no acknowledgement of it on WCFL's airwaves until 11:30 PM. Witz defended his decision by saying there was ample local and national coverage of the story so there was no need to interrupt the music on WCFL. Gary Deeb, media critic for the Chicago Tribune, blasted Witz in print, saying it was this decision and many others like it that turned WCFL from, "a bright, civic-minded 50,000 watt rock powerhouse into a sonic slum." By the time the station prepared to enter its "Beautiful Music" phase in early 1976, Witz had totally done away with WCFL's news department. Under the management of Witz, the station's turntables used for transferring music onto tape cartridges for broadcast were speeded up from 45rpm to 48rpm. This was meant to make for a "brighter sound" than the station's main rival, WLS, and meant that since it was faster, more music could be aired. Witz also insisted his on-air personalities broadcast false time checks, in the event listeners might be part of Arbitron ratings households.
WCFL on internet radio
J. R. Russ, who grew up listening to the station, has created a cyber version of WCFL which can be heard on the internet at http://www.wcflchicago.com . Russ has been able to obtain original airchecks, commercials and jingles of the station. TM Productions, the producer of radio station jingles since 1955, waived its licensing fees to assist Russ with his historic project. Chickenman, which originated at WCFL, can also be heard. The cyber station went on the air on Labor Day in 2013.
The end of "Super CFL" and the sale to Mutual
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to WCFL (AM).|
On March 15, 1976, after two years of falling ratings, WCFL abruptly dropped its Top 40 format in favor of The World's Most Beautiful Music, leaving WLS as Chicago's only AM Top 40 station. Station management released all disc jockeys who did not have "no cut" clauses in their contracts with the official explanation of the format change as "being more in keeping with the labor movement". Larry Lujack, still under contract with the station, stayed on at WCFL playing easy listening music until moving back to WLS in September 1976. The easy listening format was already heard in stereo on FM beautiful music stations WLOO and WLAK. By 1978, the easy sounds were replaced by a gold-based adult contemporary format.
After deciding its profit margin was too small for the Chicago Federation of Labor to maintain, on April 10, 1978, it was announced that WCFL would be sold to the Mutual Broadcasting System, at the time a subsidiary of the Amway Corporation, for $12 million. The history of the first and longest-lived labor radio station was over; after nearly 52 years, the "Voice of Labor" had been stilled. The station began to identify itself as "Mutual/CFL." A magazine-type news/talk format was adopted, with sports talk in the evening hours and the syndicated Larry King Show overnight, but ratings remained low. In 1982, WCFL flipped to a Middle of The Road format playing adult standards and pop hits of the 1950s and '60s mixed in with some softer oldies and AC cuts, and even a few currents. Ratings were still low, so by the end of 1983 WCFL evolved into an Adult Contemporary format.
WCFL and the Chicago Federation of Labor enjoyed the support of Mayor Richard J. Daley throughout his 1955–1976 administration. He proclaimed January 11, 1966 "WCFL Day in Chicago" to mark the 40th anniversary of the station. In 1976, when it became evident it was time for the Federation to sell the radio station, Federation President William A. Lee turned to his long-time friend, Mayor Daley, for advice.
In 1983, WCFL was sold by Mutual to Statewide Broadcasting. Statewide switched WCFL to adult contemporary Christian music about 10 hours a day and teaching programs the rest of the time. WCFL sold brokered programming in 30 minute blocks of time to Christian radio organizations and preachers. The format was profitable but received low ratings. At that time, WCFL advertised its call letters as standing for "Winning Chicago For The Lord". In early 1985, the station moved from Marina City into a two-story brick building which had served as the original transmitter building on its Downers Grove transmitter site. Statewide Broadcasting specialized in religious formats but merged with a secular company called Heftel Broadcasting in early 1987. Although no longer in use, the former call letters WCFL, rendered massively in stainless steel, still remain on the exterior wall of the transmitting office, just off 39th Street in Downers Grove.
Initially, WCFL remained religious while its co-owned longtime rock station 97.9 FM WLUP maintained its AOR format. Heftel ended WCFL's religious format just after the stroke of midnight on April 29, 1987. The call letters of the station were changed to WLUP, and its FM sister station became WLUP-FM. WLUP-FM remained an AOR station, while 1000 WLUP switched to a full service rock format focusing on personality, comedy and talk programs with a few rock cuts an hour. After 7 p.m., WLUP and WLUP-FM simulcast the AOR format till dawn. As it concentrated on Spanish radio, Heftel sold its English-language stations, including WLUP-AM-FM; Evergreen Media bought WLUP-AM-FM in 1988. From October 1992 until August 1993, WLUP AM was the first Chicago affiliate for The Howard Stern Show.
Initially, the AM and FM stations remained the same under Evergreen. But on September 27, 1993, WLUP-FM switched to a full-service talk/comedy format, while AM 1000 became all-sports. 97.9 remained WLUP-FM and AM 1000 changed its call sign to WMVP, for "Most Valuable Player," to reflect the station's all-sports programming. WMVP's schedule included some nationally syndicated shows such as "The Fabulous Sports Babe" and "Ferrall On The Bench" as well as play-by-play of local sports games. Despite broadcasting 24/7, the station trailed in the ratings to (at the time) daytime-only WSCR and to WMAQ's Sports Huddle at night. WMVP dropped its all sports format at 6 a.m. on June 5, 1996, the day before the Chicago Bulls opened the NBA Finals against the Seattle SuperSonics, and returned to mostly simulcasting WLUP-FM. (WMVP did carry its own night-time sports talk program, and play-by-play broadcasts of the White Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls, and would later air some shows from hosts who were moved over from the FM beginning that September). Evergreen later merged with Chancellor and sold WLUP-FM to Bonneville International in July 1997, with WMVP permanently splitting from the FM. WMVP began airing its own talk/sports format, simply called "AM 1000." In August 1998, WMVP was sold by Chancellor to ABC/Disney, and flipped back to sports on October 12, this time affiliated with the co-owned ESPN Radio Network.
ABC operates WMVP from studios and offices at 190 North State Street in the Chicago Loop, where sister station WLS-TV also has its studios. WMVP also has a streetside studio for local programming right next to WLS's own streetside studios.
Shift to Good Karma Brands management
On August 28, 2019, it was announced by ESPN Radio that day-to-day management of the station would move from direct purview by ESPN to a management agreement with Good Karma Brands, a company owned by Craig Karmazin which has had sustained success running ESPN Radio stations to the north in Madison and Milwaukee, along with Cleveland and West Palm Beach, Florida. The current general manager, Jim Pastor, will retire at the end of the year, with Good Karma beginning to operate the station on September 29, 2019 under a lease with Disney (no information about a conversion to an eventual station purchase has been revealed).
The lease makes WMVP a sister station to GKB's Milwaukee cluster of WTMJ, WKTI and WAUK, and the Madison market's WTLX (WTMJ carries a local news/talk format). No changes to personnel and facilities in the near future are currently expected under the lease agreement, though the station's morning schedule was adjusted in August 2020 due to the national network's large-scale schedule overhaul.
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- ESPN Chicago
- WMVP in the FCC's AM station database
- WMVP on Radio-Locator
- WMVP in Nielsen Audio's AM station database
- A look at the ESPN 1000 studios-2004
- Reel Radio-John Celarek Collection-audio files and information on various WCFL disk jockeys
- Reel Radio-John Rook Collection-audio files including WCFL jingles and air checks for many personalities
- audio file:A Look Back at WCFL Part 1-Britain, Stagg and Pip on WJMK-FM 1985 (RealPlayer)
- audio file:A Look Back at WCFL Part 2-Britain, Stagg and Pip on WJMK-FM 1985 (RealPlayer)
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- WCFL Personality lineups-1965-1976
- FCC History Cards for WCFL (1926-1980)