|Broadcast area||Greater Cleveland|
|Slogan||Cleveland's Classic Rock|
|Frequency||98.5 MHz (also on HD Radio)|
|First air date||October 23, 1948|
HD2: Classic rock
|Callsign meaning||North Coast EXpress|
|Former callsigns||WERE-FM (1948–72)|
|Affiliations||Cleveland Browns Radio Network|
Cumulus Media Networks
United Stations Radio Networks
(CBS Radio Stations Inc.)
|Sister stations||WDOK, WKRK-FM, WQAL|
WNCX (98.5 FM) – branded 98.5 WNCX – is a commercial classic rock radio station licensed to Cleveland, Ohio, serving Greater Cleveland and much of surrounding Northeast Ohio. Owned by Entercom, WNCX serves as a co-flagship station for the Cleveland Browns Radio Network; the Cleveland affiliate for Little Steven's Underground Garage; and the radio home of Michael Stanley. The WNCX studios are located at the Halle Building in Downtown Cleveland, while the station transmitter resides in the Cleveland suburb of North Royalton. Besides a standard analog transmission, WNCX broadcasts over two HD Radio channels, and is available online via Radio.com.
The station first went on the air in 1948 as WERE-FM and was the FM outlet for WERE (1300 AM), where it primarily simulcast the programming of its more popular AM sister station over the next 24 years. WERE-FM actually signed on one year prior to its AM counterpart.
Both stations lasted under common ownership for the next fifty years, as WERE-FM primarily simulcast the programming of its more popular AM sister station over the next 24 years. During the 1950s, WERE was the first popular Top 40 station in the market, spearheaded by now-legendary personalities like Bill Randle, "Captain" Carl Reese, Phil McLean, Ronnie Barrett, Howie Lund and Bob Forster. Randle was the most influential of the group, as he was the first major-market disk jockey in the Northeast United States to play Elvis Presley, and bolstered the careers of a number of young musicians, including The Four Lads, Bobby Darin, and Fats Domino. Future NBC announcer and voice-over artist Danny Dark also was a host on WERE in the early 1960s.
G98 and the North Coast eXpress
The stations were purchased by General Cinema Corporation in 1972, which would go on to change the call letters of the FM station to WGCL on August 15, 1972, while it flipped the station from its fully automated format to Top 40 as G98. WGCL began as an affiliate of the Drake-Chenault Solid Gold and Hit Parade formats, which featured a Top 40/Oldies mix, but eventually went live and local with personalities such as David Mark and Mike Dix (formerly of the legendary WIXY 1260). Famed programmer Lee Abrams helmed the station; George Jay was its news director. One of G98's most recognized air personalities was "Dancin" Danny Wright, who later had a long stretch in afternoon drive at country WGAR-FM. He later became nationally syndicated with his current show, Jones Radio Network's Danny Wright All Night.
During the next 14 years the station would go on to enjoy moderate success in the face of significant competition from crosstown rock juggernaut, WMMS. Their best year was 1982 when they briefly beat WMMS in the ratings, but after WMMS re-tooled and recaptured first place a short time later, WGCL slowly lost ground. The station was sold in 1986. The call letters WGCL are now in use at the CBS television affiliate in Atlanta.
With the station being sold to Detroit-based Metropolis Broadcasting, it ushered in a change. For only the second time its 38-year history, the station would change its call letters to WNCX (which was to stand for "North Coast eXpress", but Metropolis failed to service mark the slogan, which WMMS did) and format, on October 22, 1986, when it adopted an eclectic rock/top 40 mixed format. To signal a sign of the changes to come, the station aired Beatles records non-stop for 72-hours after the last day of the old WGCL format, just before the launch of the new WNCX format. This was one of the earliest examples of "stunting" in between formats, a practice which became common some years later.
It was rumored at the time that one reason for the stunt was that disgruntled WGCL employees who would be losing their jobs once Metropolis took over had stolen virtually all of the G-98 music library, forcing station staff to go out and purchase compact discs to play for when the new format launched (and in addition, the arrival of the compact-disc players the station had ordered was delayed for two days). Because of this, the station was one of the first radio stations in Cleveland to have a complete on-air library made up of compact discs, having spent thousands of dollars on what was considered a fairly new and advanced form of media.
While it was considered a new radio station, the staff was anything but new as it featured a well-seasoned lineup of Cleveland radio veterans – eight of whom were stolen directly from its heated rival, WMMS. Headed by the latter's former Program Director, John Gorman (as WNCX Operations Manager) and 15-year WMMS veteran Denny Sanders (as WNCX Program Director), the pair promised "a much different sound than other stations," and that they would "play a wide variety of music, 360 degrees of rock 'n' roll, from old to new to R&B." The sizable WNCX's playlist emphasized new music, local records and included a Saturday night dance club music show. The format became a pioneering effort in what, just a short time later, would be a successful approach for many stations throughout the country, the "rock-CHR" format.
Its DJ lineup included former WGAR (1220 AM) personality Paul Tapie in the morning, former WHK Program Director and DJ Bernie Kimble in middays, Sanders during the afternoon drive, former WMMS DJ Spaceman Scott evenings and Nancy Alden late nights. Due to the last minute inability by Metropolis Broadcasting to buy out his contract (which Gorman and Sanders were promised) and his incompatibility with the new format, Danny Wright was moved to the overnight slot for several weeks as a board-op with no speaking role whatsoever to finish out his contract. Recorded station IDs and imaging was created by acclaimed "Word Jazz" artist Ken Nordine.
Yet, just three months after the cutting-edge station's high-visibility launch, all of the staff except for Paul Tapie were suddenly and unexpectedly fired, and the station was put back up for sale. Most of the dismissed personalities enjoyed longevity and success in the market elsewhere. John Gorman became program director at WMJI in 1991 (and again at WMMS in 1994) and lasted until 1996. Sanders landed at WMJI in 1988 and succeeded Gorman as Program Director in 1996. During his tenure, WMJI won the National Association of Broadcasters Marconi Award in 1997 as "Large Market Station Of The Year". Spaceman Scott became the program director for WRQK in the late 80s, then came back to WMMS in the early 90s. Nancy Alden went to WDOK in April 1987 and was a fixture at that station for many years, while Bernie Kimble was the program director at smooth jazz WNWV for over fifteen years. Jack Speer, who did newscasts at the station, is currently a news anchor at NPR in Washington, D.C.
By contrast, Metropolis Broadcasting went out of business just a few months later.
The immediate offering of the station for re-sale lead most observers to conclude that Metropolis Broadcasting was poorly organized and financed right from the start. Their sole other station (WDTX in Detroit) was put up for sale at this time as well and, within just a few months, Metropolis Broadcasting ceased to exist.
Evolution to classic rock
During the time WNCX was offered again for sale, Metropolis Broadcasting employed the use of Cleveland-based radio consultant Mike McVay, former program director and general manager at another Cleveland station, WMJI. In February 1987, McVay immediately relaunched WNCX as a Classic hits station, featuring an innocuous mix of pop-rock classic artists like Elton John, Paul McCartney and Cat Stevens, with little promotion and dramatically reduced expenses.
The curiously swift abortion of the current-based eclectic format so soon after launch was a cause for concern in the local radio and musicians' community. However, the dominantly 1970s/early 1980s-based Classic Hits format had a level of success with Cleveland audiences as heavy focus at WMJI on late 1950s and 1960s Oldies (at that time) left a definite gap in the market for a station willing to serve listeners who enjoyed more recent memories. Over the next several rating periods, as WMJI began to compensate, WNCX eventually repositioned itself solidly between WMJI and WMMS, drawing from both stations by completing an evolution to pure, harder-edged Classic rock. Consultant Mike McVay departed about this time. McVay currently serves as president of McVay Media and is the author of the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Radio Stations.
Not too long after the evolution to classic rock, WNCX and WERE found themselves being sold once again, but this time to locally based Metroplex Communications. Metroplex was headed by two Cleveland radio architects, Norman Wain and Bob Weiss, the former owners of the legendary Cleveland Top 40 station WIXY (1260 AM) during the 1960s.
Wain and Weiss set out to accomplish once again what they had done in 1965, and that was to build a radio station with personality, particularly Cleveland personality. Over the next few years, they did just that.
Cleveland native Bill Louis was brought in to do middays in 1987 – an airshift he continues to man to date and was promoted to Program Director in 1996. Following that promotion, Louis named fellow Cleveland native and WNCX morning show producer Dave Jockers as his assistant program director and music director, positions Jockers held for nearly fourteen years until departing in October 2010. In 1990 Wain and then program director Doug Podell hired local rock musician Michael Stanley to host a one-hour radio program entitled In the Heartland; the show would eventually lead to Stanley taking over the afternoon shift on WNCX – an airshift he still does to date. Cleveland native Mr. Classic (Walt Garrett) has been on WNCX for since June 1987. A weekend highlight of radio is named the Saturday Night Live House Party five hours of great requests with musically savvy listeners. His knowledge of the world is unparalleled, knowledge he shares with his listeners during his many weekend and substitute air shifts. For a couple of years, Ron Sweed co-hosted his Saturday night all-request show under his Ghoul persona.
Comedian Paul Tapie, the lone holdover from the original staff, carried on in morning drive until his dismissal in 1989. The station posted several full-page ads adversting their morning-drive job opening as a result. Paul Tapie later went on to helm the morning slot at WKNR (1220) with that station's launch as a sports station in 1991, and would also host the Ohio Lottery TV game show, "Cash Explosion" from 1988 until 2004. Hired by then-PD Paul Ingles (at the suggestion of programming guru Andy Bloom) from KMJK in Portland, Oregon, Those Guys in the Morning consisted of Rick Rydell and Todd Brandt, with sportscaster Mike Trivisonno (a frequent caller to Pete Franklin's Sportsline on WWWE in the 1970s). Although the station's overall ratings climbed during the late 1980s, topping rival WMMS in key rating categories, Those Guys had only marginal success in Cleveland, and were regularly criticized by the local paper, often speculating on their departure date from WNCX. As it turned out, they lasted less than two years. Ingles himself was relieved of his program director duties and was replaced by Doug Podell from Detroit. WNCX's next attempt in mornings was former Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley with sportscaster Mike Trivisonno - the sole holdover from the Those Guys show - and Paul Ingles. Ingles soon left, and was replaced on the show with Skip Herman. Paul Tapie even returned as a sidekick for the show within a few months of its debut. Podell had convinced Wain and Weiss that it was time to consider a radical option – pick up New York-based Howard Stern.
The Howard Stern Show
Program Director Doug Podell had worked with Howard Stern once before in the early 1980s in Podell's hometown of Detroit, Michigan. The two worked at rock station WWWW, prior to its switch to a country format, an event depicted in Stern's autobiographical film Private Parts (1997). After little persuading from Podell, Wain and Weiss agreed to take a chance on the show, though it took until August 1992 for WNCX and Stern to finally sign a deal. Andy Bloom – the same programming consultant who convinced Paul Ingles to hire Those Guys in the Morning – was brought back to consult on the Stern start-up. Bloom had been the program director at the first Stern simulcasts at WYSP in Philadelphia and KLSX in Los Angeles. WNCX in Cleveland was just the 6th station (5th affiliate after Stern's flagship WXRK) out of more than 60 nationally to carry The Howard Stern Show.
Among the most notorious Howard Stern programs/broadcasts occurred in Cleveland on June 10, 1994. Having taken his radio show from Arbitron ranked #13 to #1 among all radio listeners in less than two years, Stern promised to have a street party and to broadcast a "funeral" for his competition live from the streets of Cleveland.
During this now infamous broadcast, an engineer from WMMS snipped a broadcast wire that was used to feed the satellite uplink for the program. The engineer was subsequently caught, arrested and prosecuted. Stern continued on with the program over a phone line as engineers quickly patched the broadcast wire back together:
|“||Any time you have to sabotage a show and you can't concentrate on what you're doing on the air, then it means you're in trouble. The other stations see that they're in trouble. Lanigan sees that he's in trouble. The Zoo over at 'MMS has been destroyed. They were the number one show when we came to town, and now we're number one. The only thing they can resort to is sabotage...
I am dressed as a general, and that is because it is D-Day here! It is war! I am in the middle of war. I am at my bunker right now as I speak to you. I'm about to take the stage if we can get our satellite back up. It is a war! It is World War III out here! We can't take it! It's unbelievable! ...
In October 2004, Stern announced that he would be moving his radio program to Sirius Satellite Radio, a subscription radio service where he could avoid the content restrictions being forced on to him by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). His final live broadcast aired on WNCX on December 16, 2005. WNCX was a longtime home for The Howard Stern Show, airing the show locally for more than 13 years since August 31, 1992. Program Director Bill Louis reflected on the show's run days after Stern's final broadcast: "It's difficult to imagine the mornings without him... what [Stern] brought was a very specialized and special form of entertainment that no one is ever going to duplicate."
In 1994, after seven more years of Cleveland radio ownership, Wain and Weiss retired by merging Metroplex Communications into the fast-growing, Texas-based Clear Channel Communications. This spelled the exit for those two from Cleveland radio. Following passage of the Telecom Act of 1996, Clear Channel continued its fast growth and announced a merger with Jacor Communications in 1998, the then-owner of a large group of radio stations in Cleveland. To comply with federal ownership guidelines, Clear Channel was forced to sell off numerous radio stations around the country.
In Cleveland, Clear Channel decided to divest its current properties before the merger. Sold to Radio One were sister stations WENZ and WERE, while WNCX was sold to CBS/Infinity Radio. For the first time in their 50-year history, WNCX and WERE were no longer affiliated. Naturally, WERE and WENZ moved out of the Halle Building studio complex, while WZJM would move into the Halle less than two years later, one of three stations CBS acquired from AMFM, Inc. as part of a similar divestiture order regarding their merger with Clear Channel. To this day, WNCX and WZJM's current successor WKRK-FM are housed in the Halle Building.
With Stern's move to subscription radio, WNCX ended up carrying a morning show hosted by musician David Lee Roth, which began on January 3, 2006 and originated from Howard Stern's former flagship, WFNY-FM in New York, the former WXRK "K-Rock." Notably, David Lee Roth had been among the featured performers at Stern's Cleveland funeral 12 years earlier. (Coincidentally, both the WXRK calls and "92.3 K-Rock" nickname landed on the former WXTM in Cleveland, WNCX's sister station that also broadcasts on 92.3 FM.) Given WNCX's history and relative ratings stability, they were one of the few affiliates not re-branded as "Free FM," nor did they change format to a hot talk format that was associated with the Free FM name. However, due to very low ratings and a critical drubbings in the press, Roth's show was canceled by syndicator CBS Radio on April 21, 2006. Roth's replacement in New York, Opie and Anthony - fired by CBS Radio three years earlier - aired in morning drive on 92.3 (now WKRK-FM) until December 1, 2008, when Opie and Anthony were fired from WKRK, and the station switched to a format without live DJs.
Shortly thereafter, WNCX aired a locally produced classic rock morning show with no regular host, and also used the slot for tributes to past Cleveland radio stations and personalities, with many of those personalities filling in during the slot. On July 27, 2006, the station announced that Wynn Richards, aka "Mud", would become the primary host of the new morning show, joined by Kim Mihalik (former sidekick to WTAM's Mike Trivisonno) and newscaster Mike Olszewski. Wynn previously worked at WWWM "M105" and at WGAR (1220 AM) back in the early 1980s.
Following the departure of Mud from the morning lineup, radio veteran Scott Miller was brought in to captain the three-person (Miller, Mihalik, and Mike) morning show. Kim Mihalik was dropped from the lineup in 2008, leaving the morning show to the duo of Miller and Mike Olszewski (a Cleveland native and former longtime WMMS jock). In March 2009, Olszewski departed and was replaced by local stand-up comedian Jeff Blanchard, of which the program was retitled "The 'NCX Morning Show."
On October 27, 2010, WNCX announced the hiring of radio personality Maxwell (Ben Bornstein) as host of the station's new morning show. The Maxwell Show, best known to area listeners as the former afternoon drive program at rival WMMS, began airing on WNCX on November 1. The move replaced former morning co-hosts Scott Miller and comedian Jeff Blanchard, along with show producer Dave Jockers. Regarding their dismissal, Program Director Bill Louis commented, "sadly, this a bottom-line business."
WNCX cancelled The Maxwell Show on August 25, 2011, less than ten months after the show's arrival at the station. Local media speculated that, in addition to "flagging ratings," WNCX cancelled the show to make room for "a new, high-profile, multi-person morning show" at sister station WKRK-FM (92.3 FM) as that station transitioned to a new sports format. On August 29, 2011, the morning shift was assigned on an interim basis to local radio personality Nard (Dom Nardella) – the former DJ and Program Director of WNCX sister station WKRK-FM during its years as an alternative rock outlet.
On November 7, 2011, radio personality Slats (Tim Guinane), formerly heard on WNCX rival WMMS and WNCX sister station WXTM (now WKRK-FM), took over the WNCX morning shift, where he remains to this day. All totaled, in the near-six-year period between Stern and Slats, WNCX went through five different morning drive shows.
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- Olszewski, Mike (2003). Radio Daze: Stories from the Front in Cleveland's FM Air Wars. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. p. 436. ISBN 9780873387736.
Walt Garrett, best known as 'Mr. Classic' on the Saturday Night Live House Party...
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- CBS Radio to Merge with Entercom
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'I missed it bigtime,' said Slats, whose real name is Tim Guinane.
- Hinman, Catherine (December 27, 1996). "WDBO Freshens Image, Thinks Younger". Orlando Sentinel. Tribune Company. p. 12 - Calendar.
- Adams, Deanna R. (2002). Rock and Roll and the Cleveland Connection. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 9780873386913.
- Olszewski, Mike (2003). Radio Daze: Stories from the Front in Cleveland's FM Air Wars. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 9780873387736.
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