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WOKY TheBig920 logo.png
City Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Broadcast area Milwaukee metropolitan area
Branding The Big 920
Slogan Milwaukee's Sports Station
Frequency 920 AM kHz (also on HD Radio)
First air date August 31, 1947 (1947-08-31)
Format Sports Talk
  • 5,000 watts (day)
  • 1,000 watts (night)
Class B
Facility ID 63917
Callsign meaning "MIL-WOKY" (Milwaukee)
Former callsigns WEXT (1947-1950)
Former frequencies 1430 kHz (1947–1950)
Affiliations Fox Sports Radio
Owner iHeartMedia, Inc.
(Clear Channel Broadcasting Licences, Inc.)
Sister stations WISN, WKKV, WMIL, WRIT, WRNW
Webcast Listen Live
Website thebig920.com

WOKY (920 kHz "The Big 920") is a commercial AM radio station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The station is owned and operated by iHeartMedia, Inc. and broadcasts a sports talk radio format. Its studios and offices, which became the home of all iHeart Milwaukee stations in 2000 after a building expansion, are located on West Howard Avenue in suburban Greenfield. The transmitter site is behind the studios.[1] WOKY carries several Wisconsin sports shows and syndicated programming from Fox Sports Radio.

WOKY broadcasts with a 5,000 watt signal by day. But at night, to protect other stations on AM 920, it reduces power to 1,000 watts. WOKY uses a directional antenna at all times. WOKY broadcasts in AM HD Radio.[2]

Station history[edit]

Beginnings: WEXT[edit]

The history of WOKY can be traced back to WEXT, a 1,000-watt daytimer radio station at 1430 kilocycles in Milwaukee.[3] It was founded by Lee, David, Gerald, and Rosa Bartell (later Evans) which began operations on August 31, 1947. WEXT, the Milwaukee market's fifth radio station, did fairly well with a broadcast schedule that included popular music and ethnic programming, including a polka music show hosted by local radio legend John Reddy. Gerald Bartell and Rosa Bartell met Ralph Evans II while the three worked at the student radio station of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Gerald and Rosa worked on programming and Evans was an electrical engineering student.

The Bartell family had modest success with other stations in Wisconsin markets such as LaCrosse and Sturgeon Bay. They also had a station at El Cajon near San Diego, California.

WOKY, The Mighty 92[edit]

In the wake of WEXT's success, the Bartell family applied for full-time broadcast operations, and the result was a move down the dial to AM 920 and a new call sign, WOKY.[4] (The 1430 frequency was reassigned in 1951 to WBEV in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, 50 miles northwest of Milwaukee.) AM 920 launched in September 1950. WOKY initially aired a full-service variety format similar to WEXT's, including popular music shows and programs oriented toward housewives and children. In time, pop music became the primary component of WOKY's schedule, with disc jockeys choosing the songs they played based on the Billboard and Cash Box best-seller charts and on local record sales. WOKY soon became Milwaukee's second Top 40 music station after 1340 WRIT (now WJYI).

WOKY served as the city's premier Top 40 station during most of the 1960s and 1970s, and was known for much of that time as the "Mighty 92." Along with Chicago Top 40 giants 890 WLS and 1000 WCFL, the Mighty 92 was also a favorite of teenagers in Western Michigan who picked up the signal from across Lake Michigan.

Popular disc jockeys on WOKY during the Top 40 years, from the 1950s through the 1970s, included Bob White, "Mad Man" Michaels, "Lucky" Logan, Mitch Michael, Sam Hale, Ron Riley (later with WLS Chicago), Bob Barry, Carl Como, Paul Christy, Michael Lee Scott, Jim Brown, Pat McKay, Jack McCoy, Ronnie Knight, Johnny Dark, Craig Roberts, Jack Lee, Robb Edwards, Gary Price, Gene Johnson, Barney Pip (later with WCFL Chicago) and Bob Collins (later with Chicago's full-service giant WGN). A popular station catchphrase during the early 1970s was "WOKY Plays Favorites".

WOKY is also noteworthy for being the first station in Milwaukee to broadcast traffic reports from a helicopter, courtesy of air personality Art Zander and his feature "The Safer Route".[5]

Adult Standards Era[edit]

As FM stations became the choice for radio listeners looking for contemporary music, WOKY shifted to an adult standards format in 1981. It became a full-time affiliate of Al Ham's Music of Your Life format, based in Connecticut.

To keep up with demographic trends, WOKY tweaked the format over the years, gradually shifting to a middle of the road-oldies hybrid that mixed 1950s–1970s pop hits with classic and current adult contemporary music, with artists such as Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond and The Carpenters being mainstays of the format. Starting in 2005, WOKY began programming oldies all day on Fridays, complete with the station's old jingles and other elements. For many years, WOKY was a success in the ratings, though many of its listeners were older than the demographics that many advertisers actively seek. Starting in 1993, the station was known for pioneering marathons of Christmas music beginning on Thanksgiving Day and continuing through the holiday season.

WOKY was briefly the Milwaukee outlet for the syndicated Delilah love songs show, previously heard on sister station 97.3 WLTQ (now WRNW). (Delilah was later heard in Milwaukee on 99.1 WMYX-FM.) WOKY also carried Milwaukee Panthers basketball game broadcasts from 2003 to 2007 when the team moved to sister station 1130 WISN. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee women's basketball games can be heard on WOKY.

In 1997, WOKY and co-owned 106.1 WMIL-FM were bought for $40 million by Clear Channel Communications, the forerunner of iHeartMedia.[6]

WOKY's Mighty 92 logo from 2007–2008, patterned after a former logo the station used in the 1960s.

The Mighty 92 returns[edit]

On January 2, 2007, after concluding its Christmas holiday programming, WOKY came back with a new approach: an oldies format emphasizing hit songs from the 1960s and 1970s. The "Mighty 92" name returned full-time, as did many of the classic jingles the station played in its Top 40 heyday. On nights and weekends, the station used Dial Global's satellite-delivered "Oldies Channel" (now Kool Gold from Westwood One).

With the new format, WOKY did not flip to all-Christmas music in 2007. Instead, like sister station WRIT, WOKY played a few Christmas tunes every hour. Today, the former Mighty 92 format can be heard in Milwaukee on WRIT 95.7-HD2.

AM 920 The Wolf[edit]

On September 18, 2008, after playing "Hello, Goodbye" by The Beatles, the station changed to classic country music as "The Wolf."[7] The format was already being heard on sister station 106.1 WMIL-FM's HD Radio subchannel. The subchannel version had been automated but when it debuted on AM 920, it featured several of WOKY's airstaff.[8] The Wolf was sub-branded as MIL-WOKY, Milwaukee's Country Connection.

On December 1, 2011, the station announced it would become the Milwaukee home of NASCAR radio coverage from all three NASCAR radio networks and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network for the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400. NASCAR moved to WOKY from ESPN Radio outlet 540 WAUK, which days before announced the removal of all auto racing programming to focus on solely on traditional sports. In September 2012, WOKY also added nationally broadcast college football and NFL from the Westwood One Network, including "The NFL on Westwood One."

All-Sports, The Big 920[edit]

On January 2, 2013, Clear Channel Milwaukee announced that WOKY would drop its classic country format and adopt a sports radio format on January 7.[9] (In reality the branding launched on January 5 during the station's broadcasts of Wild Card Weekend games from Dial Global.) Branded as "The Big 920," the new WOKY schedule became a near-simulcast of its Madison sister station, WTSO ("The Big 1070"), featuring Wisconsin-based local sports shows hosted by Brian Posick, Mike Heller, Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas. Also heard were national shows featuring Jay Mohr, The Dan Patrick Show, and NBC Sports Radio, along with live event broadcasts that have been airing previously on WOKY, notably football, NASCAR, and the UW-Milwaukee Panthers.[10] The move made WOKY the third English-language all-sports station in the Milwaukee market, joining 540 WAUK, 1250 WSSP, along with news/talk-formatted 620 WTMJ's commitment to evening sports talk and play by play coverage of Milwaukee Brewers baseball and Green Bay Packers football.

On December 2, 2013, Learfield Sports and the University of Wisconsin–Madison announced that WOKY would become the Milwaukee station for Wisconsin Badgers broadcasts, replacing longtime affiliate WTMJ, effectively making the team exclusive to iHeartMedia in the two largest cities in Wisconsin, with iHeart's WIBA-AM-FM in Madison acting as the flagship stations of the Badgers. As part of the deal, WOKY will air all Badgers sports broadcasts. Football and men's basketball are simulcast with sister station WRIT-FM due to WOKY's weak nighttime signal.[11]


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°58′32″N 88°03′56″W / 42.97556°N 88.06556°W / 42.97556; -88.06556