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|Broadcast area||Milwaukee, Wisconsin|
|Slogan||Milwaukee's #1 for All the Hits|
|Frequency||97.3 (MHz) (also on HD Radio)|
|First air date||July 1949 (on 102.9)
January 1961 (on 97.3)
|Format||Top 40 (CHR)|
|Transmitter coordinates||43° 06' 41.00" N
87° 55' 38.00" W
|Callsign meaning||Radio NoW|
|Former callsigns||WISN-FM (1961–78)
(Capstar TX LLC)
|Sister stations||WISN, WKKV-FM, WMIL-FM, WOKY, WRIT-FM|
|Webcast||"Radio Now" stream|
WRNW (97.3 FM) - currently branded as 97-3 Now - is a Top 40 (CHR) FM radio station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin owned and operated by iHeartMedia. WRNW's studios are located with iHeartMedia's other Milwaukee operations in rural-suburban Greenfield, with their transmitter located with the WISN-TV tower in Milwaukee's Lincoln Park.
The station started as WISN-FM, the second iteration of the station after a short-lived attempt in 1949 on 102.9 FM, where WHQG now resides. From the beginning, it has been a sister to WISN (AM) (1130) (starting as a straight simulcast of WISN), and for many years WISN-TV (channel 12) under the founding ownership of the Hearst Corporation. For most of 97.3's early two decades between January 1961 and 1978, it carried automated beautiful music like longtime rival (through Journal and Hearst's various Milwaukee ventures) WTMJ-FM, which converted to automated top 40 in 1974 as WKTI, from its sign-on in January 1961 until 1978.
In January 1978, the station flipped to AOR as WLPX, using consultant Lee Abrams' "SuperStars" format. The station became an immediate success in the ratings, even pushing rival WZMF to tighten their format, and later drop it altogether for beautiful music. WLPX also sponsored future NASCAR driver Alan Kulwicki on local racetracks.
In the summer of 1983, WLPX abruptly switched to CHR, first as "The New 97X FM", then shortly after as WBTT, "The New B-97 FM".
Light adult contemporary became the format in April 1985 as "Light 97" with the WLTQ call sign. The station's DJ's, before the 1997 sale of WLTQ and WISN Radio from Hearst to iHeartMedia (then known as Clear Channel Communications), often appeared on WISN-TV in various roles, including hosting telethon and remote programming, and programs involving the Wisconsin Lottery in order to keep the line between the Channel 12 newsroom and other station operations clear from impropriety.
WLTQ featured the popular syndicated Delilah program in the evening shift.
Despite the station's high ratings over the years (particularly in the "at-work" audience), by 2003, WLTQ's ratings started dropping considerably, as the station's stodgy "Light" image turned many younger listeners away, who associated it negatively as resembling 'elevator music' with the fading of both easy listening and lite AC formats in the late 90's into the early 2000s.
97.3 The Brew
On September 17, 2004, at Noon, "Light 97.3" signed off with "We Said Hello, Goodbye" by Phil Collins. WLTQ then began stunting with songs with the words "air" or "America" in the title, telling people "Milwaukee will be TALKing about 97.3" while airing clips of Al Franken, promoting to listen the following Monday at 6 a.m. Clear Channel played into rumors of conversion of the station into a left-wing Air America-based talk format, already carried by WLTQ's sister station in Madison.
When the reformat took place though, 97.3 instead adopted an '80s-centric Classic rock format as 97.3 The Brew, launching with "(You Can Still) Rock in America" by Night Ranger. 97.3's callsign was soon changed to WQBW to match the branding. The Brew's" initial slogan was "Rock of the '80s and More". The slogan eventually changed to "The Biggest Variety of Rock Hits" as the format morphed towards adult hits. Their television ads and billboard advertisements featured an obese shirtless man named "Dancin' Kevin" based on an imaging campaign at WLUP-FM in Chicago. The station's personalities were mainly voicetracked from other Clear Channel markets.
WQBW immediately experienced ratings success with the new format, which led to direct competitors WKLH and WLZR (both sister stations owned by Saga Communications) adjusting their playlists and formats accordingly; WLZR (which had already been experiencing declines due to a decline in the format and awkward schedule flow from their talk-centric morning show) dropped its active rock format for a more older-targeting, harder-leaning mainstream rock format as "The Hog", while WKLH (airing a straightforward classic rock format) adopted new on-air imaging. Both of these changes drew listeners back from WQBW, prompting the station to shift towards adult hits by 2008. In addition, rival WKTI (then playing hot AC) flipped to adult hits that same year, with a playlist featuring many of the same artists being played on WQBW. With all of these changes, WQBW ended up being the lowest-rated station in the market with the format it originated.
97.3 Radio Now/Now
At 9 a.m. on May 28, 2010, after playing "The Final Countdown" by Europe, the station abruptly flipped to CHR with the branding "97-3 Radio Now", launching with "Tik Tok" by Ke$ha. The move was made quickly to pre-empt an expected format change by WJZX. A day earlier, WJZX ended its smooth jazz format and began a stunt format known as "Tiger Radio." The station's new format was likely to be Rhythmic Top 40 under the new callsign WNQW, which prompted Clear Channel to act quickly and claim the "Now" name and brand before WJZX owner Saga Communications could claim it. Radio Now, appropriate for the rush to air to beat WJZX, went DJ-free with a "10,000 songs in a row" commercial-free format, but eventually returned the morning show, though the title changed to "Connie and Curtis" after "Fish" Calloway's departure a week after the format change (Calloway would later take the morning slot at WZEE's Rhythmic Top 40 rival in Madison, WJQM). On July 26, the station re-added DJ's, again with voicetracking from other Clear Channel hubs.
On June 10, 2010, WQBW's call letters were officially changed to WRNW. These calls had previously been used from 1960 until 1982 for WXPK in the New York City suburb of Briarcliff Manor, the station where Howard Stern first came into the broadcasting industry.
WRNW's format change gave longtime top 40 powerhouse WXSS their first in-market competition since WKTI's switch to WLWK. WRNW's Top 40 musical direction favors a pop/rock approach, as it plays less Rhythmic/Hip-Hop than WXSS and most other large market Top 40 (CHR) stations. This musical direction both differentiates the station from WXSS and protects WRNW's urban sister station, WKKV.
On August 31, 2012, Connie and Curtis was ended on both WZEE and WRNW, to be replaced with Clear Channel's internally syndicated Elvis Duran and the Morning Show on September 4. Ironically, that same week, WRNW picked up new competition from WZBK-FM, who, after WRNW beat them to the punch with the "Radio Now" format flip, finally made the switch to Rhythmic Top 40, this time as "Energy 106.9," (and new call letters WNRG) on September 7, 2012.
In late April 2015, the station re-branded as "97-3 Now" and given a logo resembling that of iHeartMedia's KISS-FM branded stations (a branding WXSS holds local rights to), though with no major changes to the format or schedule.
On April 25, 2006, Clear Channel announced that WQBW's HD2 subchannel would carry Radio Radio from their Format Lab, a format focusing on classic modern rock hits. It was later replaced by the Rock Nation feed from Format Lab, which features active rock. Later on from February 2011 until August 2012, the HD2 signal carried iHeartRadio's "Spin Cycle" automated format with dance/EDM tracks.
At the beginning of August 2012, the HD2 signal began to carry the audio of WISN; although their AM signal is also carried in HD Radio, it is severely limited after sunset. This returns what had begun as WISN-FM to carrying their AM mother station in some form for the first time in decades.
History of call letters
- "WISN-FM Starts" (PDF). Broadcasting. July 19, 1949. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
- Inc, Nielsen Business Media (1979-04-28). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc.
- Inc, Nielsen Business Media (1985-04-27). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc.
- "Smooth Jazz, Brew and Radio Now Recap", Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (May 28, 2010)
- Ross, Sean (June 10, 2010). "Punch Wars #5 – Milwaukee's New CHR Battle". Radio-Info.com.
- "Saga Gives Milwaukee An Energy Boost" from Radio Insight (September 7, 2012)
- "WISN-FM Starts" (PDF). Broadcasting. July 19, 1949. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
- 97-3 Radio Now website
- "Connie & Curtis" website
- Audio and background of "The Brew's" sign-on
- "New format is going to party like it's 1989" (JSonline.com)
- "WLTQ-FM changed on its own, honest" (JSonline.com)
- Query the FCC's FM station database for WRNW
- Radio-Locator information on WRNW
- Query Nielsen Audio's FM station database for WRNW