|Broadcast area||Greater Cleveland|
|Branding||ESPN 850 WKNR|
|First air date||November 13, 1926|
|Power||50,000 watts (daytime)|
4,700 watts (nighttime)
|Former callsigns||WLBV (1926–29)|
|Former frequencies||1300 kHz (1927)|
1450 kHz (1927–28)
1210 kHz (1928–41)
1240 kHz (1941–44)
|Affiliations||Cleveland Browns Radio Network|
Ohio State IMG Sports Network
|Owner||Good Karma Brands |
(Good Karma Broadcasting, LLC)
WKNR (850 AM) – branded ESPN 850 WKNR – is a commercial sports radio station licensed to Cleveland, Ohio, serving Greater Cleveland. Owned by Good Karma Brands, WKNR is one of two Cleveland affiliates for ESPN Radio; together, WKNR and sister station WWGK comprise a local sports radio duopoly known as ESPN Cleveland. WKNR itself also serves as: a co-flagship station for the Cleveland Browns Radio Network; the Cleveland affiliate for the Ohio State IMG Sports Network; and the radio home of Je'Rod Cherry and Tony Grossi. The WKNR studios are located in the Galleria at Erieview in Downtown Cleveland, while the station transmitter resides in the Cleveland suburb of North Royalton. In addition to a standard analog transmission, WKNR is available online.
Historically, the station is perhaps best known by its former WJW call letters. During the early 1950s, Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed began to popularize the term "rock and roll" as a name for the music genre both through his late night WJW radio show, and by what is often considered the first major rock and roll concert: the WJW-sponsored Moondog Coronation Ball.
WKNR began broadcasting as WLBV in Mansfield, Ohio on November 13, 1926 under the ownership of John F. Weimer. In 1928 the call letters were changed to WJW, reflecting the owner's initials. In 1933 the station was sold to Mansfield Broadcasting Association, and it was broadcasting at 1210 kHz with 100 watts.
WJW moved to Akron in 1932. By 1936, the station was owned by WJW, Inc., with studios located at 41 South High Street. On March 29, 1941, WJW, like most stations around the country changed its frequency with the implementation of the North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement. As of 1942, the station was broadcasting with 250 watts at 1240 kHz.
On November 13, 1943, William M. O'Neill purchased the station and moved it to Cleveland, with facilities in the Guardian Building (now the National City-East 6th Building at 619 Euclid). Marvin Cade signed on the station that Saturday and was the evening news announcer.  WJW became Cleveland's fifth radio station after WHK, WTAM, WGAR (AM) and WCLE. The frequency was moved to 850 kHz, and power was increased to 5,000 watts. The station became an affiliate of the Blue Network, soon to be ABC; as a result, WJW also brought the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, a staple of the Blue Network/ABC's lineup, to Cleveland. The station also featured news commentary by Dorothy Fuldheim, and for a short period in the early 1950s was home to a disc jockey called Soupy Hines, later known as Soupy Sales.
WJW opened an FM outlet WJW-FM at 104.1 MHz in 1948. The new FM station went on the air just as the Cleveland Indians began their world championship season. WJW was the flagship of a six-station Ohio network that carried the games in 1947 and 1948. However, the full games were often carried on WJW-FM, since the AM outlet did not have available air time due to its ABC network commitments. As a result, Cleveland became an FM hot bed, and more FM radio sets sold in Cleveland than in any other market in the country in 1948.
O'Neil sold WJW to Storer Broadcasting on November 17, 1954. Storer also purchased television station WXEL and changed the call letters to WJW-TV. Within two years, radio and television operations were consolidated at new studios at 1630 Euclid Avenue, near Playhouse Square, in a remodeled Georgian building that formerly housed the Esquire Theater. WJW dropped its ABC Radio Network affiliation in 1957, and became an independent station, although the station later had a brief affiliation with NBC before becoming independent again. By 1959, WJW broadcast with 10,000 watts daytime and 5,000 watts at night, which would last for the next forty years.
A young disc jockey named Alan Freed joined WJW in 1951 from WAKR in Akron, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, Alan began making broadcasting history with his shows in which he was known as the "Moondog." Freed played rhythm-and-blues music by black artists for a largely white teen-age audience. He is purported to have given the music the name by which it is known today – rock and roll.
In addition to his radio program, Freed also organized local concerts by early rock artists, called the Moondog Coronation Ball, which many consider to be the first rock concert in American history. The concert on March 21, 1952 at the Cleveland Arena turned into a riot when far too many listeners filled the hall, causing Freed to apologize on the air the next day.
In January 1958, Pete "Mad Daddy" Myers joined the station from WHKK 640 AM in Akron. His "Mad Daddy" persona later was adapted by Ernie Anderson for his "Ghoulardi" character on sister station WJW-TV in 1963. Myers' show was heard nightly from 8 pm to 12:30 am. Myers had a brief but meteoric career at WJW, lasting only until May 13, 1958, when he resigned to go to Metromedia's WHK which was establishing itself as the new Top 40 powerhouse in Cleveland.
WJW enforced a 90-day noncompete clause, and "Mad Daddy" could not be heard on WHK until August 10. To keep his name in front of the public while he was off the air, Myers concocted a publicity stunt on June 14, 1958, parachuting from a Piper Cub 2200 feet over Lake Erie, and composing a poem on his way down.
He was fished out the waters shortly thereafter, and handed out copies of the 45 record "Zorro" to hundreds of fans who greeted him when he got to shore. Some initial reports of the stunt incorrectly stated that Myers did not survive the jump, but they were quickly revised.
"Mad Daddy" reached the peak of his popularity at WHK, hosting record hops and live after-midnight shows dressed in a Dracula costume. In July 1959 he moved to WHK's sister station in New York, WNEW 1130 AM, where "Mad Daddy" was not well received. He played it straight as Pete Myers there until 1963, when he moved to WINS and resumed the "Mad Daddy Show." This show was syndicated to other stations until WINS changed format to all-news in 1965.
As again just Pete Myers, he returned to WNEW once more. Myers lived until October 4, 1968, when he took his own life in New York City, shortly after he had been informed that his show was to be moved from afternoons to evenings at WNEW.
After losing both Freed and Myers in successive fashion, WJW turned to a young Casey Kasem, then known on-air as "Casey at the Mike", for the evening shift. With both WHK and KYW on the rise, however, WJW would abandon its rock and roll format and settled into a format featuring news, talk and middle-of-the-road music during the 1960s, with personalities such as Ed Fisher in the morning hours. In 1968, Storer changed WJW-FM's call letters to become WCJW, then spun off that station in 1971 as WQAL, which it continues to operate as to this day.
In the fall of 1976, Storer sold WJW radio – then known on-air as – to Lake Erie Broadcasting, which was headed primarily by Cleveland Browns owners Art Modell and Al Lerner, with WEWS TV sportscaster Gib Shanley as minority owner. Storer retained WJW-TV whose calls were changed to WJKW the following April 22. The new owner continued the format highlighting talk shows and adult popular music. The adult standards music format continued under General Manager Richard Bremkamp and Program Director Dick Conrad featuring several Cleveland broadcasters, including Conrad, Carl Reese, and David Mark.
WJW was sold to Booth American Broadcasting in 1985, and its news/talk format moved over to WWWE, which Lake Erie simultaneously acquired from Gannett in the process. As a condition of the prior sale from Storer, the WJW calls were exchanged in favor of WRMR on June 11, 1985. Marvin Cade was invited to sign off WJW for the final time before the callsign change, thus giving him the distinction of being both the first - and last - voice heard on WJW during its' time in Cleveland.
With the abandonment of the historic three-letter call sign by the AM outlet, the television station was able to change its call letters from WJKW back to WJW-TV (which it did on September 16 of the same year).
Under the ownership of Booth Broadcasting, the new music format for WRMR was initially middle of the road, aimed at the 40- to 49-year-old age group; it soon flopped. In 1988, Booth Broadcasting convinced programmer Jim Davis – formerly of WWWE and WBBG – to return to the Cleveland airwaves with his version of the "Music of Your Life". The Davis mixture of 1940s, 50s and 60s ballads, standards, big band tunes and Broadway and Movie Musicals, including newer artists like Harry Connick, Jr. and Diana Krall, proved successful. Davis himself served as both program director and an on-air host. The station changed owners – a transfer from Booth Broadcasting to Embrescia Broadcasting – while becoming a top-performing AM station in the Cleveland market. During this period Davis, also serving as the Director of Operations for the nationally syndicated Al Ham "Music of Your Life" format (1991–96), brought such legendary personalities as Bill Randle, Carl Reese, Ted Hallaman and Ronnie Barrett into the on-air talent stable. Davis left the station in the spring of 1996.
On May 15, 1999, WRMR upgraded its daytime signal to 50,000 watts with a new transmitter pattern built at the old WJW/WRMR site in North Royalton. The station's daytime signal remains present in much of northern Ohio, though the station must protect the signal of WKGE 850-AM in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, impairing the signal to the south and as close in as Cuyahoga Falls and Akron.
On August 12, 1998, Chancellor Media Corporation of Texas announced the purchase of WRMR and WDOK from Independent Group Ltd., along with five other Cleveland radio stations – WZJM, WZAK, WQAL, – all for $275 million. This was, at the time, the largest deal in Cleveland radio history. On July 13, 1999, Chancellor Media merged with owner Capstar Broadcasting to form AMFM, Inc.; the new company was, for a time, the nation's largest owner of radio stations with 465. On July 20, 2000, as part of a required divestiture following AMFM, Inc.'s merger with Clear Channel Communications, WRMR and were sold to Salem Communications; and WDOK was sold to Infinity Broadcasting Corporation (now CBS Radio).
Under Salem ownership, Jim Davis returned to WRMR to head programming, as well as an on-air shift. WRMR started to segue into playing more contemporary ballads, billed as "easy-listening oldies." WRMR also started to air long blocks of brokered talk shows in the evenings and weekends, most of which were carried over from brokered talk station .
On July 3, 2001, WRMR was one of seven Northeast Ohio radio stations involved in a complex exchange between three radio companies. Although generally reported as a "frequency swap", in reality these seven radio stations mostly traded callsigns along with their respective formats and staffs – all to facilitate the transfers of ownership of four of the seven stations. As part of this complex exchange, Salem Communications changed the WRMR callsign to WKNR; changed the station's format to sports radio; rebranded the station SportsTalk 850 AM; and reassigned on- and off-air staff. In effect, this new WKNR (850 AM) licensed to Cleveland became the successor to the previous WKNR (1220 AM) licensed to Cleveland.
Much of the WRMR brokered talk programming remained for the next several months. Soon, however, the local new WKNR on-air hosts included the midday team of Greg Brinda and Kendall Lewis; Kenny Roda; Bruce Drennan; the late John Antus; Bob Karlovec; and Ken Silverstein. The station's program director at the time was Steve Legurski, who had held the same post at from 1999 to 2001.
A series of budget cutbacks by Salem in January 2004 led to the dismissal of Brinda, Lewis, Silverstein, Legurski and several other staffers, with Micheal Luczak taking over as program director. Bruce Drennan was reassigned to the midday slot, while ESPN Radio's flagship program Mike and Mike in the Morning took Drennan's place. Greg Brinda was then brought back to the station one week after his dismissal to do fill-in work and host several specialty shows, but wound up taking Drennan's slot following his sudden departure in October 2004.
A number of divestures and format changes with other Salem-owned sports talk stations in the past few years (such as WBOB in Cincinnati and KHHO in Tacoma, which was LMA'ed to Clear Channel) left WKNR the only remaining sports station in Salem Communications' portfolio.
In July 2006, ESPN Radio cancelled its affiliation with WKNR with a 90-day notice effective that October 8, following Beaver Dam, Wisconsin-based Good Karma Broadcasting's purchase of WABQ and new affiliation deal. With that change, WKNR then became the Cleveland affiliate for Fox Sports Radio that October, while WABQ relaunched as "ESPN Radio 1540" WWGK. Several weeks later, Good Karma would end up purchasing WKNR for $7 million weeks later on December 4, 2006, which now formed a two-station duopoly. A local marketing agreement immediately began for WKNR, with the deal officially being closed in January 2007.
On February 23, 2007, it was made official that WKNR would regain its former ESPN Radio affiliation and be rebranded as ESPN 850 WKNR. As a result, Fox Sports Radio then switched over to WWGK, which is now known as ESPN 1540 KNR2 (a play on ESPN2). Today, WKNR and WWGK are often promoted on-air jointly as ESPN Cleveland.
Since then, the station made a series of schedule overhauls, adding now former longtime WJW-TV sports director (and former WHK show host) and Tony Rizzo in the late morning slot, former WMMS/WMJI sports director Mark "Munch" Bishop in afternoon drive, and former Cavaliers TV play-by-play voice Michael Reghi to host their post-game call in show. On July 6, 2010, Former Buckeye and Brown LeCharles Bentley and former Super Bowl winner Je'Rod Cherry were added as co-hosts of the evening show.
On July 29, 2011, WKNR announced a partnership with the Browns to air the team produced Cleveland Browns Daily. Two years later, AM 850 became the AM flagship station for the team.
On March 12, 2012, WKNR hired former longtime Plain Dealer Browns beat writer Tony Grossi to be their Browns beat reporter. He appears on all local programming as an analyst, writes for the station's website, and covers all the team's games (home and away).
On October 10, 2014, WKNR announced that they had signed former Plain Dealer and Akron Beacon Journal Cavaliers beat reporter, and current ESPN NBA insider Brian Windhorst to be their Cavs beat reporter and analyst.
The studios for WKNR and WWGK were officially moved from WKNR's former transmitter site in Broadview Heights, Ohio on October 29, 2007 under a $500,000 combined facility at The Galleria at Erieview, effectively ending 30 years of continuous use by WKNR and by WGAR (AM).
Local weekday programming on WKNR includes The Really Big Show hosted by Tony Rizzo, Aaron Goldhammer, Chris Oldach, and Michael Rizzo late mornings, The Next Level with former NFL player Je'Rod Cherry, Emmett Golden, and Matt Fontana in afternoon drive, and Fontana hosts the hour-long ESPN Cleveland Tonight recap show with Michael Bohm evenings.
Syndicated weekday programs include Golic and Wingo in morning drive, and various other ESPN Radio programs throughout the evening and overnight hours.Cleveland Browns Daily with Nathan Zegura and Beau Bishop from the Browns Radio Network airs middays.
Local seasonal programming includes Buckeye Game Day with Chris Oldach and Michael Bohm airing after OSU Radio Network football coverage for early games and before network coverage for late afternoon/night games, and during Browns games, Opening Drive with Matt Fontana and Michael Rizzo airs prior to network pregame coverage, and ESPN Cleveland Prime Time with Emmett Golden and Je'Rod Cherry airs following the game.
As the home of the Browns and the Buckeyes, WKNR also carries programming from the respective teams' radio networks, such as Buckeyes Roundtable Monday nights during football season, and the football and men's basketball coaches' shows from the OSU Radio Network. And from the Browns Radio Network, WKNR is the exclusive flagship home of the network pregame show, the year-round Cleveland Browns Daily, and a Saturday morning team produced high school football show. Along with WKRK-FM, ESPN 850 also airs a weekly preview show on Wednesday nights and a Thursday night coaches' show.
WKNR airs a range of play-by-play programming. It shares flagship duties for the Cleveland Browns with WKRK-FM and WNCX. ESPN 850 is also the Cleveland affiliate for Ohio State football and men's basketball; and ESPN Radio coverage of MLB, the NBA, the NFL, and NCAA football.
In addition, WKNR airs coverage of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) men's and women's basketball tournaments and the High School Hysteria high school football game of the week Friday nights during the season.
It turns out that the station Craig Karmazin already owns in the market is WWGK 'ESPN 1540', so he will be creating a Sports/Talk duop with his acquisition of WKNR-AM...