|Broadcast area||Milwaukee metropolitan area|
|Frequency||94.5 MHz (HD Radio)|
HD2: News/Talk (WTMJ simulcast)
|Owner||Good Karma Brands |
(Good Karma Brands Milwaukee LLC)
First air date
|June 1, 1959|
Former call signs
Call sign meaning
|named after KaTe, the wife of a onetime sales manager; also meant to highlight the original I-94 branding|
|HAAT||291 meters (955 ft)|
WKTI (94.5 FM) - branded 94.5 ESPN Milwaukee - is a commercial sports radio station licensed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, serving the Milwaukee metropolitan area. Owned by Good Karma Brands, WKTI is one of two Milwaukee affiliates for ESPN Radio. Together, WKTI and sister station WAUK comprise a local sports radio duopoly known as ESPN Milwaukee; both are jointly identified as ESPN Wisconsin alongside Madison-based sister station WTLX, which simulcasts much of WKTI's local programming. WKTI also serves as the flagship station for the Marquette Golden Eagles; and the radio home of Mark Chmura, Mark Tauscher, Tony Smith and Steve True. The WKTI studios and transmitter are located off of Capitol Drive (Wisconsin Highway 190) in Milwaukee, an Art Deco facility known as "Radio City", in tribute to the New York complex of the same name. In addition to a standard analog transmission, WKTI broadcasts over two HD Radio channels, and is available online.
The owner of the Milwaukee Journal, in addition to publishing a daily newspaper, was a pioneer of broadcasting. It acquired WTMJ in 1927, after it had been on the air since 1922, among the earliest AM radio stations in Wisconsin. In early 1940, an experimental station, W9XAO started broadcasting in the Apex radio band, which is roughly between 25 and 44 MHz. In 1942, the station was called W55M. It broadcast in the old FM band (42 to 50 MHz) from a 50 kW transmitter located in Richfield, Wisconsin, and primarily simulcast WTMJ's programming. For a short time in the mid 1940s, the station was known as WMFM.
After World War II, the station was renamed WTMJ-FM and it moved to today's 88-108 MHz FM band, operating at 102.1 FM. In the 1950s, WTMJ-FM began running classical music for some hours of the day; one of the announcers was WTMJ's Jonathan Green, who utilized a more sophisticated voice and name as J. Bradley Green for his work with the FM side. The company began to focus on its new television station, WTMJ-TV, which signed on in 1947, and this first incarnation of WTMJ-FM went dark.
In 1974, the station changed to a separately programmed automated Top 40 format, using the branding "I-94" (named after Interstate 94, the main east-west interstate highway that runs through Milwaukee). To support the new brand, the owner wanted to change the station's call sign but could not decide on the two middle letters of a new name. The station manager, Jack Lee, proposed "WWWI", but the airstaff was not comfortable about using the tongue-twisting call letters on-air. A sales manager suggested two letters from "Katie", his wife's name; the call sign was thus changed to WKTI. I-94 was an automated station promoted as "Nonstop Stereo Rock."
In 1981, live disc jockeys were employed. The next year, Bob Reitman began hosting WKTI's morning show. The program director, Dallas Cole, added Gene Mueller to the morning show in mid-1982. Lips LaBelle later became the afternoon DJ and promotions director. In late 1982, Danny Clayton became the night DJ and music director. These people worked as a team at WKTI for the next fifteen years. The station experienced steady ratings and growth.
Between 1989 and 1991, WKTI gradually evolved to Hot AC, as the station decided to target a more adult audience. By around 1999, WXSS-FM began to compete for WKTI's predominantly female audience with music from younger artists. WKTI had a long-standing popular morning show, and the station did not make changes in response to the competition. However, slow adjustments were made to WKTI's playlist, changing to an Adult Top 40 format to attract new and younger listeners. The changes included contests and a Friday playlist called Flashback Friday, which featured music from the 1980s.
In September 2006, apart from the legal station identification, WKTI DJs no longer voiced the "W" in its call sign. The branding changed to 94-5 'KTI, Milwaukee's Hit Music Channel. In late 2006, Bob Reitman semi-retired, moving on to a weekly program on local public radio station WUWM. Gene Mueller continued the morning show with Amy Taylor and Gino Salamone as "Gene, Amy and Gino," until Taylor resigned in April 2007. On May 15, 2007, WKTI and its sister station WTMJ moved Gene Mueller to WTMJ's "Wisconsin Morning News." A new show, Mathew Blades in the Morning, with Blades, Erin Austin, and AJ, was launched on WKTI. The station's evening lineup was also changing. Cindy Huber hosted the evening program for two years, but then left the station in a reshuffle and moved to WLDB. The station then began carrying John Tesh's Intelligence for Your Life show.
In September 2008, WKTI broadcast play-by-play coverage for teams normally on WTMJ, while the AM station was carrying a different sport. For example, the Milwaukee Brewers Sunday broadcasts moved to WKTI to allow Green Bay Packers radio play-by-play reports to air on WTMJ. On September 28, 2008, for the first time in Milwaukee FM radio history, WKTI aired a Green Bay Packers game (versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). On July 22, 2010, WLWK aired a Brewers game to allow WTMJ's coverage of a sudden flash flood emergency.
At 12:12 p.m. on November 6, 2008, after playing "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover" by Sophie B. Hawkins and "Hello, Goodbye" by The Beatles, Journal Broadcast Group general manager Steve Wexler went on the air on WKTI to introduce listeners to a complete makeover for 94.5 FM. The station launched a new adult hits format, branded as "The New 94.5 Lake FM" (in reference to Milwaukee's location on the western shoreline of Lake Michigan). Chicago's "Beginnings" was the first song to be broadcast. With the exception of Matthew Blades, the station's entire air staff was released with the change.
On November 13, 2008, WKTI officially changed call letters to WLWK-FM. Journal warehoused the WKTI call sign at its adult standards station in Powell, Tennessee (serving the Knoxville market) until Journal's sale of the station to local interests in December 2012. The WKTI call sign then moved to the Sturgeon Bay/Door County channel 22 translator for WGBA-TV in Green Bay.
Journal Communications and the E. W. Scripps Company announced on July 30, 2014 that the two companies would merge to create a new broadcast company under the E.W. Scripps Company name. The two companies' broadcast properties would be combined, including WLWK-FM, WTMJ, and WTMJ-TV. The deal would separate WLWK from the Journal-Sentinel for the first time in its history, as the two companies' newspapers were to be spun off into a separate company under the Journal Media Group name. The transaction was completed on April 1, 2015.
On May 29, 2015, at 9 a.m., after playing "Pinball Wizard" by The Who and going into a commercial break, WLWK began playing The Beatles' album "Abbey Road". An announcement followed the end of Side 1 from Scripps Milwaukee Radio's Vice President and General Manager Tom Langmyer thanking listeners of The Lake and notifying them about a forthcoming format change. Then Side 2 was played, ending the "Lake" format with the final song on the album, "The End." At 10 a.m., WLWK flipped to Country music, resurrecting the WKTI-FM call sign as "94.5 KTI Country", while the Sturgeon Bay translator for WGBA changed calls from WKTI-CD to WLWK-CD, effectively switching the calls. The Federal Communications Commission officially made the changes on June 8, 2015. (The "FM" suffix was dropped a week later as the call letters became simply "WKTI.") The first song on the relaunched "KTI" was "Bartender" by Lady Antebellum.
The station became the second FM Country outlet in Milwaukee with a full-power signal, taking on iHeartMedia's heritage country outlet WMIL-FM. It was WMIL's first head-to-head battle since 1987, when it pushed then-rival WBCS out of the format. In November 2017, after only two-and-a-half years, WKTI surpassed WMIL to become the radio market's top-rated country station with listeners 6+ according to the Nielsen Ratings. In December 2017, WKTI also beat WMIL-FM with listeners ages 25-54, and became the #2 station with listeners 18-34 among all radio stations in Milwaukee. Since then, WKTI often led in the country ratings, with WMIL pulling ahead at other times; but the victory was short-lived, as WKTI would be overpowered by WMIL the following year. In WKTI's last ratings book released before the end of the format, it ranked 13th in the Milwaukee market with a 3.5 share, trailing WMIL's 5.6 share.
On July 27, 2018, Scripps announced the sale of WKTI and WTMJ to Good Karma Brands as part of its exit from radio broadcasting, becoming part of a cluster with WAUK. Good Karma then announced that, upon closure of the sale on November 1, WKTI would switch to a sports radio format, featuring programming from ESPN Radio; Good Karma also moved the operations of WAUK to Radio City, and continue to lease the existing WTMJ and WKTI studios and offices in the building from Scripps.
In anticipation of the flip, Racine-based WVTY flipped to country on October 30, 2018, imitating WKTI's previous logo and branding as 92.1 VTY Country; WVTY's owner Magnum Communications also purchased advertising time on WKTI through November 2 to promote WVTY and its other co-owned country station in the area, WMBZ in West Bend, under a more receptive arrangement with Good Karma. WVTY had flipped from country to an adult hits format in May 2015 in response to 94.5's format change to country, and used WLWK's former Lake branding until an objection from WKTI's Scripps management at the time led to a rebranding as The Shore.
Local weekday programming on WKTI includes: Gabe and Chewy hosted by Gabe Neitzel and former NFL player Mark Chmura in morning drive;Wilde and Tausch hosted by Jason Wilde and former NFL player Mark Tauscher in late mornings; Power Lunch with Greg Matzek and TBD hosted by Tony Smith & Bryan Dee, both in middays; Homer and Gabe hosted by Steve True and Gabe Neitzel in afternoon drive; and Doug Russell in early evenings.
Syndicated weekday programs include Golic and Wingo in morning drive, and various other ESPN Radio programs throughout the evening and overnight hours. WKTI also airs ESPN Radio's coverage of MLB, the NBA, the NFL, and NCAA football, and is the flagship station for the Marquette University Golden Eagles college football and basketball teams.