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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Milwaukee radio: a retrospective


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WMYX began as WEMP-FM in the 1960s, but simply re-broadcast WEMP-AM until 1971, when it flipped to WNUW Stereo FM. It was a soft Top 40, a rock station called "X-Rock 99," a beautiful music station, and most famously, starting on Halloween 1978, it went Disco 99 and played nonstop disco music. Jack Lee was the program director at the time and recalled how their Disco 99 booth at Summerfest would get mauled and trashed by the rising tide of anti-disco crowds. The station lasted as disco for less than 10 months; it became just WNUW again before finally changing to "The Mix" with the WMYX call letters in 1981. It was the first station in the country to use the "Mix" handle; now there's one in every city. Today, the Mix (as well as Kiss FM) is programmed by Brian Kelly, who used to handle the music at WZUU when it was Z-95.

WOKY is legendary in Milwaukee. It began in 1950 and served as the city's premier Top 40 station during most of the 1960s and early 1970s, when the "Mighty 92" showcased such personalities as Bob Barry, Michael Lee Scott, Jim Brown, Bob Collins and many others. You can hear some great clips of the station at its most hyper, with Michael Lee Scott broadcasting at night, at the end of this article.

A great assortment of WOKY and Bob Barry paraphernalia can be seen in a booth at the "Solid Gold" McDonald's on S. 76th St. just north of Edgerton. This includes promotional materials and pictures from when The Beatles played the Arena in 1964 and other events throughout WOKY's Top 40 heyday.

WLUM, despite numerous format changes, has maintained its call letters since 1982. It flipped to WLUM (which stands for "We Love U Milwaukee") when it was purchased by former Packers great Willie Davis. Davis is still part of the station ownership, and he has seen it change from "Love Stereo" (soft R&B) in the early '80s, to WLUM The Hot FM (R&B Hits) a few years later, Hot 102 (Dance Top 40) in '88, New Rock 102 One (Alternative Rock) in '94, to Rock 102 One (Rock) in 1997. Today it wrestles with Lazer 103 for the young male rock audience.

WLZR blew onto the scene in 1986. Lazer 103 entered the rock arena and battled heavily with WQFM for years, before QFM went light jazz in 1996. The morning show of Bob & Brian has dominated Milwaukee radio pretty much from the start, and today they share their building on McKinley Ave. with sister stations WKLH, WJMR, WFMR and WJYI. Lazer 103 evolved out of former country station WBCS, which in turn emerged from a WFWO, "For Women Only," which was a female-targeted soft rock station in the middle 1970s. Prior to that, they were WRIT-FM, simulcasting WRIT-AM, which at the time was still Top 40.

WMIL at 106.1 FM emerged in 1983 as the sister station of WOKY. It's been a leading country station since then. The owners snagged the call letters realizing they could combine the two stations to create MIL-WOKY...cute, huh? Prior to being WMIL, the station was a low-power country station in Waukesha called WAUK-FM...which simulcast WAUK-AM.

WFMR, now at 106.9 FM, has been with us since 1956. It began at 96.5 FM, moved to 98.3 FM, where it resided for years, and flipped to 106.9 earlier this year. It's been Milwaukee's major -- and often sole -- source of classical music during this time. WFMR is also a finalist for the 2001 Marconi Award for Classical Station of the Year. It once operated out of the same house in Menomonee Falls that WZMF used, but today its studios are on McKinley Avenue with sister stations WKLH, WLZR, WJMR and WJYI.

WISN, another long-running AM station in town, consists now primarily of talk radio, although some of the best music on Milwaukee radio can be heard on Mark Belling's show during the bumper music. WISN (whose call letters are obviously meant to be short for "Wisconsin") played music throughout the 1970s and most of the '80s. Throughout much of the '70s, they carried Badger football along with WTMJ; they also snagged the Brewers for two years but WTMJ grabbed them back.

WMCS at AM 1290 has been around for a long time. The terrific R&B-formatted sister station of Willie Davis-owned WLUM-FM was called WMVP for years ("MVP" recalling Davis' playing days on Lombardi's Packers) before a Chicago station bought the call letters in the mid-'90s. Before it was WMVP, the station was called Solid Gold Wheels (WLZZ). Prior to that they were WZUU-AM. They switched to the call letters WMCS to stand for Milwaukee's Community Station, and the station is very active in the community.

WMSE at 91.7 FM begin in 1981 as MSOE's college station and remains eclectic and interesting to this day. May it never change!

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Talkbacks

rreitman | Sept. 18, 2009 at 9:17 p.m. (report)

Anyone have OC White airchecks? rreitman@wi.rr.com

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Pangborn21 | June 18, 2008 at 1:50 a.m. (report)

Oh Roger you old cuss, no you're not. HA HA HA. How have you been?

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Pangborn21 | June 18, 2008 at 1:46 a.m. (report)

WAWA - home to Dr. Bop - and remember O.C. White? Two great voicesthat would be doing urban radio and hip hop if they were still with us. Two great men.

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Brian Stevens | May 10, 2007 at 6:08 p.m. (report)

Great job on the history. However, another set of calls you forgot were WAMG which was when the station was "Magic 103.7." WEZW flipped to Magic in March of 1995, but it wasn't until sometime that summer whe the new call letters took effect. Later, they stayed through their "Rythum and Romance" days. The calls didn't change until Kiss FM came on board in the summer of 1998. Also, don't forget that the WEZW calls supported both a Beautiful Music Format, and later, a Soft AC Format. I think that the early "Magic" days, when Dan and Jane temporarily moved form WMYX over there was an extention of that format. When Dan and Jane went back to WMYX, Glen Hanson and Carrie Whendt did mornings until Rhtyum and Romance when Greg Valentine took over the morning show. I hope that helps.

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doby | Jan. 3, 2007 at 11:29 a.m. (report)

How is it possible to review the histoy of milwaukee radio without mentioning station WAWA, or for that matter Dr. Bop, the icon of radio DJ's of his time? ? ? His airchecks are priceless and hopefully not lost forever.

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