Tom Joerres is the former General Manager of WKLH/Milwaukee.
I remember researching the Milwaukee market in the Fall of 1985 and we found a significant appetite for 60’s and 70’s. We opted for the more subdued Classic Hits route figuring the appeal would have more balance and thus make us more friendly with the media buyers. I believe our Birch rating in 1985 was .7… We used to kid around that we were that close to our creator smashing a fist through the studio window and shutting us down. We debuted WKLH Classic Hits 96 on January 26th 1986. I remember the date well as we were at a Super Bowl party with our staff watching that famous Bears team pummel the Patriots. It was at that party we announced the new Classic Hits format and little did we know we were soon going to be doing some pummeling of our own.
Back then, there were only two Arbitron books a year and when the Spring 86’ Book came out we were NUMBER ONE Adults 18-34,18-49, 25-54. A clean sweep in all three major demos. Of course, the naysayers were quick to challenge the format’s longevity. And as you read this today WKLH and its Classic Rock format is NUMBER ONE Adults 25-54… 20 years later!
I remember in 1986 sitting with Fred Jacobs visiting our sister stations in South Central Illinois and talking about other Classic formats debuting. One in particular was WZLX in Boston and that they were going to let the music do the talking. Well, we had a little history with a very good morning show, Dave & Carole, and we decided that the Milwaukee Classic version would have personality in mornings. Good choice. 20 years later Dave & Carole continue to be an Adult market leader.
I also remember sending a note (remember when we would send mail… Before email!) to my partner and EVP of Programming for Saga Steve Goldstein and in the note I said with the library albeit large, but finite, the way this thing was going to stay fresh was with three things… Production, Production, Production. Playing Classic Hits of yesterday and today was also an assist to our longevity. When the Stones came out with “Harlem Shuffle” or the Moody Blues with “Wildest Dream,” or new McCartney, Clapton, or Springsteen product came out, it allowed us to help keep those boomers in touch with the current year as well.
Some of the first positioning sales pieces stated: “The Beatles sold out Shea Stadium in 30 minutes, the Doobies sold out Oakland Coliseum in 50 minutes, The Who sold out Soldier Field in 45 minutes, The Stones sold out County Stadium in 40 minutes… We’ve got the Beatles, The Stones, the Who, The Doobies and other Classic groups… Fortunately, we haven’t sold out… YET.”
Or, I remember another sales piece that had pictures of the following: Classic Jeans (Levi’s) circa 1859, Classic Cola (Coke) circa 1886, Classic Watch (Cartier) circa 1904, Classic car (BMW) circa 1942… And then the KLH logo with the Number one ranking 18-34, 18-49, 25-54 with the copy line “You Don’t Always Have to be Around Long to be a Classic.”