WNKR & WNKN are owned and operated by Grant Co. Broadcasters, Incorporated (GCB). GCB was formed in 1991 by Robert R. Wallace, a Northern Kentucky pharmacist and entrepreneur, specifically for the purpose of holding the license of WNKR. WNKR (standing for Northern Kentucky Radio) was built by Wallace and minority-interest partners on an unused FM allocation made possible by Docket 80-90. WNKR signed on in April of 1992. In late 2002, veteran Cincinnati Broadcaster Jeff Ziesmann became Wallace’s business partner. He turned the fortunes of the station around by instituting the Classic Country music format still heard today on the station. The format, locally programmed, features well-known local air personalities and area news. University of Kentucky sports broadcasts- a part of the station’s schedule since its inception- were retained. All of these elements continue today to be the foundation of the service provided by both stations.
Originally operating on 106.5FM, WNKR had signal issues north of Erlanger, Kentucky caused by co-channel interference from a station in Greenville, Ohio. In 2003, Clear Channel Communications applied to the FCC to move 106.7/WSRW-FM out of Hillsboro, Ohio. WNKR filed a concurrent application to move to 106.7 and to operate at higher power and increased antenna height from a new tower location, five miles closer to the heart of the Northern Kentucky area the station served. After several years of authorizations and court appeals, the FCC finalized the move of WSRW-FM in early 2008. Construction commenced immediately by GCB of a new, taller transmitting tower. WNKR moved to 106.7 in the spring of 2008 with its current signal.
In Middletown, Ohio, the Braden family had operated WPFB-FM since 1958. Originally founded by Paul F. Braden (hence the WPFB call letters) primarily as an outlet to distribute his Musiplex background music service on the FM sub-carrier of WPFB-FM, the Braden’s- first Paul and his wife Ruth and then their son Doug- operated WPFB-FM until 2011. Being built before there was great interest in FM broadcasting, WPFB-FM enjoyed a high power class (full class B), a tall antenna and the protection of its signal to the extent that it served both Cincinnati and Dayton Ohio effectively.
Wishing to retire, in 2011 Doug Braden offered the station for sale, along with WPFB-AM and WPAY-FM in Portsmouth Ohio. The stations were sold to Northern Kentucky University. NKU converted WPFB-FM to non-commercial operation and operated it in conjunction with its FM station at Highland Heights, Kentucky. That station- WNKU- operated with an AAA Adult Album Alternative format that had raving fans but a small audience. Operating on the theory that the small audience was due to the signal limitations of WNKU, the university used the Braden stations as repeaters of WNKU.
When WNKU’s audience did not grow as expected with the additional coverage, and with considerably higher expenses operating multiple stations, NKU decided, in 2016, to exit the radio business and listed all of their facilities for sale. Ultimately, the various stations were all sold to separate buyers, with GCB purchasing WNKN (formerly WPFB-FM). GCB’s ownership application was promptly approved by the FCC and we took over ownership and operation of the station on October 1, 2017, having converted it back to commercial operation as part of our application with the FCC.
We recognized that a similar “hole” in the market for Classic Country existed in the remainder of the Cincinnati metro as we had found for it in 2003 in Northern Kentucky. We decided to bring that format to the portions of Cincinnati that could not receive WNKR reliably, including the lucrative and fast-growing corridor areas up I-75 and I-71 toward Dayton. Licensed to Middletown, in Butler County, Ohio, WNKN was (and is) uniquely positioned to provide localized, quality service to this area. Within the first three years of operation, GCB had achieved the highest broadcast revenue, the highest audience ratings and, by far, the largest total Cume audience in the entire 60 year history of the station.
Robert R. Wallace, founder of GCB, passed away at the age of 80 on July 24, 2019. Upon his death, control of the stations passed, to Jeff Ziesmann’s MediaWest, Incorporated. The transfer of control was approved by the FCC in august of 2019. Wallace’s remaining shares were purchased from his estate by MediaWest in an arrangement finalized in November of 2020. This transition resulted in a seamless continuation of the same management the stations have had since October of 2002.
Today, both stations continue their outstanding record of service to the communities reached by their signals. They are the last remaining commercial FM facilities in the Cincinnati metro area under local, independent ownership. In the era of “consolidated” radio, we continue to serve our neighbors and clients with broadcast programming specifically designed to meet the needs of our service area and that is specifically tailored to its unique tastes.