WNIR/TV 29-35 Owner Passes Away

Before Richard Klaus got ahold of it, 100.1 FM was a small, Portage County radio station… paired with sister AM 1520, and basically serving Kent and Ravenna and other Portage County towns.

Klaus, president and owner of the station now known as WNIR “The Talk of Akron”, along with WJMP/1520 and low-power TV combo WAOH-LP 29/W35AX, passed away over the weekend at the age of 86.

Local radio listeners are well aware of his accomplishments. Your Primary Editorial Voice’s addiction to talk radio started after listening to one of the first shows of Howie Chizek, who held forth on a new talk show on the stations then known as “WKNT AM and FM, Kent, Ohio”. At the time…and we’re talking about 1974 here…100.1 FM and 1520 AM simulcast a format of adult contemporary music, with middays held by Chizek’s talk show. The date was not long after Klaus bought the stations in 1972, as we recall.

Then…there was a transformation, all under the direction of Richard Klaus.

100.1 FM embraced the talk radio it started by adding the former Youngstown market host. It changed call letters to WNIR, the calls standing for an early station slogan, “Winner 100”. Local talk filled the schedule from Stan Piatt’s morning show, through Chizek’s 5 hour midday show, and eventually into afternoon drive with Joe Finan – who, oddly enough, will start competing with his old radio home next month. Finan’s show wasn’t on the schedule when WKNT became WNIR originally…long time listeners will remember the “GameRadio” afternoon drive show, which occupied the slot at the start of the talk format.

The other thing Klaus did of significance was to secure a power boost for the 100.1 FM frequency. With the signal opened up to a full “Class A” authorization at 4200 watts, the signal suddenly covered both Akron and Canton, and made the little Portage County FM into an Akron market powerhouse. And the “Winner 100” slogan gave way to the slogan still used today, “The Talk Of Akron”. The station became a mainstay at or near the top of the Akron ratings book. We haven’t checked, but we’re pretty sure it hasn’t left the top 5 12-plus for years.

Klaus’ flagship radio operation built its empire on a mainly local schedule of talk radio programs. The station does not air any syndicated programming until after 11 PM on weekdays and 7 PM on Saturdays, even today.

And Klaus also established a television beachhead, putting on the low-power TV network of Akron-based Channel 29 and Cleveland-based Channel 35. One key decision on the TV side was securing full-time cable carriage on the Time Warner Northeast Ohio system.

While his son William (jokingly referred to by on-air staffers as “Kaiser Bill”) has been running the day to day operation in recent years, those key pieces were the work of his father…who transformed the Akron radio market for good.

As far as talk radio goes, WNIR had virtually no competition in the Akron market until recently, when Clear Channel launched WHLO/640…and later, sister liberal talk WARF/1350. The presence and dominance of WNIR virtually assured that WAKR/1590, for example, would not last as a news/talk competitor…despite its “News Authority” reputation. WAKR’s brief stab at a talk format was killed by a combination of WNIR’s dominant place in the market, and Cleveland’s blowtorch WTAM/1100. Despite the news presence, WAKR returned to a satellite-fed standards format outside of morning drive.

The Beacon Journal article on Klaus’ passing mentions other work that is less familiar to local listeners…including his writing post-war novelty songs, a “plane-to-plane” interview with astronaut John Glenn, and his technical innovations in Cleveland sports broadcasting. The Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductee also worked with stations such as the old WJW-FM/104.1 and WERE/1300 in Cleveland, and Canton’s WHBC.

Our condolences to the Klaus family and to the family at WNIR/WJMP/TV 29-35.

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