WIXY was much more than just a radio station...it was a major and influential force in Cleveland, and was always involved with the community through its constant promotions. This page is devoted to the events, contests, stunts, and promotions that kept WIXY in the forefront of Cleveland!
Here is an autographed picture of 5 of the DJs who returned to Cleveland for this historic reunion!
(Our thanks to Cleveland Radio Historian Jim Davison for providing this pic!)
To date, this was the last WIXY reunion in Cleveland, and it was held in conjunction with the Ghoulardifest, which was held during the same weekend.
Two audio files from this reunion can be found at the reelradio.com website.
I found this on the Internet.....don't know who wrote this, but it's pretty inclusive and informative. Apparently it was written sometime in 1998.
WIXY-1260 was a modern day David - the underdog who slew the giant. WIXY (Wick-sie) was born in 1965, when Norman Wain, Bob Weiss, and Joe Zingale got together and bought the station (WDOK)on the 1260 frequency in Cleveland. Their vision was to create a modern Top 40 rock station to rule the airwaves in Cleveland.
The glory days of Cleveland rock radio were in the 50s. Alan Freed, Mad Daddy. WJW, WHK. Legends.
By the 60s, there was WHK, with Johnny Holliday, and little else. Alan Freed was dying in California. Mad Daddy was in New York at WINS. KYW didn't want to rock. WABQ came and went. The number one station in the city was usually CKLW, across the lake in Windsor, Ontario.
This was the scene that spurred the creation of WIXY-1260.
Zingale, Wain, Weiss, and the mayor of Lakewood originally owned just a small piece of the station, while the majority of the station was owned by Harry & Lucille Stone of American Greetings. Once WIXY got rolling, Zingale, Wain and Weiss bought out the Stones.
The station went on the air in December 1965. Though tightly programmed, it had a fresh, new sound. The story almost parallels that of Los Angeles, another stagnant market, in which a new format went on the air in early 1965 and made history. But that would be a different story.....
The original lineup: Al Gates, mornings, followed by Howie Lund and Johnny Michaels in middays, Johnny Canton in late afternoon/early evening, "Mark Allen" (Bob Dearborn) in the evening, and Bobby Magic all night. The first program director was Gerry Spinn.
WIXY bowed with the famous PAMS Series 29 jingles, "Go Go," which were still almost new. It was the first PAMS series to run in Cleveland since 1961, when KYW ran Series 17, and WABQ used the "Clyde" package.
WIXY was originally a "chicken rock" outlet: hipper than MOR, but not quite a real rocker. That would be the equivalent of today's Adult Contemporary format. Later, WIXY really got rockin'. Bob Dearborn remembers:
"The thinking was that we couldn't beat two well-established stations like WHK and WKYC at their own game. However, we tried going a little harder (more traditional Top 40) on my show in the evening, and it seemed to catch on. By February of 1966, we were "Chicken" no more."
One of the great stories from the early days of WIXY was the hiring of Larry Morrow. Larry was well known in Cleveland as "Duke Windsor" on CKLW. Norman Wain considered the hiring of Larry a major coup.
About the time that Larry started on WIXY, Norm went out of town on vacation. Larry and Program Director Johnny Canton felt that using the name "Duke Windsor" on WIXY would be misleading, since Larry was no longer working in Windsor. They felt that Larry was well known enough in town that the audience would recognize him no matter what name he used.
So, the decision was made to use Larry's real name, and nickname him "the Duker."
Several days later, Norm was driving back into town, and heard his new DJ calling himself "Larry Morrow, the Duker." He went ballistic, called Larry on the phone, and fired him, yelling, "I hired Duke Windsor, not Larry Morrow!" Later Norm calmed down, rehired Larry, and he has been a fixture in Cleveland radio ever since.
Later, Norm hired another DJ, an unknown from North Carolina, and began a process that led John Larsh to Cleveland, a springboard he would use to gain national fame and a reputation as one of the best DJs ever.
John was a young talent who was working the graveyard shift at WAYS in Charlotte. At age 20, he had already worked at 6 different radio stations. Working in Greensboro at WCOG, he had inspired a young man named Rigdon Dees to become a disk jockey. When Rigdon grew up, he shortened his first name to Rick, and the rest is... well, you know.
John went to Cleveland and became WIXY's evening jock. The jock for that time slot had a copyrighted name, no matter what his real name might be. It was a name from a 1940s radio serial, subtitled "the All American Boy." But, when John Larsh became "Jack Armstrong," a process began that would mark Top 40 radio from that point on. Today, Jack Armstrong is a name in the industry that ranks with names like Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie, The Real Don Steele, Gary Owens, Robert W. Morgan, Larry Lujack.... well, you get my drift. And, it all started at little 5,000 watt WIXY-1260 in Cleveland, Ohio.
John started on WIXY in summer of 1966. He instantly became very popular. He sounded young, hip, friendly. His two imaginary sidekicks, the Gorilla and the Old Timer, gave him a dimension that most DJs lacked. He was more than a record spinner - he was a comedian in his own right.
The competition (WKYC and WHK) had Jerry G and Russ "the Weird Beard" Knight. Both were popular, but Jack made massive inroads on their popularity. By October 1966, Billboard listed "Jack Armstrong, WIXY" as the fourth biggest record buying influence in the city.
About that time, WKYC inexpicably moved Jerry G, (who had ranked above Armstrong in that listing) to mid days and moved Jim LaBarbara to evenings, opposite Jack. Jack immediately settled in for heavy combat. LaBarbara styled himself "Cleveland's Most Eligible Bachelor." The Old Timer suddenly became "Cleveland's Most Eligible Draft Dodger." WIXY began to hurl spears at LaBarbara. Al Gates did a promo as an old man named "J. Bentley Starr" who listened to WIXY because it was "banned in Boston." (On his last job before coming to Cleveland, Jim had worked in Erie, PA as "J. Bentley Starr.")
Ironically, years later on one of WMJI-FM's "WIXY Basement Weekends," Jack himself would claim that "unlike some stations, we never used WIXY as a weapon against other stations." Touche', Jack!
The marriage between John Larsh and WIXY-1260 lasted about 6 months. Jerry G was going to Chicago. WKYC offered John the evening show, a TV show, a 50 kilowatt night time voice, and a big contract. With fingers crossed, John crossed the street to go to work for the competition. Unable to call himself "Jack Armstrong" because of WIXY's copyright, he renamed himself "Big Jack," and history began to be made.
Jack's replacement on WIXY was Dick Kemp, the "Wild Child." Dick had come North from somewhere down South to work in Chicago at WGES, which became WYNR (Winner) even as he spoke. WYNR was one of Gordon McLendon's failed strokes of genius. I don't know where Dick went between then (1962) and WIXY, but along the way, he had acquired quite a bag of tricks....
"You know me, baby... I'm the Wild Child, and I live in the woods... right there with the bear and the big oak tree...."
Meanwhile, Jack was knocking himself out on WKYC, locked into NBC formatics, news every half hour..... and losing.
"KY turned me loose, then they strangled my a** with news... 'oh, my, someone at the UN has passed wind.... we must get down there to cover it....'"
"I went up against the Wild Child on WIXY and basically got my a** kicked for about a year. Later, we began to catch up, but it was too late. The powers that be had already decided that heads must roll...."
Ironically, while WKYC was only third in Cleveland behind WIXY and WHK, it was a major night time voice over the Eastern half of the nation, and Big Jack was making quite a name for himself on the national scene.
On February 1, 1968, WKYC bowed a format called "Power Radio." Several DJs were let go, including Armstrong, and Jim LaBarbara, who went to work at WIXY.
WIXY never batted an eyelash. They were winning, and played to stay on top. Their promotions were humongous. 10,000 people showed up to watch WIXY DJs milk a cow at 9th and Euclid. They gave away 150,000 beach bags one summer. They ran a contest to find the girl with the biggest chest in Cleveland, which nearly caused a riot, and almost got Jim LaBarbara put in jail. Norm Wain was planning to get Jim arrested, so WIXY could do remotes from his jail cell. Jim ran down Norm's car as it was leaving the scene, and convinced Norm to let him inside. Years later, Jim astounded everybody by remembering the names of the two co-winners - Sheila Moore (Chesty) and Suzanne Zilkowsky (Super Bod.)
"I did the measuring, because I was the only bachelor," he confessed with a sly grin.
As time went on, WIXY changed. Billy Bass became the only black DJ working at a Top 40 station in Cleveland. Mike Reneiri became one of the first morning shock jocks, mirroring the acerbic wit of DJs like Larry Lujack and Fred Winston. Apparently, Mike took it to new levels.
"Mike Reneiri eats nails for breakfast," proclaimed billboards all over the city.
"Mike Reneiri made a career out of having a hangover," remembered another observer.
WGAR thought it needed a morning shock jock, too, and hired a young man from Palmdale, California named Don Imus. If you ever wonder where Don got his start, it was right there in Cleveland, "that sump pump of a mistake on a lake," as Don so fondly remembers it.
Joe Finan was another name who worked at WIXY. Joe went on to program stations in other parts of the country, like KTLK in Denver.
Walt Tiburski, fresh out of broadcasting school in 1969, got a job at WIXY as a go-fer. "Go fer coffee, go fer the paper, basically anything that Joe Finan and Larry Morrow want," Norm Wain told him. "I'll give you $65 a week and all the records you can steal."
19 odd years later, when Larry Morrow interviewed Walt Tiburski over the phone on one of the WIXY reunions, the tables had turned. Walt owned several radio stations by then, one of which was WQAL, where Larry worked. Larry's one time go-fer was now his employer!
During the early 70s, WIXY continued to rule the roost in Cleveland. WKYC was sold and became all news WWWE. WHK went country. WGAR made some waves for a few years. A host of FM stations rose up, but none were able to dethrone WIXY.
But all good things must end. WIXY's demise came in 1976, when it was sold, and became WMJC, one of the first of the "Majic" stations.
It's rule was only a little over ten years, but today, WIXY is the most remembered of the old Top 40 stations in Cleveland. And, it has acquired a lasting reputation among radio fans as one of the great stations of the Top 40 era.
Today, the spirit of WIXY lives on as WIXY1260Online, playing the music of the golden WIXY era along with many of the original jingles and sound bytes therefrom.
"WIXY 1260, Super Radio...."
(Material for this article came from interviews, clippings, and airchecks of both WIXY-1260, and WMJI's "WIXY Majic Basement Reunions." Thanks to Bob Dearborn for his input and corrections.)