|Broadcast area||St. Cloud, Minnesota|
|Branding||660 The Bear|
Chicago Cubs Radio Network
|WHMH-FM, WMIN, WVAL, WXYG|
First air date
|August 3, 1963(as WVAL at 800)|
Former call signs
|800 kHz (1963-1986)|
|Power||10,000 watts (day)|
500 watts (night)
|Translator(s)||95.7 W239CU (Sauk Rapids)|
WBHR (660 kHz) is a commercial AM radio station licensed to Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, and serving the St. Cloud area. The station is owned by Tri-County Broadcasting and broadcasts a sports format as a network affiliate of ESPN Radio and the Chicago Cubs Radio Network. It is the only station in Minnesota to broadcast Chicago Cubs games.
By day, the station is powered at 10,000 watts. Because 660 AM is a clear channel frequency reserved for Class A WFAN New York City, WBHR reduces power to 500 watts at night to avoid interference. The station uses a directional antenna at all times, and their transmitter array is located on 10th Avenue NE near Golden Spike Road in Sauk Rapids. It shares a seven-tower array with its three other AM sister stations. Programming is also heard on 250 watt FM translator W239CU at 95.7 MHz.
On July 2, 1962, the Tri-County Broadcasting Company, owned by Carl A. Nierengarten and Herb Hoppe, received a construction permit from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It authorized Tri-County to build a new radio station on 800 kHz in Sauk Rapids, to broadcast with 250 watts as a daytimer. Despite obtaining the permit, objections arose from the city of St. Cloud and from aviation interests to the proposed tower site, a mile from the local airport. It was criticized as too close to the northeast runway approach.
Nierengarten bowed out of the company before the station took to the air. Hoppe, unsure of how the venture would turn out, designed the radio station studio building, a former barn, to be convertible to a house, in case the business failed. WVAL was named for Herb's wife Val, then pregnant with her fifth child. On August 3, 1963, the station signed on the air. The night before, Hoppe had received operating authority from the FCC; he scrambled to gather enough records to program the station.
Hoppe was intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of WVAL, which played country music. He sometimes changed the lights on the 300-foot (91 m) mast himself. He also sold ad time, served as a disc jockey and hosted concerts headlined by such artists as Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner.
WVAL and its country music format were number one in the St. Cloud area for several years in the early 1970s. In 1975, the station added a new adult contemporary-formatted FM outlet, 101.7 WHMH-FM.
The 1980s were a decade of two significant changes for WVAL, motivated by a desire to improve its coverage area. In 1979, WVAL was approved for a power increase to 2,500 watts. Then three years later, after the FCC opted to break down several clear channel frequencies, Hoppe filed to move the station to 660 kHz to allow for an additional signal boost.
The Tri-County stations were also struggling in the local ratings, ranking near the back of the pack in the market. WVAL won the right to relocate to 660 kHz, beating out competitor WJON. The move was made in 1986 and allowed the station to increase its daytime power to 10,000 watts and begin nighttime service at 250 watts.
Even as the frequency change was pending, low ratings prompted a format change, and for Hoppe, so did the increasing "modernization" of country music and increasing competition in the country format. On April 1, 1984, the station became oldies "W-GOLD". The oldies format lasted seven years before WHMH-FM's rock was simulcast on the AM frequency in 1991.
In 1998, the call letters on 660 were changed to WBHR, in preparation for the revival of WVAL and the 800 frequency on a new license in 1999. That same year, the station became an affiliate of the Radio Disney children's music network. Radio Disney lasted for three years.
The station flipped to sports radio in 2001, initially using programming from Fox Sports Radio. When WJON dropped ESPN Radio in 2003, Hoppe moved to switch WBHR to that network.
In addition to its national programming, WBHR became the home of Saint John's University athletics in 2006.
After suffering from blood cancer, Hoppe died in 2018.