|Broadcast area||Greater Milwaukee|
|Network||ABC News Radio|
|WAUK, WGKB, WKTI, WTLX, WMVP|
First air date
|May 15, 1922(as WCAY)|
Former call signs
|833 kHz (1922–1923)|
833 & 485 kHz (1923)
1150 kHz (1923–1924)
1130 kHz (1924–1925)
1150 kHz (1925–1927)
1020 kHz (1927–1928)
Call sign meaning
|The Milwaukee Journal (now Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)|
|Power||50,000 watts day|
10,000 watts night
|Translator(s)||103.3 W277CV (Milwaukee)|
|Repeater(s)||94.5 WKTI-HD2 (Milwaukee)|
WTMJ (620 AM) is a broadcast radio station licensed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Owned by Good Karma Brands, the station has a news/talk format.
The station first signed on in 1922 as WCAY. The call sign changed to WKAF in 1925. In 1927, The Milwaukee Journal (later Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) purchased the station and changed its call sign to the present WTMJ. For nearly nine decades, WTMJ was the flagship radio station of Journal Sentinel parent company Journal Media Group until the E. W. Scripps Company bought WTMJ and its sister radio stations in 2014. In 2018, Good Karma Brands purchased WTMJ and other Scripps radio stations in Milwaukee.
Throughout its history, WTMJ has been the highest-rated radio station in Milwaukee. The station originally had a full service format with news, sports, and music such as middle of the road and adult contemporary before dropping music in 1990. WTMJ has local news and talk programming for much of its schedule. In addition, WTMJ is the flagship station for Milwaukee Brewers baseball, and Milwaukee Bucks basketball. From 1927 to 2014, WTMJ was the flagship station for University of Wisconsin sports, and from 1929 until 2021 the flagship station for Green Bay Packers football.
WTMJ was first licensed, with the sequentially assigned call letters WCAY, on May 15, 1922, to the Kesselman O'Driscoll Company, a music house located at 517-519 Grand Avenue in Milwaukee. It was initially authorized to broadcast on the "entertainment" wavelength of 360 meters (833 kHz). On May 24, 1923, WCAY was reassigned to 1150 kHz. The next year ownership was transferred to the Milwaukee Civic Broadcasting Association. The station license was briefly allowed to lapse in 1925, but it was quickly relicensed as WKAF to the WKAF Broadcasting Co., located at 130 Second Street. The station was now jointly owned by Kesselman-O'Driscoll Co., the Hotel Antlers (the studio location), and station engineer H. L. Ford. WKAF's first regular broadcast was held on October 20, 1925.
On April 20, 1927, WKAF was purchased by The Milwaukee Journal for $16,350, which changed the call sign to WTMJ on May 10 to reflect the newspaper's name. Station facilities were upgraded, including the building of a new transmitter site in Brookfield, west of Milwaukee. The new WTMJ also affiliated with the NBC Red Network.
The Journal already had extensive experience with radio broadcasting. On May 1, 1922, it had sponsored the debut program on WAAK, Milwaukee's first radio station, which was owned by the local division of the Gimbel's department store chain. On January 24, 1925, the newspaper entered into an agreement as a joint, and dominant, partner in the operation of Marquette University's station, WHAD, which limited the university's programming to just one and one-half hour on Friday evenings. The newspaper's operations at WHAD ended on August 15, 1927, with the university returning to full responsibility for the station. WTMJ aired a full service format with middle of the road music featuring a mixture of music, news and local personalities along with sports play-by-play.
WTMJ made its debut broadcast on July 25, 1927. That day's broadcast featured music by the WTMJ Orchestra and included a remote broadcast featuring Bill Carlsen's orchestra. (Carlsen was later hired by WTMJ and went on to become Wisconsin's most widely known radio and television weather forecaster.) On September 11, 1927, WTMJ was assigned to 1020 kHz. WTMJ also began broadcasting University of Wisconsin Badgers football games that year.
On November 11, 1928, as part of a major nationwide allocation under the provisions of the Federal Radio Commission's General Order 40, WTMJ was reassigned to its current frequency of 620 kHz. In November 1929, WTMJ broadcast a Green Bay Packers game for the first time.
WTMJ was indirectly involved with the installation of the first directional antenna by a radio station in the United States. In 1929 a joint operation in Clearwater, Florida, WFLA-WSUN, was also assigned to 620 kHz. WTMJ immediately complained that at the initial power allocation the Florida stations were causing significant interference to WTMJ's coverage, especially at night. WFLA-WSUN turned to the engineering community to determine whether a then-theoretical concept of a directional antenna could be installed to reduce the Florida station's signal toward Milwaukee. This led to the successful development in 1932 of the first modern AM directional antenna system. (WFLA moved to 970 kHz in 1941, with WSUN taking its place in Tampa, followed by the current-day WDAE)
In 1942, a new facility, The Milwaukee Journal's Radio City, opened for WTMJ and its FM sister station, W55M (later WMFM and WTMJ-FM), in addition to the yet-to-come WTMJ-TV. An article in the trade magazine Broadcasting reported that the building was the "first ever designed to house all three types of broadcasting."
A 1944 survey by The Milwaukee Journal found WTMJ to be the most popular radio station in Milwaukee, especially for local morning show Top of the Morning and NBC radio's The Hour of Charm in evenings. WTMJ had gross advertising revenue of over $1.2 million. Gordon Hinkley began a near three-decade career with WTMJ in 1951, starting as a staff announcer and host of the Sunday morning beautiful music show Invitation to Beauty.
Beginning in 1961, WTMJ promoted Hinkley to host its morning drive program Top O' the Morning and call-in talk show Ask Your Neighbor. Top O' the Morning was the highest rated morning show in Milwaukee for five straight Arbitron surveys from summer 1977 to summer 1978. Hinkley hosted Top O' the Morning until 1984.
In 1971, WTMJ began broadcasting Milwaukee Brewers games; WEMP broadcast the inaugural Brewers season the previous year. WTMJ temporarily lost the Brewers to rival WISN in 1981 and 1982. Having been the most popular station in local Arbitron ratings, WTMJ tied top 40 station WKTI in the top ratings spot in by spring 1990.
By the summer of 1990, WTMJ began to be listed as strictly a news/talk station in Arbitron ratings. In 1993, WTMJ hired two new talk show hosts, liberal Jay Marvin and conservative Charlie Sykes. Sykes joined WTMJ from rival WISN. Marvin left for WLS in Chicago after seven months. Also in 1993, WTMJ temporarily lost the rights to Wisconsin Badgers sports broadcasts because an employee bid for the rights minutes after the deadline, but WTMJ eventually signed a new Wisconsin Badgers contract with Learfield that year.
WTMJ was granted permission in 1995 to upgrade to 50 kW days and 10 kW nights from a new six-tower site in Union Grove, south of Milwaukee. In November 1997, WTMJ switched its national news provider from CBS to ABC. WTMJ returned to CBS on October 1, 2001.
In 2002, Sykes and fellow WTMJ host Jeff Wagner led a campaign to recall Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament, who was embroiled in scandal for abusing the county pension system; Ament controversially retired at the end of February 2002, rather than resign.
In 2013, WTMJ made changes to its programming and management. In March, Journal Communications fired program director Joe Scialfa, who had been with the station for 14 years beginning as producer for the Charlie Sykes show. That November, WTMJ elected not to renew its contract with the University of Wisconsin, thus ending over eight decades of broadcasting Wisconsin Badgers sports by 2014. WOKY and WRIT became the new Milwaukee affiliates for the Wisconsin sports network effective in the 2014–15 season.
Journal Communications and the E. W. Scripps Company announced on July 30, 2014, that the two companies would merge to create a new broadcast company under the E.W. Scripps Company name that will own the two companies' broadcast properties, including WTMJ, WTMJ-TV, and WKTI-FM. The deal separated the WTMJ stations from the Journal Sentinel after nine decades, as the two companies' newspapers were spun off into a separate company under the Journal Media Group name (that company merged with Gannett itself in April 2016; both WTMJ entities eventually partnered with the Milwaukee Business Journal after the sale for business coverage). The transaction was completed on April 1, 2015; E.W. Scripps will also continue to originate the Packers and Brewers radio networks.
Sykes hosted his final show on WTMJ on December 19, 2016, nearly a month after the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. In an essay for The New York Times, Sykes said: "The conservative media is broken and the conservative movement deeply compromised."
On February 22, 2018, WTMJ began simulcasting on a monaural FM translator, W277CV (103.3), from the WTMJ-TV/WKTI tower. The transmitter, formerly individually licensed to Frank Glass McCoy and leased to Scripps (who owns the physical tower and transmitter assets) and operated by Good Karma Brands, was formerly licensed to Waukegan, Illinois and translated Kenosha public radio station WGTD before the move of the translator to Milwaukee. McCoy sold the translator license to Auslator, LLC in May 2019.
On July 27, 2018, as part of its exit from radio, Scripps announced the sale of WTMJ and WKTI to Good Karma Brands. The stations became part of a cluster with ESPN Radio affiliate WAUK. Morgan Murphy Media and other local groups have made investments in Good Karma Brands to back the purchase. Good Karma took control of WTMJ and WKTI on November 1, 2018, thus separating the AM station from its TV cousin for the first time.
After trailing other stations, including iHeartMedia news/talk station WISN, for the first three months of 2021, WTMJ returned to the top of Milwaukee radio ratings in April 2021. On October 27, 2021, the Green Bay Packers announced that it would end its longtime association with WTMJ at the end of the season, with WRNW taking over the rights in 2022; production of the broadcasts had been transferred from WTMJ to the team in 2018. WTMJ's final Packers broadcast was the NFC Divisional game, a 13–10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on January 22, 2022.
With hourly news updates from ABC News Radio, WTMJ airs news programming in morning and afternoon drive times. During the midday, the station airs live, local talk shows with Jeff Wagner and Steve Scaffidi. In the evenings, WTMJ has a three-hour sports talk show WTMJ Nights followed by nationally syndicated programs in overnight hours including The Ramsey Show and Westwood One's The Jim Bohannon Show.
During weekends the station airs a mixture of local how-to programming, talk shows, local sports talk programs, sports play-by-play and national talk shows, for instance The Ric Edelman Show and Compass Media Networks' This Weekend with Gordon Deal, in addition to ABC News' Perspective news magazine, the CBS News Weekend Roundup, and CBS's podcast The Takeout with Major Garrett.
From 1929 to 2021, WTMJ served as the flagship radio station for the Green Bay Packers football team. WTMJ has also broadcast the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team and Milwaukee Brewers baseball team for most of their histories.
WTMJ studios are on Capitol Drive in Milwaukee, in an Art Deco facility known as "Radio City" in tribute to the New York complex of the same name. WTMJ and WKTI are the two primary entry points in southeastern Wisconsin for the state's Emergency Alert System (EAS) alerts. WTMJ's transmitter site is in Union Grove.
As of February 22, 2018, WTMJ's HD Radio simulcast on WKTI-HD2 (launched after Scripps' assumption of ownership) is broadcast within the core Milwaukee metro region by translator W277CV (103.3 FM), which is licensed to Milwaukee and transmits from the WTMJ-TV/WKTI tower just north of Radio City.
WTMJ broadcasts with 50,000 watts during daytime hours, and 10,000 watts during nighttime from a six-tower site in Union Grove, south of Milwaukee. Its daytime signal can be heard in much of eastern Wisconsin and as far away as Chicago. Four towers are used during the day, providing city-grade coverage to most of eastern Wisconsin (including Madison and Green Bay) and northern Illinois, with most of the Chicago area getting at least a grade B signal. At night, power is fed to all six towers in a directional pattern, concentrating the signal in Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Chicago.
In the spring and fall 2004 Arbitron ratings, WTMJ was the no. 2 station in the Sheboygan area.