Monday, December 7, 2015


The phrase “community radio” means different things to different people. To some it signifies stations that define themselves politically and carry programs like Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News.  To others it means stations that serve specific ethnic groups or regional populations.  In Cincinnati, “community radio” means serving retirees via WMKV 89.3 FM [link]

The success of WMKV may be important to the future of listener-supported noncommercial radio because it demonstrates the ability to convene, and get support from, segments of the community not being served by other broadcast media. Retirees are seldom targets for advertisers.  NPR laments its aging audience. Society is often obsessed with youth. It is sometimes easy to forget about people over age 65.

But, the “age wave” is fact of life. More and more boomers are retiring everyday. Perhaps WMKV shows a new, but old, way to reach the ever-growing number of aging Americans.


WMKV claims to be the first noncom FM station to be licensed to a retirement community. It was founded in 1995 by what is now Maple Knoll Village, a nonprofit continuing care retirement community. WMKV stated as a public service to the aging community and over time it has evolved into a vital information and entertainment resource in Cincinnati and worldwide via online streaming audio.

George Zahn
Much of the credit for the success of WMKY goes to George Zahn. Many people in the NPR world knew Zahn when he was Program Director at WVXU from 1980 until 2005.  Zahn moved to WMKV when WVXU merged with WGUC. Zahn refocused WMKV to become a listener-supported operation that has become a national leader in big band and jazz music, classic radio shows, and timely news and information programming.

WMKV added a second signal in 2013 to reach underserved areas north of Cincinnati via an LMA with WLHS 89.9 FM. In addition to streaming audio, WMKV’s website features podcasts of station programs.

There is tangible proof that WMKV is reaching people. According to Nielsen Audio PPM data from October 2015, WMKV had and average-quarter-hour share of 0.2% and a weekly cumulative audience of 26,500. A 2006 Arbitron survey, using different methodology, showed WMKV’s weekly cume was then 12,500. These aren’t big numbers but they indicate a strong consistent pulse and expanding public service.

Maple Knoll Village provides most of WMKV’s estimated annual budget of approximately $350,000.  The station brings in between $50,000 – $80,000 annually from listeners plus income from station events.


WMKV knows its target audience and serves it with consistent music. WMKV’s website features a list of songs just heard on the station.  As I write this column they were:

A Night At The Deuces
By Randy Brooks Orchestra
Dec 6, 2015 3:57:50 PM EST

By the Les Elgart Orchestra
Dec 6, 2015 2:59:24 PM EST

By Hot Club of San Francisco
Dec 6, 2015 2:56:57 PM EST

By Gene Krupa
Dec 6, 2015 2:54:05 PM EST

By Peggy Lee
Dec 6, 2015 2:51:02 PM EST

By Tony Bennett
Dec 6, 2015 2:48:24 PM EST

In a few years, the playlist might be Chuck Berry, Little Eva and Elvis. That is my point: Noncom community radio can be a focal point as boomers like myself ride the age wave.
Here is WMKV’s program schedule:

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