WGAR-FM (99.5 FM) – branded 99.5 WGAR – is a commercial country music radio station licensed to Cleveland, Ohio, serving Greater Cleveland and much of surrounding Northeast Ohio owned by iHeartMedia, Inc..
The WGAR-FM studios are located in the Cleveland suburb of Independence, while the station transmitter resides in nearby Parma. Besides a standard analog transmission, WGAR-FM broadcasts over two HD Radio channels, and is available online via iHeartRadio.
WGAR-FM began broadcasting in August 1952, simulcasting the programming of its AM sister station, WGAR (1220 AM), as was the case for most FM stations at the time. Hours of operation were very limited, usually at the bare minimum of two hours per week.
In 1970, WGAR-FM underwent several massive changes. It started broadcasting in stereo that April 1, and became WNCR (which stood for either Nationwide Communications Radio or North Coast Rock) on July 2. The original air staff was Mitch Michaels-mornings, Chris Gray-midday, Steve Scott-afternoons, Ginger-evenings and David Elmore-overnight. By mid September, all of the air staff, at odds with management about the huge amount of commercials and attempts to commercialize the station sound, went on strike. All were fired after a midnight meeting with the GM Jack Thayer, mediated by WGAR morning man Don Imus. Ginger went to Columbus, then to WMMS. Michaels followed him in a short time later and then moved to Chicago. This ushered in the Second Era of WNCR. While a considerable success at first, conflicts between management and staff prompted key members to jump over to WMMS.
On January 1, 1973, WNCR gave up the progressive rock format and changed to an automated country format. In 1975, the format was changed to beautiful music/easy listening using Jim Schulke's format. A few months later, the call letters changed to WKSW and the station's slogan became, "WKSW, FM 100. All music. All the time." For a brief period, no local announcers were used. Instead, recordings of Philadelphia announcer Nelson Hobdell were used for all station breaks. Eventually, WKSW went to all local personalities, including David Mark (who had the highest ratings the station ever achieved), Tom Mart, Jim Field and Ted Lux. With the lone exception of David Mark, whose ratings in Cleveland were bested only by Cleveland Indians baseball on WWWE and rock music on WMMS, the station was never quite able to equal or better the ratings at competitors WQAL and WDOK, and the format was switched back to country by 1980.
On July 15, 1984, it switched its calls to WGAR-FM. It has continued its country music format since then. The country music programming was simulcast on the AM outlet for a time during 1986 before WGAR (AM) was sold off and became WKNR (1220 AM).
WGAR-FM was sold to Jacor Communications in 1997 as part of a $620 million purchase of Nationwide Communications and its 17 stations by Jacor. In May 1999, Clear Channel Communications completed its $6.5 billion purchase of Jacor and its 454 stations, including WGAR-FM.
From 1992–2010, the WGAR-FM morning show starred longtime personality Jim Mantel, along with various sidekicks and co-hosts through the years. In addition to the morning show, the on-air staff included the noted Marconi Award winning Chuck Collier, whose broadcast career extended over four decades in Cleveland between radio stations WGAR-FM (1986–2011), WGAR (AM) (1970–90), and WMJI. In March 2009, Chuck Collier was inducted into the Country Radio Hall Of Fame in Nashville. Collier was the music director/afternoon host until his death on September 22, 2011 due to a heart attack.
Local WGAR-FM personalities include Brian Fowler and LeeAnn Sommers (mornings), Charley "Shotgun Taylor" Connolly (afternoons), and Kat Jackson (evenings). Other music shifts are either voice-tracked out-of-market specifically for WGAR-FM or programmed via Premium Choice.