WTCM is an AM radio station broadcasting in Traverse City, Michigan, operating on 580 kHz. The two stations are owned by Midwestern Broadcasting, which started WTCM-AM in 1940. Today, WTCM, along with FM sister WTCM-FM is at or near the top of the Arbitron ratings, and are part of a dying breed of family-owned-and-operated radio stations.
WTCM has a news/talk format, carrying syndicated talk shows hosted by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Mark Levin, Jim Bohannon and Coast to Coast AM, plus local talk hosts Ron Jolly, Norm Jones and Merlin Dumbrille. It is an affiliate of ABC Radio.
When WTCM signed on in 1940, it was a local channel station at 1370 kHz briefly before moving to 1400 kHz. The station was licensed to broadcast 24 hours at 250 watts, but only broadcast from 6 AM to 11 PM. WTCM was an NBC affiliate and like most radio stations at the time, aired block programming - some local shows, network shows, music programs, etc.
They soon outgrew the tiny studio and moved to the Anderson Building in the 100 block of downtown Traverse City in the mid 1940s. Long-time Midwestern employees Kenn Haven and Merlin Dumbrille (who still works for the station) began working there in the 40's.
Because WTCM had a limited reach, Biederman wanted to start other small stations aimed exclusively towards the towns they broadcast in. After fighting in World War II, Biederman started WATT 1240 Cadillac, Michigan in 1945, WATZ 1450 Alpena, Michigan in 1946, WMBN 1340 Petoskey, Michigan in 1947 and WATC 900 Gaylord, Michigan in 1950, all collectively known as the Paul Bunyan Network. All but WATC are still on the air today, but Midwestern still owns only WTCM and WATZ.
Big changes came to WTCM and the rest of the Paul Bunyan Network in the 1960s as the FCC allowed local channel stations to increase their daytime power to 1,000 watts. All of the local channel stations complied, and boosted their power.
The contemporary format was initially successful, but the 1977 format change of WJML-FM, and the 1980 entry of WKHQ-FM, both from north of Traverse City but with strong regional signals into the market caused the predictable result, and listeners gravitated over a period of a couple years to the stereo FM contemporary format signals. WTCM-AM became simulcast to the FM signal not long after that.
WTCM-FM became country in the early 1970s, at the urging of WTCM sales person Leon Purchase, a local country musician, who was convinced that a country format would work in rural northern Michigan. Purchase convinced Biederman of this the old fashioned way, by making WTCM-FM - even though automated other than the morning simulcast period - a highly salable and accepted product in the market. Today that opinion is a well proven fact, as WTCM-FM maintains market dominance as the #1 rated station.
Les Biederman was not a fan of contemporary music or even less so country music, preferring to listen to classical music in his "pad", a private office in the rear of the adjacent co-owned Midwestern Cablevision building (where their "Radio Center" complex now stands). The "pad" was a regular stop for notable politicians like Governor William Milliken and Senator Robert Griffin, among others. It was a short stroll for Les from "the pad" to the trunk of his car where he typically stored a case of his favored Velvo brand cigars. "They stay fresh out there in the trunk" he was known to say.
Biederman traditionally came to the WTCM studio (almost nightly) after the conclusion of the TV 7&4 newscast and recorded an editorial on topics of the day, and these editorials and his strong sense of local stewardship culminated (among other things) into a local college (Northwestern Michigan College) and other more abstract realities including the city power plant converting from coal to wood as a source of fuel.
In the late 1970s, Biederman also began ambitious plans to increase the power of both WTCM AM and FM. In 1978, Biederman started turning over more of his duties to his son, Ross Biederman. Because of FCC restrictions and WTCM's growth plans, several properties were sold, including the Petoskey and Cadillac stations (to MacDonald Broadcasting, founded by long-time Biederman broadcast pal Kenneth MacDonald) and the Gaylord station was sold to William Barr, but fell silent several owners later in the early 2000s due to financial troubles.
In 1982, after years of planning, engineering and FCC permitting, a major change was made to WTCM-AM, which had since started simulcasting with WTCM-FM. The station was moved to its current position at 580 and boosted power to 2,500 watts daytime. The 1400 frequency was donated to a local church, who made the station Traverse City's first religious station, WLJN (We Lift Jesus' Name). WLJN broadcast from the original WTCM studio on Morgan Hill ("Radio Hill" to the locals), at the base of the 1400 kHz tower.
Les Biederman died in 1986 after enjoying much of his leisure time on his boat "Happy Days".
In the late 1980s, WTCM-AM (and other AMs) were struggling. Although he has Democratic leanings, Ross Biederman decided to start airing Rush Limbaugh's program because he thought it would help ratings, and made the station full-time news/talk.
Recently, WTCM-AM boosted its power once again, this time to a full 50KW daytime, allowing its directional signal to penetrate Canada. They, however, only broadcast with 1,100 watts overnight. Because AM transmits mostly through groundwave signals, and Northern Michigan's terrain is mostly sand, transmission is difficult
Because of two generations of Biederman management and attention, and a faithful northern Michigan audience, WTCM-AM/FM are the clearly dominant stations in their given formats in the market.