Courtesy of Cleveland Scene March 1, 2011
Carl Hirsch, Architect of WMMS’ Heyday, Dead at 64
Former Cleveland radio executive Carl Hirsch died suddenly Monday of a heart attack in Florida, where he had been living in recent years. He was 64.
Hirsch was president/CEO of Malrite, WMMS-FM’s parent company, from 1974-1985, the years in which WMMS became the most influential rock station in the country. He ran Legacy Broadcasting from 1986-1990. In the 1990s, he was president and CEO of OmniAmerica, which made WMJI-FM one of Cleveland’s dominant stations. In 1999 he founded NextMedia, which owns and operates broadcast properties around the country. Most recently, he had been doing consulting through his Legacy Management Group.
“There wouldn’t have been a WMMS without him,” says John Gorman, who was the station’s program director during its glory years. “The only thing he demanded of you was that you be as creative and innovative as possible. He didn’t ask a whole lot of questions. He just said, ‘Go out and do something that hasn’t been done before.’”
WMMS was legendary for its cohesive, stable staff of talent — unusual in radio, with long-running personalities like Denny Sanders, Matt the Cat, Kid Leo, Betty Korvan, Jeff Kinsbach, and Ed “Flash” Ferenc. “Carl was a big reason why that staff not only stuck together 12-13 years,” says Gorman. “It wasn’t like coming to work. It was like walking into a dot.com start-up. People were coming up with crazy, creative ideas nonstop.”
“He was the right man at the right time to take over the upper management of the radio station,” says Denny Sanders. “He was young; he understood what we were doing in programming and marketing more than the ownership itself. He possessed a certain dynamism that was infectious.”
Gorman also points to how Hirsch took Malrite, a small, Cleveland-based broadcasting company, and built it up, adding television and cable to its portfolio. “He bought a little station in New Jersey, WVNJ, that played what he used to call ‘chicken jazz,’ and turned it into Z100. He made it the biggest top 40 station in the nation, and he did it in one month — one ratings book. That was the way he was.”
Hirsch was also known for his philanthropy. He was generous to his alma mater, Kent State University, giving $500,000 for the Carl E. Hirsch Media Convergence Lab. Last year he gave $1 million to the Cleveland Clinic Florida Health and Wellness Center, its largest single donation ever, which named its main lobby was named after him. — Anastasia Pantsios