Change Is On the Air: How WZAK Became #1 in Cleveland
On March 2, 1981, one of the more radical format changes in the history of Cleveland radio occurred: WZAK switched from time-brokered ethnic programming, featuring shows in fourteen different languages, to a sole focus on urban contemporary, a blend of R&B, smooth jazz, and pop. It was a move so outrageous that not many people gave it much of a chance. Yet, through more ups than downs, WZAK succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations. When the station was finally sold in 1999 it was the number one radio station in Cleveland and had made its mark on the pop culture of a great American city.
Change Is On the Air tells the story about how Xen Zapis, his daughter Maria, and his son Lee figured out a way to thrive in the competitive radio business. They did so by working hard and smart and by attracting and retaining a team of talented people who shared their vision of what urban contemporary radio could be. Their strategy rested on three pillars—programming, sales, and promotions—that together formed a blueprint for success that others can follow.
Lee Zapis is the former president of Zapis Communications, a corporation that owned and operated WZAK along with other radio stations in Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown. Zapis Communications’ stations received numerous national broadcast awards and were nominated eight times for the Marconi Award, the highest honor of the National Association of Broadcasters. After the sale of Zapis Communications’ radio stations in 1999, Lee joined forces with other family members to form Zapis Capital Group in 2003, investing in the technology, healthcare, real estate and media industries. Lee and his wife Ageleke support many charitable causes, including the American Heart Association, the JumpStart program that provides assistance to young Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs, and the endowment of college scholarships at Cleveland State University, Belmont University, and Baldwin-Wallace College.