WZAK radio began broadcasting on 26 May 1963 as an ethnic radio station. Founders included Joseph and Elizabeth Bauer, who operated the station, and Xenophon Zapis. It was the first full-time ethnic radio station in Cleveland, and it offered programming in 17 foreign languages, including programs in Hungarian, German (hosted by the Bauers), Greek (hosted by Zapis), Arabic, and Hindi. Some groups were represented by more than one program: the Germans and Spanish had 5 each, for example. Each program was independently produced, as the programs' hosts were not station employees. Most programs featured both music and news from the homeland. Overall, English was used about half of the time during the broadcasts.

By 1979 WZAK was the city's last full-time ethnic radio station. The station was owned by Trans World Broadcasting Corp. of Cleveland, whose president was Zapis. In March 1981 the station changed its format from international to black-oriented urban contemporary programming. The change was said to have been made due to the decline in the number of listeners, the death of several of the program hosts, and for financial reasons. Ratings improved with the arrival in May 1982 of program director and announcer Lynn Tolliver, Jr., and general sales manager Mike Hilber. Several controversial promotions drew media attention to the station. Over the years, the station's ratings climbed and critical opinion improved. In 1993, for example, it won 3 Billboard magazine awards. The station was owned by Zapis Communications in 1995.

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