Women to Watch: LeeAnn Sommers; 99.5 WGAR, Cleveland


(By Charese Frugé) LeeAnn Sommers is PM Drive Host and on-air influencer on iHeartMedia Cleveland’s 99.5 WGAR (maybe another station soon – you heard it here first). Sommers has been in the radio and TV business in Cleveland for three decades.

“When people come up to me and say, ‘I grew up listening to you,’ I always reply ‘Well, we grew up together,’ because I was 19 years old when I got my first morning show gig,” says Sommers. “I remember not (legally) being old enough to be in some of the bars and nightclubs we were broadcasting live from. My promotions director would say, ‘Just don’t say anything to the owners and whatever you do, don’t drink.'”

“I started my career in Cleveland at Top 40 (WZJM) Jammin 92, but I’ve been on just about every format including Adult Contemporary (WMVX) Mix 106.5, Rock (WMMS) 100.7, Hip Hop (WENZ) Z107.9, Classic Hits (KXKL) KOOL 105 and Hot AC (KIMN) Mix 100,” explains Sommers. “For the past 15 years, I’ve been doing country. I mean, my name is LeeAnn right?! I did mornings on 99.5 WGAR in Cleveland for almost 10 years before moving to afternoons four years ago. I also did middays on Denver’s 92.5 The Wolf (KKSE) and voice tracked some smaller stations in Rochester, Peoria, and Fort Wayne over the years.”

“As for my side hustle in TV, I’ve done entertainment reporting and hosted local lifestyle shows for affiliates in Cleveland including NBC (WKYC), FOX (WJW), and ABC (WEWS.) I really enjoy doing voiceover work too and I was the voice of FOX Denver (KWGN and KDVR) when I lived in Colorado.”

“In 2021, I was inducted into the Cleveland Broadcasters Hall Of Fame which was a huge honor. To see my name alongside the radio and TV giants I grew up watching and listening to was a ‘pinch me’ moment.”

“I was actually on the air in Cleveland when the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame opened, so being able to broadcast live from the Rock Hall on such a historical day not only for our city but for music history was something I’ll never forget. Cleveland was electric that day and the whole world was watching. It was one of the most exciting moments of my career.”

What got Sommers into the business began with a scholarship. “I was a senior in high school, four weeks away from graduation, when I was presented with an opportunity for a bunch of different college and trade school scholarships. Broadcasting school was one of them and I thought it sounded fun. Honestly, I wish I had that story about how I used my hairbrush as a mic to do a show for my stuffed animals. Not even close. I thought I was going to be an attorney or an interior designer. Radio was nowhere on my radar. Less than a year after graduating from high school, I had an internship at the station I would eventually do mornings on, and radio officially entered my bloodstream.”

Working for WGAR these past few years has been a huge blessing,” says Sommers. “It’s a heritage station and we are everywhere in Cleveland and invested in the city. I think our listeners equate summer concerts at Blossom Music Center directly with the station and our annual Country Jam is a tradition with our listeners that gets passed down through generations.”

“Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t always been easy,” admits Sommers. “Cue America Ferrara’s Iconic Barbie Speech. I’ve faced the same challenges every other woman in radio faces. Probably every other woman in any industry to be honest. Being unfairly targeted, categorized, and early on, grossly underpaid. I co-hosted morning shows for decades that consistently went to #1 but it wasn’t until year 25 that my name was first on the marquee. It was always (insert male name) and LeeAnn in the mornings! This is the experience of most, not all, but most women in radio. That being said, I’ve also had the privilege of working for some truly good dudes in the industry who looked out for me and offered solid guidance and opportunities. Shout out Mike McVay, Derrick Brown, Dave Popovich, and Keith Clark.”

One of the biggest challenges in radio these days is creating loyalty and engagement with the younger generation. We’ve got to grow the audience. Sommers says the fastest way to do that is to “Connect! Nothing has changed in terms of how we show up and connect with our listeners, even with Gen Z’ers and older Gen Alphas. I have kids in these demos. Everyone still wants to be seen, heard, and understood. Authentically. That goes past social media feeds which my kids would say is the opposite of authentic. It’s caring about anything local and lifestyle that is important to them. Meeting them in their spaces of interest either out of curiosity or if possible, relatability. Nobody needs to explain the relevance of social media presence but remember the interpersonal stuff too. Shake hands, remember names, put them on the air, and show genuine interest in them and gratitude for their loyalty to the station. That still translates across the gap.”

As far as DEI, Sommers says, “We’ve taken a couple of steps forward but there’s miles of road ahead. If we are truly seeking the framework that promotes fair treatment and participation of all people, particularly groups who have historically been underrepresented or discriminated against, more women must be hired for leadership roles and on-air positions. Also, people of color should have a presence on formats outside of just Latin, Urban AC, and Hip-Hop.”

“If this is what you really want, let’s gooooo!” says Sommers, about being a successful Woman in the business. “But like everything else in life, you must have realistic expectations so you can roll with the punches because they are coming! Keep showing up and whatever you do, do not lose faith in your abilities. This fickle industry will do enough of that for you. Keep evolving and like Bo Matthews once told me, ‘Be the CEO of you.’ It’s no one else’s job to blaze your trail. Be accountable. Be reliable. Be pliable. Never stop learning. Never get comfortable. Evolve with the industry and the trends even when you disagree or hate them.”

Not surprisingly, what keeps Sommers up at night is pretty normal. “I’m a mom and I have a teenager with a driver’s permit,” she says. Finding balance for her means forming boundaries. “I know, I know. It’s one of those words like ‘gaslighting’ that has been used to death, but I swear boundaries are life! Not checking or responding to emails 24/7. Not being on social media 24/7. Actually using my paid vacation time and allowing myself to mentally/emotionally check out during that time. You have to protect that balance and your peace. You are totally replaceable at work and not replaceable at home.”

What’s in her future? “Embracing my social content growth, helping my sales reps build new business, and simultaneously strengthening the relationships we already have is my main priority right now. Maybe adding my voice to another station (or two.) Stay tuned!”

Follow LeeAnn Sommers on Instagram, Facebook and X: @Leeannsommersradio

Charese Frugé is an award-winning Content, Broadcast, and Marketing executive with over 20 years of experience in markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, San Diego, and Las Vegas. As the owner of MC Media, she works with radio brands and individual talents, especially young women, helping them grow their brands and negotiate on their own behalf. Find her at @MCMediaOnline. See more Women to Watch here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here