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New York City Radio History
by Alex Cosper

see also American Radio History


The New York City area is the number one most populated radio market in the country. Its evolution has had a profound effect on the entire American radio industry. Some of the biggest names in radio history have gone through New York, especially syndicated hosts such as Howard Stern. In the fifties and sixties WABC, programmed by Rick Sklar, could be heard by half of the United States at night. It was this top 40 giant that set national standards for many years as to what defined the concept of "hit radio."

Radio's early development from the 1900s through the 1910s happened with the U.S. military, experimental engineers and hobbyists. In the early 1920s, radio became a commercial medium for the first time. Perhaps the first commercial station in New York was WJZ, which RCA purchased from Westinghouse in 1921. Four days after the station was launched, it aired the World Series of the New York Yankees versus the New York Giants. Other existing stations that year included WDT, WDY and WJX.

More station licenses were granted in 1922 to Western Electric (WEAF), AT&T (WBAY), John Wanamaker (WWZ) and DeForest Radio Telephone and Telegraph Company (WJX). Brooklyn had an early station, WGAC, owned by Orpheum Radio Stores Company. Early Newark stations, also granted licenses in 1922 (the first year the government did so), included L. Bamberger and Company's WOR, D.W. May Inc.'s WBS and the Westinghouse station WJZ. WEAF became part of the first radio network in 1923. Other call letters to enter the AM dial in the twenties were WLAW, SAP, WJY, WAAM, WFAF, WRW, WBAN, WHAZ, WQAO, WBS, WHN, WNJ, WDBX, WNYC, WEBJ, WGBS (which became WINS), WHAP, WMCA, WLWL and WFRL.

The radio dial went through a lot of changes over the next two decades. Much of this had to do with the formation of the Federal Communications Commission in 1934. By the early 1940s, after many mandatory frequency reallocations, the dial began to take a shape that would be more consistent over the years until the rise of FM.

New York Radio Dial 1942
 570 WMCA
 660 WEAF
 710 WOR
 770 WJZ
 830 WNYC
 880 WABC
1000 WINS
1050 WHN
1130 WNEW
1280 WOV
1330 WBBR
1560 WQXR
1600 WCNW
New York Radio in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s

In the 1960s FM radio began to attract listeners who were bored with mainstream programming following new FCC rules that forced owners of AM/FM combos to limit their simulcasts of AM programming on FM. As a result, FM became experimental for awhile. One of the earliest (if not the earliest) progressive rock stations in the country was WNEW, programmed by Murray the K, sometimes referred to as the "fifth Beatle" for being the jock who created a lot of the initial excitement over the Beatles on their first American tour. Murray was the first commercial programmer in the country to craft a progressive rock station with WNEW in 1966, pre-dating the West Coast freeform explosion of 1967.

Another FM experiment was a little more tame but just as legendary. The introduction of the Easy Listening format came from WPIX (101.9 FM) Program Director Charlie Whitaker. The term "Easy Listening" was coined by Billboard Magazine's Radio-TV Editor Claude Hall, who was a listener of WPIX, which was owned by the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News from 1964 to 1968. Whitaker says, "Claude Hall was one of our biggest fans, recognizing that we were breaking the strangelhold that strodgy block-programmed, classical, fine arts and beautiful music formats had on FM radio."

WPIX quickly rose in Greater New York after its format shift and continued gaining in market share even with new competition in 1967 from WCBS-FM and WNEW-FM. By 1968 WPIX was number four in the market behind WABC, WNEW and WOR. "This is even more amazing," Whitaker says, "when one considers that there were no FM car radios in the 1960s and only a little more than half of U.S. homes had FM radios at all." Whitaker took his format on the road in 1968 with a group that began to syndicate Easy Listening around the country. By 1970 Easy Listening was the dominant format on FM radio.

During this time Whitaker spearheaded a campaign through the National Association of FM Broadcasters that promoted FM car radio. The campaign was instrumental in convincing America's Big Three automakers to include FM radio as a standard car feature. "Almost overnight," remembers Whitaker, "FM radio overtook AM in listenership and the rest is history."

In the seventies as the spotlight began to shift from AM to FM the new formats of the previous decade evolved toward more commercial directions. Freeform radio eventually transformed into rock radio (also called Album-Oriented Rock) as FM programming became more structured. By the late seventies and early eighties FM became the popular band for music. At that time AM music stations were left in the dust. Former top 40 empires WABC and WINS inevitably became talk stations. The Easy Listening format transformed into Adult Contemporary, based more on recent hits than classic hits. Top 40 was still king of New York in the eighties as Z100 (WHTZ), programmed by Scott Shannon, consistently earned the market ratings crown.

By the end of the end of the 1980s here's what the New York radio looked like:

New York Radio Dial 1989
  660 AM - WFAN: sports talk, owned by Emmis
  710 AM - WOR : talk, owned by Buckley
  770 AM - WABC: talk, owned by Cap Cities/ABC
  880 AM - WCBS: news, owned by CBS
  930 AM - WPAT: simulcast of WPAT 93.1 FM of beautiful/easy listening programming, owned by Park
 1010 AM - WINS: news, owned by Group W
 1130 AM - WNEW: nostalgia/big bands, owned by Westwood One
 1190 AM - WLIB: news, owned by Inner City
 1280 AM - WADO: Spanish, owned by Command
 1370 AM - WALK: simulcast of WALK 97.5 FM of adult contemporary, owned by American Media
 1600 AM - WWRL: religious, owned by NBN

 92.3 FM - WXRK: classic rock, owned by Infinity
 93.1 FM - WPAT: beautiful/easy listening programming, owned by Park
 95.5 FM - WPLJ: CHR/top 40, owned by Cap Cities/ABC
 96.3 FM - WQXR: classcial, owned by Interstate
 97.1 FM - WQHT: CHR/top 40, owned by Emmis
 97.5 FM - WALK: adult contemporary, owned by American Media
 97.9 FM - WSKQ: Spanish, owned by SBS
 98.3 FM - WKJY: adult contemporary, owned by Barnstable
 98.7 FM - WRKS: urban contemporary, owned by Summitt
 99.5 FM - WBAI: public radio, owned by Pacifica
101.1 FM - WCBS: oldies, owned by CBS
100.3 FM - WHTZ ("Z100"): CHR/top 40, owned by Malrite
101.9 FM - WQCD: new age/new adult contemporary, owned by Tribune
102.7 FM - WNEW: album rock, owned by Legacy
103.5 FM - WYNY: country, owned by Westwood One
104.3 FM - WNCN: classical, owned by GAF
105.1 FM - WNSR: adult contemporary, owned by Bonneville International
106.7 FM - WLTW: adult contemporary, owned by Viacom
107.5 FM - WBLS: urban contemporary, owned by Inner City
Both the eighties and nineties were marked by radio industry deregulation, which allowed big companies to gain a stronger foothold on the radio industry. The Telecom Act of 1996 loosened ownership limits that resulted in big companies buying a lot of smaller companies, changing the entire radio landscape. Here's what the New York radio dial looked like in 1997:

New York Radio Dial 1997
  660 AM - WFAN: sports talk, owned by CBS Radio
  710 AM - WOR : talk, owned by Buckley
  770 AM - WABC: talk, owned by Cap Cities/ABC
  880 AM - WCBS: news, owned by CBS Radio
  930 AM - WPAT: simulcast of WPAT 93.1 FM of beautiful/easy listening programming, owned by Park
 1010 AM - WINS: news, owned by CBS Radio
 1190 AM - WLIB: news, owned by Inner City
 1280 AM - WADO: Spanish, owned by Heftel
 1560 AM - WQEW: nostalgia/bib bands, owned by the New York Times
 1600 AM - WWRL: religious, owned by NBN

 92.3 FM - WXRK: classic rock, owned by CBS Radio
 93.1 FM - WPAT: Spanish adult contemporary, owned by Heftel
 95.5 FM - WPLJ: hot adult contemporary, owned by ABC
 96.3 FM - WQXR: classcial, owned by the New York Times
 97.1 FM - WQHT: CHR/rhythmic top 40, owned by Emmis
 97.5 FM - WALK: adult contemporary, owned by Chancellor Media
 97.9 FM - WSKQ: tropical, owned by SBS
 98.7 FM - WRKS: urban adult contemporary, owned by Emmis
 99.5 FM - WBAI: public radio, owned by Pacifica
101.1 FM - WCBS: oldies, owned by CBS Radio
100.3 FM - WHTZ ("Z100"): CHR/top 40, owned by Chancellor Media
101.9 FM - WQCD: smooth jazz, owned by Tribune (LMA with Emmis)
102.7 FM - WNEW: album rock, owned by CBS Radio
103.5 FM - WKTU: CHR/rhythmic top 40, owned by Chancellor Media
104.3 FM - WAXQ: classic rock, owned by Chancellor Media
105.1 FM - WDBZ: hot adult contemporary, owned by Bonneville International
106.7 FM - WLTW: adult contemporary, owned by Chancellor Media
107.1 FM - WWXY/WWZY: country, owned by Odyssey
107.5 FM - WBLS: urban contemporary, owned by Inner City
In the 2000s radio faces huge challenges from competing media for the delivery of music and information. The arrival of technology that allows listeners to craft their own listening programs has forced radio to rethink its position. If the past is any indicator of the road that lies ahead for radio, the winners will be the ones that figure out how to merge with new technology. Even Howard Stern is leaving terrestrial radio for Sirius Satellite Radio in January 2006. Here's what the New York radio dial looks like in 2005:

New York Radio Dial 2005
  660 AM - WFAN: sports talk, owned by Infinity
  710 AM - WOR : talk owned by Buckley Broadcasting
  770 AM - WABC: talk, owned by ABC Radio
  820 AM - WNYC: simulcast of public radio programming of 93.9 WNYC-FM
  880 AM - WCBS: news, owned by Infinity
  930 AM - WPAT: simulcast of WPAT 93.1 FM of beautiful/easy listening programming, owned by Park
 1010 AM - WINS: news owned by Infinity
 1050 AM - WEPN: (ESPN) sports, owned by ABC Radio
 1100 AM - WHLI (Hempstead, NY): nostalgia, owned by Barnstable Broadcasting
 1130 AM - WBBR: business news, owned by Bloomberg
 1190 AM - WLIB: talk, owned by Inner City
 1280 AM - WADO: Spanish, owned by Univision
 1560 AM - WQEW: Radio Disney, owend by New York Times Radio Co.
 1600 AM - WWRL: talk, owned by Access1 Communications

 92.3 FM - WXRK: rock, owned by Infinity
 92.7 FM - WZAA: Spanish, owned by Univision
 93.1 FM - WPAT: (Patterson, NJ) Spanish adult contemporary, owned by SBS
 93.9 FM - WNYC: public radio, WNYC
 95.5 FM - WPLJ: hot adult contemporary, owned by ABC
 96.3 FM - WQXR: classcial, owned by the New York Times
 97.1 FM - WQHT: ("Hot 97") hip hop, owned by Emmis
 97.5 FM - WALK: adult contemporary, owned by Clear Channel
 97.9 FM - WSKQ: tropical, owned by SBS
 98.7 FM - WRKS: urban adult contemporary, owned by Emmis
 99.1 FM - WAWZ: Christian adult contemporary, owned by Pillar of Fire
 99.5 FM - WBAI: public radio, owned by Pacifica
101.1 FM - WCBS: oldies, owned by Infinity
100.3 FM - WHTZ ("Z100"): CHR/top 40, owned by Clear Channel
101.9 FM - WQCD: smooth jazz, owned by Emmis
102.7 FM - WNEW: adult contemporary, owned by Infinity
103.5 FM - WKTU: CHR/rhythmic top 40, owned by Clear Channel
104.3 FM - WAXQ: classic rock, owned by Clear Channel
105.1 FM - WWPR: urban contemporary, owned by Clear Channel
106.7 FM - WLTW: adult contemporary, owned by Clear Channel
107.1 FM - WWZY: ("The Breeze") adult contemporary, owned by Press Communications
107.5 FM - WBLS: urban contemporary, owned by Inner City












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