by Alex Cosper
see also American Radio History
Atlanta's first commercial AM radio licensee was WSB, which stood for "Welcome South, Brother." The station was put on the air in 1922 by the Atlanta Journal. Its slogan "Voice of the South" inspired other radio stations around the country to invent their own slogans. As networks began to lead the new medium in its first decade, WSB became an NBC affiliate in 1927 and then increased to 50,000 watts in 1933, landing on the 750 AM position.
The second station to enter the market was WGST, which signed on a few days after WSB. WGST was also owned by a local newspaper, which was the Atlanta Constitution. At the end of the twenties they gave WGST to the Georgia School of Technology. It became a CBS affiliate the following year. Once NBC blossomed into two networks (Red and Blue), WAGA (1480) which launched in 1937, carried the Blue Network while WSB aired the Red Network. Cox Radio acquired WSB in 1949. WATL (1400) became an affiliate of the Don Lee-Mutual network in 1940.
The first station in Atlanta to play rock and roll music in the fifties was WGST (920). The station featured Paul Drew, who hosted a show called "The Big Record." He eventually moved on to crosstown WAKE (1340). In the late 80s WGST moved to 640 AM. One of Atlanta's most legendary stations was AM top 40 giant WQXI (790) in the sixties and seventies. The station was known throughout the South as "Quixie in Dixie," which was the station's slogan, coined by former owner Bill Lowery, Jr. In the early sixties WQXI disc jockeys included Patrick Hughes, Mike Holiday and Tony "The Tiger" Taylor. Dr. Don Rose, who became a San Francisco morning legend, worked at WQXI from 1967 to 1972. Other Quixie jocks included Scott Shannon, John Leader, Gary McKee, Russ Davis, The Tiger Twins (Tom and Paul Collins), Jeff McCartney, Jim Morrison, and J.J. Jackson. The creator of the television series WKRP in Cincinnati, Hugh Wilson, worked at WQXI, which is why many people believe the station was the original inspiration for the show. In the 2000s the station calls itself 790 The Zone, while maintaining the heritage call letters, running a sports/talk format.
Other top 40 stations that appeared in the sixties included WYNX (1550), which had been MOR as WSMA, then changed call letters and went top 40 in 1965. Another top 40 station throughout the seventies and early eighties was WFOM (1230). It was owned by Jimmy Davenport and sold to Jerry Crowe in the mid-seventies. In the early eighties it went talk.
In the late sixties, listeners began to explore the FM dial. WAGA (103.3) was partially run by Georgia State University students and partially a simulcast of WPLO (610) from 1960 thoughout most of the decade. It became Atlanta's first progressive rock station in 1968. The rocker was automated but locally programmed by Ed Shane. The format flipped to country in 1974, competing with WBIE (1080), which had been country since the late sixties. The station eventually became urban WVEE and changed ownership in 1996 from Granum to Infinity.
The seventies was the final period in which several AM stations made up a majority of the top ten rated stations. It was a decade in which the handful of established formats began to fragment based on musical style and demographics. Some of the other stations in the tail-end of AM's heyday included WCOB and then WJYI (1080), which played Frank Sinatra-type artists, WSB (750), which was programmed by Elmo Ellis from early fifties through the early eighties, and WAOK (1380), playing R&B music, owned by Ragan Henry.
FM became the preferred band for music listeners by the early eighties. WZGC (92.9) became the market's first successful top 40 station on FM, beginning in the late seventies as Z93. It had been the market's first oldies station in the early seventies, running the Drake-Chenault "Solid Gold" automated format. Ross Brittan of the "Ross & Wilson" morning show went on to do mornings at WABC in New York.
Another FM top 40 station in the seventies and eighties was WFOX (97.1). The Gainesville station had a wider playlist than Z93, but because its signal did not cover the market, it trailed Z93 in the ratings. In the mid-eighties the transmitter moved to Buford and the format changed to adult contemporary and then later to oldies. Shamrock sold the station in 1995 to Chancellor, who sold to Cox Radio in 1999. In 2003 the format flipped to urban.
When it became clear that WPCH (The Peach, 94.9) had cornered the easy listening market, as the station was number one, competitor WARM 100 (99.7) flipped to top 40 as Power 99 in 1985. Z93 then started to move in an urban direction, staying within the realm of contemporary hits. The Peach was the sister station of WGST-AM. It had been The Peach since 1970 and became the first FM in the market to have major ratings success. The Peach also forced WSB-FM to drop easy listening in the early eighties for lite rock. In 2002 Clear Channel changed the call letters of WPCH to WLTM and the station became "Light FM."
One of the most popular rock stations in Atlanta history has been WKLS (96.1). The station, which flipped from big band music to album rock in 1974, has generally followed the trends in rock. In the early eighties it played "hair bands" then began to mix in more modern rock in the 82-84 period, reflecting the influence of MTV. "The Wake-Up Crew" was the station's popular irreverent morning show in the early eighties. In the mid-eighties the station turned to classic rock. When Z93 flipped to classic rock in the late eighties, 96 Rock moved back to more current album rock.
Beginning in 1991 a new kind of rock began to gain ground in Atlanta. Power 99 (WAPW), which had fallen off in the ratings as a top 40 station, switched to alternative on Halloween and became WNNX as 99X. The station was one of the first dozen major market alternative stations in the country to usher in the Seattle sound that spawned Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Over the new decade the station would become one of the most successful alternative stations in the country under the programming of Brian Phillips and then Leslie Fram.
Even 96 Rock reacted to the growing influence of 99X. For awhile 96 Rock began to included alternative rock in its programming. In early 1996 Citicasters sold the station to Jacor for $70 million. In the late nineties the "Regular Guys" became a popular morning show on the station with their mix of politics, social commentary and humor.