by Alex Cosper
see also American Radio History
Early commercial AM radio stations in Philadelphia radio history shared the 833 frequency in 1922. Those stations were Strawbridge and Clothier's WFI, Thomas Howlett's WGL, The Gimbel Brothers' WIP and John Wanamaker's WOO. Other early call letters in the twenties included WCAU and WDAR. Many stations changed dial positions in the early years. By the 1940s the AM radio dial had taken a more definitive shape: WFIL (560), WIP (610), WPEN (950), KYW (1060), WCAU (1210) and WHAT/WTEL (1340).
The first all-talk FM station in the country was born in Philadelphia in March 1975 when WWDB dropped its jazz format. It had made history in 1958 when it had become the first 24 hour live FM jazz station as WHAT. The call letters became WWDB in the late sixties, named after owners William and Dolly Banks.
Ragan Henry bought WWDB for $6 million in 1986. He became the first African American to own a station in Philadelphia. Two months later he sold the station to Panache Broadcasting, who sold to Mercury Broadcasting in 1996 for $48 million. Within a year Beasley bought the station for $65 million. In 2000 it became WPTP as "96.5 The Point" and then in 2003 went rhythmic contemporary hits as WLDW. For awhile it was called "Wild" but changed to "Wired 96.5" after issues with Clear Channel, who claimed to have rights to the name.
Throughout the mid to late eighties "Easy 101" (WEAZ 101.1) was frequently the top station in the market with its beautiful music/easy listening format. The station advanced in 1982 when its main rival WWSH switched to top 40, leaving Easy 101 as the sole "elevator music" station in town. The station originally launched as WDVR in 1963, put on the air by Dave Kurtz and Jerry Lee. With its beautiful music format, it became the first FM station in America to gross $1 million per year.
The call letters changed to WEAZ in 1980. Eight years later WEAZ dropped its long-running beautiful format and switched to adult contemporary as "EZ 101." In 1993 the station became "B101.1" with the call letters WBEB. The station's main competitor through the eighties had been WKSZ "Kiss 100," which debuted in November 1982. The frequency had been dark since 1973 when a previous owner had its license revoked. Then using the call letters WXUR AM and FM, this 690 AM and 100.3 FM combo was owned by Rev. Carl McIntyre, who ran a religious format.
Daniel Lerner led a group of investors to take control of WKSZ at its relaunch. The station peaked in popularity as Kiss 100 in the late eighties. By 1992 the ratings had fallen off and the station flipped to top 40/contemporary hits as Z100. It made the move following the disappearance of WEGX (Eagle 106), which dropped top 40 for Smooth Jazz three days earlier. But the Z100 idea ran into problems when WHTZ in New York, which also called itself Z100, complained and demanded that owner Malrite drop the Z100 name in Philadelphia. So WKSZ became Y100 and then changed call letters to WPLY in 1993.
Y100 then moved into alternative music under the programming of Jim McGuinn. In 2001 Radio One, bought the station. Four years later they dropped the alternative format in favor of contemporary hits as "The Beat," in which Radio One's WPHI simply moved from 103.9 to 100.3.
In the early eighties the top 40 battle was between WWSH and WCAU (98.1). One of the earliest FMs in the market, it started in 1939 and acquired the WCAU call letters in 1944. It began venturing into "The Young Sound" in the mid-sixties. In 1970 it shifted to soul music and then automated oldies in 1972. In 1976 the format moved to disco and then in September 1981 became "Hot Hits." The format was crafted by radio consultant Mike Joseph, who took the idea to several CBS stations.
Kiss 99 (WPKS) emerged as an urban station in October 1982. But WKSZ had also planned to used the name Kiss, creating a brief controversy that resulted in WPKS changing its name to Power 99, making it the first station in America to call itself Power, as the name became common in the industry by the end of the decade.
Prior to 1982, the station had the call letters WUSL. From 1976 to 1981 it was a soft adult contemporary station and then switched to country for a year. The station debuted in 1961 in which the original WPBS call letters stood for "Philadelphia's Bulletin Station," named after the newspaper who owned it. In 1976 the station sold to Lin Broadcasting, who changed the call letters to WUSL and the station name to "US-1."
The top 40 rivalry heated up in 1987 when Eagle 106 had rebounded. So WCAU dropped top 40 for oldies and changed the call letters to WOGL. For a few years WOGL faced oldies competition from WIOQ.
By the end of the eighties the top station in town was news station KYW (1060), owned by Group W. Other top stations of the era included: WEAZ (560 AM and 101.1 FM, AC, Waz, Inc.), WMMR (93.3, rock, Legacy), WUSL (98.9, UC, Tak), WEGX (106.1, CHR, Malrite), WPEN (950, nostalgia, Greater Media), WIOQ (101.1, CHR, EZ) and WKSZ (100.3, AC, WKSZ Inc).
By the late nineties, KYW was still the market leader, owned by CBS Radio, which merged with Infinity. Other Other leading stations toward the new millennium were WYSP (94.1, rock, CBS Radio), WBEB (101.1, AC, WEAZ-FM Radio), WOGL (98.1, oldies, CBS Radio), WUSL (98.9, UC, Chancellor), WWDB (96.5, talk, Beasley), WDAS (105.3, urban AC, Chancellor), WMMR (93.3, rock, Greater Media).
© Playlist Research. All rights reserved.