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This page will attempt to showcase the histories of New York City AM Radio stations,
past and present.
Please feel free to e-mail me with any information you would like to contribute to this page and
you will be credited.
Some information provided by:
"The Airwaves Of New York:
Illustrated Histories Of 156 AM Stations In The
Metropolitan Area, 1921-1996"
Dave Hughes' NYRTV website (no longer online)
Jeff Miller's History Of American Broadcasting website
Do you, or anyone you know, work in NJ radio, either now or in the past?
is looking for you!
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WZRC - 1480 AM, New York
This station started out as WHOM and was founded in 1925 by the New Jersey Broadcasting Corp., owned by Outdoor Advertising executive Harry O'Mealia, whose company owned thousands of billboards around the metropolitan area.
He was also the president of the Jersey City Board Of Education.
WHOM was originally a Jersey City station, having taken over 1450 AM from the merged WIBS/WKBO.
Studios were on the 3rd floor of the Stanley Theatre at 2870 Hudson Blvd.
WHOM debuted with a 15 minute inaugural broadcast on April 13, 1930 at 5:45pm.
The host was chief announcer Howard Lepper, previously the manager of WIBS.
O'Mealia made a brief speech, and there were prayers from several clergy.
Then the station left the air to make time for WNJ and WBMS, returning to the air at 9pm for a gala show that lasted until 2am.
In 1931, WHOM absorbed the airtime of WNJ, and the following year, it became a full-time station with the demise of WBMS.
Initially, WHOM's schedule was filled with local North Jersey talent, Hawaiian combos, coverage of marathon dance contests, and other general-audience programs in English.
In 1934, O'Mealia sold WHOM to Paul Harron, owner of small part-time station WFAB.
Before long, WHOM adopted WFAB's programming, as well as sharing its studios at 29 W. 57th St.
In 1939, WHOM became the broadcast outlet of one of America's major media companies when it was bought by Gardner Cowles, whose publications included Look magazine.
The new owner was the Atlantic Broadcasting Company (no relation to the ABC of the 1920's.)
WHOM offered some respectable programming in English, bringing on jazz disk jockey Symphony Sid Torin in 1946 and news director Ron Cochran, later a prominent CBS coorespondent.
Joe Franklin was on WHOM in 1944 with "Vaudeville Echoes," a pioneering nostalgia program that he conducted without pay.
Meanwhile, Cowles tried, without much success, to convert WHOM into a full-time English-langauge station.
Instead, it continued to pursue its "natural and maximum audience," adding Norwegian, Yiddish and Lithuanian to its schedule.
Broadcasting foreign langauges during the turbulent days before and after World War II - especially German and Italian - was risky for WHOM, even with a station policy requiring that English translations be submitted in advance.
Many of its broadcasts were produced by "time brokers" and were beyond the direct control of the station.
There were several troublesome incidents, including an allegedly anti-Semitic Italian program in 1938 that jeopardized the renewal of the station's license.
During the war years, WHOM presented many special war emergency programs produced by Charles Baltin.
Baltin also hosted a Jewish-oriented program in English and was later WHOM's program director and vice-president.
Some lingering questions of loyalty emerged when Cowles moved to sell the station in 1946 to Fortune and Generoso Pope, owners of the city's major Italian daily paper, Il Progresso.
The sale was eventually approved, after doubts about the Popes' patriotism were put to rest, and on November 24, 1946, the Pope family took over WHOM with a distinctly Italian program featuring opera star Lucia Albanese and the Italian consul in New York.
Also in 1946, WHOM officially changed their "city of license" from Jersey City to New York.
In 1948, WHOM moved its studios to 136 W. 52nd St. and boosted power to 5000 watts.
Even though the station wa snow affiliated with an Italian newspaper, Spanish-language broadcasting began in 1947, and by the early 1950's, shows aimed at the black community featured Ray Carroll, Willie Bryant and Carlton Coleman.
"Fiesta Mambo" was a mid-1950's Latin rhythm program presented by Don Mambo in both English and Spanish.
Alan Fredericks' "Night Train" program came to WHOM briefly in the late 1950's, and Ralph Cooper presented the "Rocket Party" from midnight to 5am.
In December 1949, Generoso Pope prepared to buy WINS with the intension of moving WHOM to 1010 AM with 50,000 watts, but the sale was never approved by the FCC.
WHOM then looked forward to the television era and contemplated a merger with WOV when it applied for UHF Channel 31 in 1952, seeking to start a foreign-language TV station to be called WHOV-TV.
Citing economical problems in opening up the UHF band, the plan was abandoned in April 1954.
The biggest change came on June 6, 1960.
Although the Italian family ownership and top management remained the same, weekday programs were now all in Spanish (with some Italian and German programs continuing on Sundays.)
From "Buenos Dias, Nueva York" in the morning to "El Correo del Amor" and other soap operas, WHOM developed a full-service operation at a time when English-langauge broadcasters were moving into thiner niches.
Among its air personalities were Raul Alarcon, Freddy Baez and Polito Vega.
Sports director Buck Canel reported mainland and Caribbean scores and WHOM carried both Mets and Yankees games in Spanish, occasionally feeding the coverage to stations in Latin America.
In 1975, the Popes sold WHOM to the San Juan Racing Association, and in 1976, the call letters were changed to WJIT, with the station's programming becoming full-time Hispanic, and later evolving into a Spanish CHR format.
In 1989, the station was sold to Infinity Broadcasting, owners of WXRK 92.3, among others.
Calls were changed to WZRC on April 28, 1990 and the station instituted a heavy-metal rock format as "Z-Rock."
"Z-Rock" was a service of the Dallas-based Satellite Music Network and was so anxious to enter the New York market, that it initially bought time on WJIT.
However, "Z-Rock" was poorly promoted - it had a harsh edge (commercials sometimes contained profanity), and WZRC's signal was weak in the suburbs and outer boroughs.
So in December 1992, WZRC switched to country music - another oddity on the upper end of the AM dial.
Then in 1993, Infinity signed a lease agreement with a Korean programming service making WZRC the first full-time Korean-language station in New York.
(Thanks to Bryan Vargo for sending in an old WZRC logo)
WGMU - 1490 AM, New York
WGMU was a mobile station, operated in conjunction with WAHG.
The station went on the air in 1924.
During 1927, the station moved two times: first to 1470, then to 1490, before being phased out.
WRMU - 1490 AM, New York
As with WGMU (see above), WRMU was also operated in conjuction with WAHG.
WRMU went on the air in 1924, and as with WGMU, moved twice in 1927 to 1470 and 1490, before being phased out.
WGOP - 1500 AM, New York
This station started out as WIBI when it went on the air on Septemner 15, 1925 at 1370 AM.
The station was owned by Frederick B. Zittell Jr., who operated the Murray Hill Electric Company, an electrical and appliance business at 49 Boerum Ave. (150th St.) in the Flushing section of Queens.
Zittell had installed a 5-watt army surplus Western Electric transmitter in the back room, added some heavy curtains and carpets for acoustical treatment, and hung an antenna between a pair of steel poles in the yard.
In 1926, WIBI was assigned to share time on 1370 with WJBI in Red Bank NJ, whose similar call letters were a coincidence.
The station staff consisted of Zittell and his assistant, Norwood Bradshaw.
Local entertainers came to perform, and WIBI's publicity material asked for audience reaction and added, "If you hear a good educational and instructive talk, tell us so - and we will give you more."
Early in 1927 - after WIBI's power had been increased to 50 watts - Zittell moved the studios to the Roosevelt Theater at 55 N. 15th St. in Flushing and the transmitter to 20th St. and Northern Blvd.
The theatre publicized the radio station at the bottom of each day's newspaper ad.
WIBI became an outlet for local talent with its "Shadowland On The Bay" revue; news from the Daily Star of Long Island City and services from the First Baptist Church were also broadcast.
In June 1927, the new Federal Radio Commission (FRC) assigned WIBI to switch to 1120 AM and share time with WBKN, WWRL (see below) and WBMS.
In November 1927, all 4 stations at 1120 were ordered to move up the dial to 1500 AM.
All but WIBI immediately protested, for Zittell was then busy dismantling his station with the aim of moving it to Port Washington, Long Island.
Despite the services of salesman Robert Lake, Zittell was losing money on WIBI.
His financial problems caused him to bypass the Con Edison electric meter serving his store.
In December 1927, WIBI changed call letters to WGOP.
Its transmitter was now at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, and Zittell hoped the new station would have special appeal for Republicans.
But, his broadcasting activity caused Zittell to neglect the once-lucrative Murray Hill Electric Company, and declining financial fortunes finally led to the breakup of his marriage.
WGOP's license expired in August 1928, before it could be of service in that year's election.
Frederick Zittell eventually moved to Bucksport ME, where he was working at a gas station when he died, by suicide, in the early 1940's.
WQEW - 1560 AM, New York
This station was started by John V. L. Hogan, who began his career as a teenage assistant to Dr. Lee DeForest.
He pursued many experiments in his Radio Inventions Laboratory at 140 Nassau St. in Manhattan and later at 31-04 Northern Blvd., above a Ford garage in Long Island City.
By the late 1920's, Hogan had joined the parade of technical experts and tinkerers trying to send mechanically scanned images through the air.
Radio Pictures, Inc. received a license in 1929 for an "experimental broadcasting station" with the call sign W2XR, the number 2 signifying the Second Call Zone (New York and New Jersey) and letter X indicating an experimental transmitter.
W2XR officially went on the air March 26, 1929.
Hogan's television and facsimile pictures were broadcast at frequencies of 2100kc and above.
In 1933, the Federal Radio Commisson (FRC) authorized double-wide 20kc channels at 1530, 1550 and 1570 kilocycles, just past the top of the broadcast band at the time.
Hogan decided to accompany his television pictures with classical records on 1550kc.
Classical music, live and recorded, was already heard on the radio, but W2XR seemed to have a broader selection as well as superior audio.
Many of the better radios could tune the frequency, and Hogan began to win an audience unaware of, or uninterested in, video.
The fruitless TV experiments were soon abandoned in favor of achieving high-fidelity audio transmission.
This would evolve into one of the nation's premier classical music stations, and make it the only radio station in New York to have begun life on television.
Hogan and engineer Al Barber got special transcriptions from Western Electric and World Broadcasting Company.
Each transcription disk carried an indication of which filter to use, so two "extended range" turntables were modified with equalizing filters.
A small studio was equipped with Brush crystal microphones.
Hogan's secretary, Arthur Huntington, was the first announcer and pianist.
Starting in July 1934, W2XR was on the air for a few hours at a time.
The antenna was on the roof of the Ford garage.
Even during its experimental period, the station took itself seriously.
W2XR published a program guide and solicited listeners' reports on its technical tests, including such details as the proper balance between a speaker's voice and the background music.
Hogan even designed a special radio to receive W2XR, though few were manufactured.
In 1936, Hogan joined with publicist Elliot Sanger to form the Interstate Broadcasting Co. and turn W2XR into a commercial operation.
At that time, the organization only had 6 employees.
Their hope was to attract advertisers to a "quality audience," delivering messages consistent with the sound of Bach or Schubert.
This required the station to be selective in its choice of sponsors - a curious commerical twist.
On December 3, 1936, W2XR became WQXR, the new call letters chosen to resemble the old.
Since WQXR was a commercial venture beyond the range of many radio receivers, early in 1937 Hogan sent engineers Russell Valentine and Bob Cobaugh to visit businesses in the Long Island City area and charge a dollar to adjust sets whose dials stopped short of 1550 kilocycles.
With its new upscale commercial status, WQXR moved its studio from Long Island City to 730 5th Ave. in Manhattan.
But Hogan's lab remained busy, working to extend radio's audio range to 30-16,000 cycles (double the capability of most transmitters at the time) and improving on such devices as the phonograph pickup.
On September 1, 1938, WQXR broadcast the first tape-recorded program heard on American radio: Act 1 of Carmen, recorded in London.
Nearly all the equipment at WQXR during its first decade and a half, including the transmitters that progressed from 50 to 10,000 watts, was built in the Long Island City shop by Valentine.
With each advance in output quality, Valentine would look over the rest of the station to see what could still be improved, down to the switches on the audio-control board.
So, it was obvious to WQXR staff and listeners that "standard broadcast" sound had physical limitations.
On July 18, 1939, frequency modulation (or FM) was demonstrated to the press and public, with Edwin Armstrong's experimental station modulating WQXR's audio.
WQXR then made the natural progression to FM on November 26, 1939 when station W2XQR began broadcasting.
Meanwhile back on AM, WQXR began offering a number of non-musical programs, including "Author Meets The Critics" and regular poetry broadcasts.
The great radio writer Norman Corwin produced his first work in New York on WQXR in a 1937-38 series called "Poetic License."
Some of the earliest news programs were prepared by the respected Christian Science Monitor.
In the package with the Monitor broadcasts was Rex Keith Benware, an early WHN announcer who had a brief career in western movies and became one of the most familiar voices on WQXR.
In the early 1940's, the New York Post negotiated to buy WQXR, an offer that Elliot Sanger said he wished had come from the Times.
As a result of his offhand lament, the Times soon made a $1 million offer to Hogan and Sanger and on July 25, 1944, the city's most prestigious paper took control of the Interstate Broadcasting Co., keeping the existing staff and management.
But, there was one immediate and serious complication.
Since December 1941, the Times had been providing news to WMCA and refused to terminate the contract.
So, WQXR did not begin to broadcast Times news bulletins until July 1, 1946.
And, it was not until April 16, 1950 that WQXR moved from 57th St. to studios on the 9th and 10th floors of the Times building at 229 W. 43rd St.
Times newscasts were fired from the city desk to the WQXR news studio by pneumatic tube and listeners could tell from the swoosh and clunk when a late bulletin arrived (a noise no less intrusive than the clanging chime that opened each hour's news).
WQXR's live studio concerts were of higher quality and remained longer on the schedule than those of any other New York station.
Violinist Eddy Brown formed the first string ensemble for WQXR during the 1930's, and pianist Abram Chasins joined the WQXR staff in 1943 as music director.
Dual pianists Leonid Hambro and Jascha Zayde were also staff artists.
Concerts took place in WQXR's 400-seat auditorium and it was from this studio that one of radio's most far-reaching experiments began on October 30, 1952.
The idea was simple enough: a concert was broadcast into two microphones, one feeding the AM transmitter (usually the right channel), the other FM, to be picked up on two radios about 6 feet apart.
Tests of stereophonic radio actually date from the early 1920's, but WQXR's "binaural sound" can be seen as the immediate forerunner of stereo programming.
As basic to the WQXR sound as Bruno Walter, Vladmir Horowitz or Marian Anderon, were the voices of the announcers.
The first full-time announcer to be hired at the station was Bill Strauss, who beleived he passed the audition because he could announce with two different voices.
He remained with the station for over 30 years.
Among those who balanced intimacy with formality to perpetuate a distinct WQXR announcing style were Melvin Elliott, Lloyd Moss, Peter Allen, Frank Waldecker, Chet Santon, Bob Lewis, June LaBelle, Hugh Morgan and Ed Stanton.
Program director Martin Bookspan announced the New York Philharmonic concerts.
Morning man George Edwards and cocktail-hour host Duncan Pirnie had bouncy, individualistic deliveries.
On a station that forbade "raucous shouting" and singing commercials as undignified (there were complaints when a string quartet played a 7-second version of the Barney's clothing store jingle), WQXR announcers authoritatively delivered sponsors' messages with graceful vocal gymnastics.
At the beginning of 1953, WQXR expanded through its FM station with the "WQXR Network", an off-air link that hopped as far west as Buffalo, north to Boston and south to Washington.
On March 16, 1956, WQXR boosted power to 50,000 watts, however a special survey later that year revealed that slightly more than half the audience was listening to the FM station.
By the mid-1960's, WQXR relized it had to make some changes.
The "WQXR Network" was shut down in 1963 as affilaites saw that there was more money in strictly local programming.
Also, new FCC regulations concerning duplication of AM and FM, as well as changes in public taste, led WQXR to operate the AM separate from the FM, by programming light classics, show tunes and jazz.
On New Year's Day 1967, WQXR AM and FM offcially split their operations in what the station publicized as a "divorce," with the FM side considerbly "heavier" than the AM.
Then, 8 months later - after listeners' grumbling was confirmed by a formal survey - the plan was scrapped.
In 1969, WQXR began several non-QXRish programs, including a post-midnight pop and rock show featuring songwriter Gene Lees.
This concept was also short-lived.
WQXR's greatest successes remained such solid classical offerings as "The Vocal Scene" with George Jellinek, "The Listening Room" with Robert Sherman and "First Hearing", on which Lloyd Moss' expert guests critiqued new recordings without knowing who was performing.
In 1971, the Times put the WQXR stations up for sale and found buyers clamoring for the FM station, but keeping their distance from the AM.
The FCC's non-duplication rule was waived for WQXR and the stations were taken off the sales block.
Dana Bate was an announcer on WQXR, off and on, for over 18 years, including a staff announcer for most of the 1980's.
In June 1989, WQXR moved out of the Times building and downtown to 122 5th Ave.
Still, the AM station remained something of a white elephant for the Times, and in 1992, the demise of WNEW gave WQXR president and general manager Warren Bodow a respectable alternative.
WQXR brought over the sound and some of the personalities from WNEW, and in December 1992, the station became WQEW "The Home Of American Popular Standards."
WQEW premiered with a live studio performance by singer Tony Bennett.
In addition to the swing, ballads, and big bands, WQEW also brought over some of the voices from WNEW, including Les Davis, Mark Simone and Jonathan Schwartz.
In fact, Schwartz himself had been trying to start a new station to take the place of WNEW and had been so upset over the demise of the station that he had left just weeks before it was shut down.
He was a little uncertain about WQEW's intensions until reassured by program director Stan Martin.
Rich Conaty, who'd began presenting pop classics on Fordham University's WFUV, brought his knowledge and his record collection to WQEW, playing original vintage recordings from the swing era on "Big Band Saturday Night" and from even earlier on "The Big Broadcast" on Sunday nights.
WQEW also launched a series of live caberet, jazz and big-band programs such as had not been heard on any New York station for many years.
This included the first weekly pickups from the Rainbow Room, high atop the RCA building in Radio City.
At first, the station duplicated WQXR-FM for a few night-time hours, but soon WQEW took over all 24 hours and even dropped the Times news summaries.
Initial ratings revealed that 80% of former WNEW listeners had followed their favorites up the dial, and soon WQEW could boast that it had more listeners than any other station in the country with a similar format and the largest increase in audience of all broadcasters in the nation.
WQEW also became the sanctuary for some of New York City's most experienced announcers, including Del DeMontreux, Lee Arnold and Chuck Leonard.
Ratings, however, started to slip and even intially, it did not match the ratings that WNEW received.
On December 28, 1998, WQEW entered into an LMA (Lease Marketing Agreement - with option to buy) with ABC/Disney and the station became an affiliate of Disney's "Radio Disney" CHR format, aimed at children.
(WQXR logo, courtesy of knowston.tripod.com)
(Thanks to Bryan Vargo for the "Radio Disney AM 1560" logo)
(Thanks to Dana Bate for some of this information)
WWRL - 1600 AM, New York
This station was founded by William Reuman, who had been in radio nearly all his life, receiving his first ham radio license in 1912 at age 15, serving as a shipboard wireless operator, and later working as chief engineer of WFBH.
When WFBH became WPCH, Reuman left to found Woodside Radio Laboratory, which built and serviced radio sets and was initially the principal source of support for WWRL.
WWRL took to the air at midnight on August 26, 1926 at a frequency of 1160 AM.
Blue burlap was draped over the walls of the Reuman parlor at 41-30 58th St. in Woodside, Queens, and a transmitter and antenna were installed in the backyard.
The Reumans continued to live in the house, with friends and neighbors dropping by to sing, play, or announce the programs.
Most of the artists were local amateurs whose appearance on WWRL would be a high spot in their careers, although Ethel Zimmerman, a singer from Astoria, would go on to superstardom as Ethel Merman.
Others who got their start in the Reuman parlor included actor Eddie Bracken - who appeared as a boy singing "mother songs" - and announcer Art Ford, who would later host WNEW's "Milkman's Matinee.".
Scheduled programming often ran until midnight, at which time Reuman invited performers and friends to hang around for a nightcap and a party, leaving the station on the air.
In a day when broadcasters often maintained an unnatural formality, the impromptu performances, conviviality and small talk after hours on WWRL resulted in some spontaneous and appealing programs.
By 1927, Reuman had begun to explore the commercial possibilities of WWRL and was selling time to local merchants for $3 a spot.
At the same time, the new Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was attempting to end the disorder on the airwaves and directed WWRL - as well as WBKN, WBMS and WIBI (see above), with whom it was then sharing the 1120 spot on the dial - to move up to the highest AM frequency at the time, 1500 kilocycles.
Reuman protested that if he shifted to a frequency that high (beyond the tuning range of some older radios), "our signals would be practically unheard."
"It is evident that our commercial contracts, which now amount to 60 hours per week, would suffer greatly."
But the station did move, it survived, and in 1929, Reuman incorporated as the Long Island Broadcasting Corp.
WWRL was one of the first stations in the metropolitan area to gather and report local news.
"The Voice Of Queens County" played to ethnic groups in at least a dozen languages.
Program director Lou Cole personally announced shows in Italian, German, French, Hungarian, Slovak and Czech, as well as English.
From its earliest days, WWRL aired programs for Jewish and black listeners.
A regular Saturday afternoon feature was "Martha's Kiddie Hour", with Martha Wallace presenting talented tots as young as age 2.
In 1938, WWRL took over the time of WMBQ (one of the share-time stations that had gone silent).
When the North American Regional Broadcast Agreement rearranged the radio dial in 1941, WWRL was assigned for one day (April 29, 1941) to move from 1500 to 1490, then was moved to the new top of the dial position at 1600 AM, as a full-time station.
Edith Dick, who had started as a stenographer at WWRL when she was 19, rose to general manager in 1946 at the age of 29.
She was one of the few female station heads in the country and possibly the youngest.
Also in 1946, when the United Nations was temporarily meeting at the former World's Fair site in Flushing Meadow, WWRL carried meetings of the world organization.
In 1951, WWRL's city of license was officially changed from Woodside to New York.
In the 1950's, "Symphony Sid" hosted an overnight oldies show.
Ethnic programming was diversified, adding Greek, Syrian, Irish, Ukranian, Russian and several Scandinavian tongues, though most programs were intended for Spanish-speaking and African-American audiences.
By the late 1950's, WWRL was on 24 hours a day, most of the time in Spanish.
"Noche de Ronda" was the overnight show, and the "Spanish Breakfast Club" began at 5:30am.
For the black audience, WWRL featured some of New York's best disk jockeys: Reggie Lavong, Hal Jackson and Tommy Smalls, known as "Dr. Jive."
Others whose careers took them to WWRL included Jane Tillman Irving, Chuck Leonard and sportscaster Art Rust Jr.
William Reuman retired and sold WWRL to a group headed by Egmont Sonderling in January 1964.
The station then concentrated on black-oriented programming, playing rhythm-and-blues and, for a while in the late 1970's, affiliating with the Mutual Black Network.
In 1980, Sonderling merged with Viacom International, and a year later, WWRL joined with the ill-fated Enterprise Radio Network, an all-sports network.
In 1982, Viacom donated WWRL to the United Negro College Fund, which sold the station for $1.5 million to the Unity Broadcasting Network, a subsidiary of the National Black Network.
WWRL took its place as a network flagship.
The Top 40 music was replaced by contemporary black gospel and reggae music as well as live broadcasts from houses of worship on most evenings and on weekends.
WWRL was the last station in the metropolitan area, whose technical conditions required it to keep an engineer at the transmitter at all times; it was allowed to install a remote control in 1988.
In order to expand its coverage and increase its power to 25,000 watts, WWRL bought the licenses of 1600 WLNG in Sag Harbor NY, 1590 WQQW in Waterbury CT and 1590 WERA in Plainfield NJ and shut the stations down in the mid-1990's.
In 1998, WWRL changed to a classic soul/r&b format.
In 2000, WWRL's corporate name changed to Access.1 (Access Dot One).
On September 1, 2006, WWRL became the new home of Air America Radio, previously heard on WLIB 1190.
On January 6, 2014, WWRL switched to a Regional Mexican format as "La Invasora 1600."
(Thanks to Bryan Vargo for sending in an old WWRL logo)
(Thanks to John Cullen and Bill Dillane for some of this information)
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