ⓘ WNBC (AM)
WNBC was a commercial AM radio station licensed to New York City from 1922 to 1988. For most of its history, it was the flagship station of the NBC Radio Network. It was a Class A clear-channel station broadcasting at the maximum power for AM radio, 50.000 watts. WNBC left the air on October 7, 1988. Its former frequency has since been occupied by Entercom-owned all-sports WFAN.
1. NBC Network Radio 1922–1960
WNBC signed on for the first time on March 2, 1922, as WEAF, owned by AT&T Western Electric. It was the first commercially licensed radio station in New York City.
The call letters are popularly thought to have stood for W estern E lectric A T&T F one or W ater, E arth, A ir and F ire the 4 classical elements. However, records suggest that the callsign was assigned from an alphabetical sequence. The first assigned callsign was actually WDAM. They were quickly dropped, but presumably came from the same alphabetical sequence.
In 1922, WEAF broadcast what it later claimed to be the first radio advertisement actually a roughly 10-minute-long talk anticipating todays radio and television infomercials. The ad promoted an apartment development in Jackson Heights near a new elevated subway line the IRTs Flushing-Corona line, now the number 7 line.
In 1926, WEAF was purchased by the Radio Corporation of America, making it a sister station to WJZ. RCA then formed the National Broadcasting Company, which operated two radio chains. WEAF became the flagship station of the NBC Red Network. The other chain was the NBC Blue Network, whose programming originated at WJZ now WABC, also owned by RCA. As a result of the North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement of 1941 NARBA, WEAF became a clear channel station, and could be heard across most of the eastern half of North America at night.
In 1943, the United States Supreme Court ordered RCA to sell off one of its radio networks, citing antitrust concerns. The company decided to keep the Red Network, and it was rebranded as the NBC Radio Network after the Blue Network was divested, along with several stations including WJZ, to Edward J. Noble. The Blue Network was renamed the American Broadcasting Company. WEAFs call letters were changed to WNBC in 1946, then to WRCA in 1954, and back to WNBC in 1960.
2.1. WNBC local programming 1960s
By the early 1960s, the station gradually switched from NBC network programs to more local-oriented programs and adjusted its music policy from traditional standards to incorporate more popular hits while staying away from harder rock and roll. In 1964, it adopted a talk format, the first in New York radio. Hosts included genial morning-drive companion Big Wilson, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson announcer Ed McMahon, New York-based actor Robert Alda, NBC Radio comedian/satirist Mort Sahl, the witty mid-morning game-show host "Fortune Phone" Sterling Yates, late-morning talk radio provocateur Joe Pyne, midday voices Lee Leonard and later Jim Gearhart, sports talk host Bill Mazer, plus late-nighters Brad Crandall later of NFL Films and Long John Nebel.
On weekends, WNBC aired almost all of the NBC Radio Networks Monitor program, which featured many of WNBCs own hosts as well as the already established lineup holding court at NBCs Radio Central.
Later in the decade WNBC shed its "Conversation Station" format and readopted a middle-of-the-road MOR music format, covering songs from the 1940s to the 1960s with non-rock and soft rock hits recorded after 1955. The format would feature such artists as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Nat "King" Cole, The Everly Brothers, Tom Jones, The 5th Dimension, Peggy Lee, and Dionne Warwick. Hosts during this transition back to music included Wilson, Jack Spector formerly of WMCA, Jack Hayes, Charlie Brown and later Ted Brown, hired away from then-dominant MOR station WNEW. Well-known MOR host and vocalist Jim Lowe joined WNBC for a time during one of his many shuttles to and from WNEW. Former WMCA morning man Joe OBrian joined WNBC during this time. By 1971, music from such acts as Sinatra and Cole would disappear, with a few exceptions, separating WNBC from its WNEW-like beginnings while WNEW also ironically began to also move away from the more traditional artists as well only for them to return to a more traditional Big Band format 10 years later.
2.2. WNBC local programming 1970s
Don Imus was hired in December 1971, giving New York its first exposure to the shock jock genre. Imus stayed with the station for most of the next two decades, except for a couple of years in the late 1970s when there was a general purge of the air staff and a short-term format flip to a music intensive Top 40 approach.
Despite somewhat different formats, WNBC saw itself as a mostly unsuccessful competitor to New York Top 40 powerhouse WABC. Thus they brought in Murray "the K" Kaufman in 1972, and Wolfman Jack opposite WABCs Bruce "Cousin Brucie" Morrow in 1973. This did not improve ratings much.
By 1973, WNBC was a mainstream top 40 leaning Adult Contemporary radio station featuring the Carpenters, Paul Simon, Carole King, the Stylistics, Neil Diamond, James Taylor, and other artists of that era. They also began to play more 1960s-era rock and roll oldies, including the Motown artists, Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones, at that point.
Ted Brown would leave in the early 1970s and return to WNEW. In 1974, NBC Radios new president, Jack G. Thayer, formerly of WGAR in Cleveland, hired John Lund from WNEW to be program director. Then WNBC hired Bruce Morrow away from WABC to take over the evening shift. In addition to Imus in the morning, Lund moved Cousin Brucie to middays, hired Bob Vernon for afternoons, Oogie Pringle for early evenings, and Dick Summer for late night. Other new DJs included Norm N. Nite who arrived from WCBS-FM in 1975. Lund departed in 1976. Joe McCoy was hired in 1976. Mel Phillips was program director at the time of Joe McCoys hiring.
By 1975, WNBC was playing an Adult Top 40 format, trying to compete with WABC. They featured hits from 1964 to then-current music. By this time, artists such as the Eagles, Billy Joel, Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, Donna Summer, and disco acts, among others, were mixed in. Unfortunately, despite or because of the continuous tweaking of WNBCs format, the station remained in the second tier of New York stations.
In 1977, Bob Pittman was hired as WNBCs new Program Director, replacing Mel Phillips. His first decision was to lay-off all of the stations personalities, some of which were veterans, replacing them with younger-sounding disc jockeys from Boston and medium markets. He also shifted the format from Adult Top 40 or Hot AC to a more aggressively current-based Top 40 format, with occasional nods to FM radio such as commercial-free hours. As a result of this tweaking, the station was now playing artists such as Andy Gibb, KC & the Sunshine Band, Boston, Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Billy Joel, the Bee Gees, among others. However, listenership did not go up, but actually went down, and while some of the new air personalities would find success, others would not. By 1979, Pittman would leave WNBC he would soon become the founder of MTV. John Lund was hired back as program director from KHOW in Denver, and Don Imus returned to the morning show. Under program director John Lund, WNBCs playlist was tweaked back to an Adult top 40 format, and ratings increased by 50% to surpass WABC by the summer of 1980.
2.3. WNBC local programming 1980s
In the early 1980s, WNBC continued as an adult-leaning Top 40 radio station. The best days of WNBC were from the fall of 1980 until the fall of 1983, when the station was consistently in or near the top 5. When Lund returned as program director in late 1979, WNBC general manager Robert Sherman set the goal: "Beat WABC", which had been New Yorks #1 station for decades. Lund launched the "Twice as Many" contest promoting "twice the music, twice the prizes, and twice as many chances to win". As New Yorks #2 station behind WABC, "WNBC had to be twice as good to be #1". WNBC promotion director Dale Pon who later created the successful "I Want My MTV" campaign created its slogan "The Next One", meaning that it would be the number-one ranked AM music station in New York City. As part of that campaign, TV commercials and subway boards softened the image of the cantankerous Don Imus by including two cute twin blonde little girls saying "Were #2" and blanketing the New York City metro area. When an Arbitron report was released that WNBC believed confirmed that it was in fact the most popular AM music radio station in New York City, the slogan was changed to "The New One". Also in 1980, to differentiate its call letter similarity with WABC, Lund got Imus and other talents to over-emphasize the letter N when saying the station name: "66 W-NNNN-B-C". Within a year, Imus was #1 in the morning and WNBC surpassed WABC in Arbitron ratings. WNBC added American Top 40 with Casey Kasem late in 1980. In reality, WABCs ratings had begun to nosedive in 1978-79, and by the time WNBC beat them in 1980, it was only good enough for sixth place in the market.
In 1981, John Lund left WNBC to begin his consulting and research firm in San Francisco, and the stations assistant PD, R.E. "Buzz" Brindle served as interim program director until Kevin Metheny was hired in the late Spring. WNBC began moving to a similar AC format to sister station WYNY. Hard rock songs were eliminated during the day. At night, the station was slightly hotter playing a limited amount of rock songs. At that time, WNBC and WYNY were sort of fraternal twin stations playing identical types of music but presented differently and their music mix was somewhat different for both current and gold songs. By summer 1982, WNBC was near the top with some of their best ratings ever.
2.4. WNBC local programming Filling the void left by WABC
Once WABC switched to their present-day all-talk format on May 10, 1982, WNBC added a few rock songs that were not heard on any AC stations in the area. In the fall of 1982 to much fanfare, Long Island native Howard Stern was brought in from WWDC-FM in Washington, D.C., to do afternoon drive. Initially, Stern played a considerable amount of music, much to his dismay, though his ratings were high. Then, in 1983 with ABC-owned WPLJ evolving to a Contemporary Hit Radio CHR format, as well as WHTZs debut with the same format, WNBC began to lose some listeners. WNBC lost American Top 40 to WPLJ in November 1983. The station performed well through 1984.
2.5. WNBC local programming Transition from Music Intensive to Full Service
In the spring of 1984, Dale Parsons took over as program director. After that, Stern cut down his music load, eventually playing only four songs an hour and began to talk much more. On overnights beginning in the spring of 1984, WNBC added taped Wolfman Jack shows which featured oldies from the 1960s with some 1950s and early 1970s music, with current and 80s hits mixed into rotation and pre-recorded voice tracks of Wolfman Jack announcing the songs, making the show sound live.
Throughout his three years at WNBC, Stern had continuous battles with station management and other jocks at the station, specifically Don Imus and program director Kevin Metheny, whom Stern nicknamed "Pig Virus". Many of these conflicts were dramatized in Sterns autobiographical book and film Private Parts which included an amusing scene where he is instructed by Metheny on the preferred "W-ehhNNN-B-C" pronunciation of the stations call letters.
Early in 1985, WNBC was a Hot AC station with a moderate amount of 1960s and 1970s music mixed in. That year they evolved from a music intensive format to more of a full-service AC station, with music as a background and personality as the foreground. In the spring of 1985, former childrens television show host Soupy Sales started a talk-intensive program in middays, replacing the Frank Reed all-request radio show, heard 1984–1985 weekdays 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Soupy combined comedy, games, and talk, while playing 6 to 8 songs per hour. On weekends they became oldies-based, emphasizing 1960s oldies while still playing current product in moderation; they were now basically out of the Top 40/CHR realm by then. Their younger audience base had already gone to WHTZ or WPLJ, but with Stern in afternoons and Imus in the morning they continued to do reasonably well.
Imus and Soupy Sales were down to six to eight songs an hour and Stern played about four songs per hour, although he complained about the type of music on the playlist he was supposed to be playing at the time. That summer, with radiocasts of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, WNBC added Sports Night on weekday evenings, initially hosted by Jack Spector until early in 1986 and then Dave Sims after that. During the month of August, music was still heard during "Sportsnight", approximately four songs per hour before being dropped completely by the end of the year. Stern was attempting to stop playing music on his show at this point, but songs were still used sporadically, as September airchecks exist with him playing "Bend Me Shape Me" by The American Breed and making fun of it, "Careless Whisper" and "Freedom" by Wham!, "Part Time Lover" by Stevie Wonder and a few others. He was probably playing about two records per hour but never seemed to completely drop music. Sterns days at NBC were numbered for unrelated reasons. At that point music was taking a backseat during the week on the station.
2.6. WNBC local programming Decline
On September 30, 1985, Howard Stern was terminated abruptly, supposedly due to corporate pressure. In Private Parts, Stern detailed how WNBC management expected that his last day would be September 26, and that Stern would not go in to work on September 27 due to Hurricane Gloria. However, Stern went in, and because there was no station management on hand, Stern did his show as normal refusing to cover the problems related to the storm. Ironically, he spent much of the show insisting that he was leaving the station, because he had learned that Soupy Sales had signed a syndication contract that had long been withheld from Stern.
After Sterns dismissal and subsequent debut on rival New York station 92.3 K-Rock, WNBCs ratings plummeted, and they were under a two-share by the spring of 1986. Initially, they played a bit more music and then went through several temporary afternoon hosts. Afternoons were back to about 12 songs per hour. The music was more of a gold-based Adult Contemporary format with many oldies and moderate amounts of current product. In the Spring of 1986, Joey Reynolds moved into afternoons with a talk-intensive show playing six songs an hour. Wolfman Jack was dropped in overnights in favor of various weekend announcers playing the regular AC rotation. Weekends had Bill Grundfest doing a talk intensive show a few hours each day playing six songs an hour. Despite these changes, by the fall of 1986, WNBC was in a ratings crisis.
At approximately 4:42 PM on October 22, 1986, the stations "N-Copter" traffic helicopter crashed into the Hudson River, killing traffic reporter Jane Dornacker and severely injuring pilot Bill Pate. As millions of WNBC listeners heard Dornacker giving her traffic report, she stopped abruptly as a grinding noise could be heard in the background likely the copter engines going overspeed. Dornacker then screamed in terror, "Hit the water! Hit the water! Hit the water!", as the radio transmission was suddenly cut off and a very shaken Joey Reynolds, working as radio host, awkwardly tried to figure out what had happened by saying "Okay, were going to play some music here, I think", and then played "Hip to Be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News. Dornacker had recently gotten back to flying in a helicopter after surviving a previous crash on of the N-Copter into the Hackensack River in New Jersey a few months earlier on April 18. An episode of NBCs television show Third Watch featured a similar incident.
WNBC had a turnover of programming in early 1987. On February 23, the music intensive AC mix with various people was dropped on overnights in favor of Alan Colmes, who would also do a talk intensive show and only six songs per hour. On February 27, 1987, Joey Reynolds show was ended and Bill Grundfest temporarily moved into this time slot. On March 9, 1987, Alan Colmes moved to afternoons and continued to play four songs per hour. Joey Reynolds did not run his own board and had Big Jay Sorensen as his producer and board operator. Since Colmes ran his own board, Jay Sorensen moved to the overnight shift and did a music intensive show. This show was now marketed as The Time Machine, playing oldies from 1955 to 1974 emphasizing 1964–69, complete with old jingles and an echo effect, resulting in a sound similar to WABCs during its Top 40 heyday. Two weeks later, on March 23, 1987, Soupy Sales had found out that there were plans to end his show and at that point he walked off midway through with Dale Parsons finishing the show. Weekender and assistant programming director, Jim Collins moved into that time slot with a gold based music intensive show on a temporary basis. Then on April 6, 1987, a couple weeks after Soupy Sales left, his former sidekick, Ray DAriano moved back into the 10 am to 2 pm weekday time slot but was now playing 1955–73 oldies focusing on 1964-69. His show was music-intensive, playing about 12 oldies an hour.
In the summer of 1987, WNBC considered going all oldies, running the Time Machine full-time, with the exception of Knicks games, Rangers games, and Imus in the Morning. But instead, they increased the amount of oldies programming, but not on a full-time basis. Therefore, WNBC modified their format, keeping Imus in the morning, playing a few AC cuts and a couple oldies an hour with his usual talk. Alan Colmes continued hosting the afternoon drive talk show, but dropped music altogether. In evenings, Dave Sims continued with sports talk along with Knicks and Rangers games. The Time Machine remained on overnights, but was now expanded to full-time on weekends with hosts Dan Taylor (laid off from WHN when they became WFAN, "Big" Jay Sorenson, "The Real" Bob James, Jim Collins, Lee Chambers, Dale Parsons, Carol Mason and others. Ray DAriano continued his midday weekday oldies show, but was not part of the "Time Machine" programming. His show had newer WNBC jingles, no echo sound effects, and slightly softer songs. From the Summer of 1987 to the stations demise on October 7, 1988, WNBCs format was classified as Adult Contemporary, but they only played Adult Contemporary cuts during Imuss show. The actual format was block programming featuring AC and Talk in morning drive; all-Oldies on Middays, overnights, and weekends; Talk on weekday afternoons; and sports talk weekday evenings and whenever the Knicks or Rangers played a game. It was difficult to classify WNBCs format at that point.
3. The beginning of WFAN and the end of WNBC 1987–1988
In November 1987 General Electric, which owned NBC at that time through its purchase of RCA in February 1986, announced that it would sell off the NBC Radio division. In February 1988 GE made a multi-station deal with Emmis Communications and, in New York, the WNBC license for 660 was included in the sale. Emmis announced it would move WFAN to 660. At the time, WFAN was located at 1050 AM, and had a somewhat marginal signal in portions of the New York area. As the deal only included the license for WNBC and not the stations intellectual property, GE shut down the station for good.
On October 7, 1988 at 5:30 pm, WFAN moved to WNBCs old frequency at 660 AM, which has a much better signal. Earlier in the day, the station aired a 90-minute retrospective titled "WNBC-The First 66 Years," hosted by Dale Parsons. The program was written and produced by Parsons and his wife, Ginny, who spent nearly six months researching the stations history. Regular music programming ended at 6 am; Jay Sorenson played "Imagine" by John Lennon followed by the NBC chimes and a 5-second pause. The last voice heard on WNBC was that of Alan Colmes, who said "Im Alan Colmes. Thank you, God bless you, and for the last time, this is 66 WNBC New York. Lets do the countdown." and counted down the seconds to WNBCs demise with the legendary NBC chimes the notes G-E-C playing in the background. Their soon-to-be former TV sister station, WNBC-TV, abruptly cut from a pre-produced history piece on WNBC and NBC Radio during their 5:00 pm newscast to cover the sign-off live. The final unofficial voice was that of then-WNBC-TV reporter Roger Grimsby, who could be heard announcing, "You heard the countdown, its over." After 66 years, the long history of NBC radio in New York had come to an end.
Due to the way the transfer was handled legally, WFAN still operates under WEAF/WRCA/WNBCs old license. The FCC recognizes that Emmis Communications changed the callsign of WNBC to WFAN; changed the stations format to sports radio; rebranded the station as SportsRadio 66 WFAN ; and reassigned on- and off-air staff. In effect, this new WFAN 660 AM licensed to New York City had become the successor to the previous WFAN 1050 AM licensed to New York City. While WFAN did not claim any part of WNBCs history upon the switch, it did inherit WNBCs rights to New York Knicks and Rangers play-by-play and signed up Imus to take Greg Gumbels place in the morning. Imus remained on the morning drive-time slot for 19 years until his firing in 2007 for comments about the Rutgers University womens basketball team; he moved to WABC near the end of that year and remained there until retiring in 2018.
In the complicated switch that saw WFAN move to 660, 1050 that was formerly the home of WFAN became that of Spanish-language WUKQ, owned by Spanish Broadcasting System. However, SBS already owned an AM station in the market, Newark-based WSKQ at 620, and at the time, FCC rules stipulated that companies could own only one AM station per market. As a result, SBS received a temporary waiver to run 1050 while exploring the sale of either AM frequency. SBS chose to keep 620, and 1050 was traded to Forward Communications, which owned WEVD, then at 97.9 FM. After that deal was approved, WEVDs call letters and programming moved to 1050 it is now WEPN and SBS took over 97.9 as WSKQ-FM. The October NBC-Emmis switch also saw Emmiss WQHT then at 103.5 move to 97.1, which had been the home of NBCs WYNY. Emmis sold 103.5 to Westwood One, who also acquired the WYNY call letters and its country music format.
In the end, WFAN retired two of the oldest radio call letters from the dawn of commercial radio: WHN and WNBC.