WDAS-FM is an Urban Adult Contemporary radio station that features R&B and Classic Soul, and is licensed to the city of Philadelphia. Under ownership of iHeartMedia, Inc., the station is widely regarded as one of the originators of the Urban AC format which mixes R&B oldies with non-rap contemporary R&B and is now found in many major markets across the United States. WDAS broadcasts at an effective radiated power of 16,500 watts (16.5 kilowatts (kW)) from a class B signal, from a tower located in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, and its studios are located in Bala Cynwyd. The main competitor of WDAS in the Philadelphia market is WRNB, and its format complements WUSL and WDAS-AM.
WDAS-FM is one of at least two "legendary" radio stations in Philadelphia, pioneers in a format so successful that listenership is passed on from generation to generation. In Philadelphia's African American community, WDAS is the FM equivalent to the perennially popular KYW Newsradio 1060. Widely regarded as the originator of the Urban Adult Contemporary format which it plays today, WDAS continues to occupy its roost amongst the 3 top radio stations in the Delaware Valley as of December 2005 Arbitron ratings . But it was not always this way.
WDAS-FM came on the air in August 1959, as a hybrid rock and classical music format, the latter of which featured on Sundays. The station shared the same WDAScall letters as its AM counterpart on the 1480 frequency. By mid-1960s, the station moved to the classical music format exclusively. However, due to low ratings by April 1968, the format changed back to a rock format, evolving to the new "underground" and album-track trend. This short-lived period introduced much of the new voices of "progressive" FM radio including Michael Tearson and Ed Sciaky alongside a revitalized Hy Lit from WIBG, and later a popular nighttime show by owner Max Leon's son Steve, who called himself "My Father's Son" on the air. Venerable folk music host Gene Shay also did his program from WDAS at this time.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, radio stations were under increased pressure by the Nixon Administration through the FCC to censor music that involved drug content. Steve Leon ignored this directive and continued to play the music that was popular at the time. While playing Arlo Guthrie's "Coming Into Los Angeles", which referenced smuggling marijuana, Leon charged into the station and ripped the turntable arm off the record. Leon then fired his son and the other on-air staff. To fill the void, the AM station's staff were used as replacements.
In March 1971, Leon and a group empowered to direct change at the radio station, and launched the station's new Urban Contemporary format . The station playlist included R&B, soul and funk, playing what would become the classics of their genre and launching careers of national artists like Lou Rawls and "Philadelphia Sound" acts such as The O'Jays, The Stylistics, Patti LaBelle and the Blue Bells, and Teddy Pendergrass. WDAS' rising success paralleled the red-hot popularity of the new R&B sound developed at Philadelphia International Records . By 1975, as the Philly Sound laid the musical groundwork for disco, the station too began to integrate more disco into the station's playlist to go along with its rising popularity. By the end of the decade, WDAS introduced its listenership to the new genre of Rap by playing Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow, and again showcasing local talent like Frankie Smith (of "Double Dutch Bus" fame). By 1980, WDAS was the number-one music station in Philadelphia .
WDAS' activistic voice was as powerful as its musical one. Legendary broadcasters George "Georgie" Woods and Ed Bradley shaped the political voice of the station,. WDAS earned its position as the "voice of the Black community"
The station was sold in November 1979 to Black-owned Unity Broadcasting Network, and it honed the Urban Contemporary format in 1980. By 1982, new competition from WUSL forced the station to skew towards the Urban Adult Contemporary format, and rap music was removed from the playlists. It also further leveraged its community involvement and public affairs programming aimed at the black community. The station moved away from disco music into more urban hits. The station introduced a new slogan: "105.3 WDAS-FM, Say It Loud, We're Black And We're Proud". Despite these efforts, WUSL, which played primarily black artists geared to both black and white audiences, won the urban ratings battle.
By 1989, WDAS-FM evolved into a successful, community-oriented Urban Adult Contemporary format after that, as WDAS (AM) had flipped to Urban Gospel. In 1994, Unity Broadcasting sold both WDAS stations to Beasley Broadcast Group. In 1995, when the Tom Joyner Morning Show went syndicated nationwide through ABC, WDAS-FM became a flagship affiliate. In May 1996, Beasley sold WDAS to Evergreen, which owned WUSL, making WDAS-AM and FM and WUSL sister stations. In 1997, Evergreen and Chancellor merged to form Chancellor Media and later restructured in 1999 as AMFM, Inc. In 2000, Clear Channel Communications acquired AMFM.
WDAS dropped the "Tom Joyner Morning Show" in 2006 when WRNB won the rights to the syndicated morning show; it is now the Philadelphia affiliate for the competing Steve Harvey Morning Show. The station was also a former affiliate of Michael Baisden in afternoon drive until it dropped the show in January 2013 (Baisden's show would end its syndication run in March after Cumulus Media (the distributor for the show) failed to reach a new contract agreement).
Since 1979, WDAS-FM has sponsored Unity Day, an annual summer gathering on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.