WABC (770 AM), known as "NewsTalkRadio 77 WABC" is a radio station in New York City. Owned by the broadcasting division of Cumulus Media, the station broadcasts on a clear channel and is the flagship station of the Westwood One Network (successor to Cumulus Media Networks; formerly Citadel Media and ABC Radio Networks). WABC shares studio facilities with sister stations WNSH (94.7 FM), WPLJ (95.5 FM), and WNBM (103.9 FM) above Pennsylvania Station in midtown Manhattan. Its transmitter is located in Lodi, New Jersey. WABC's 50,000 watt non-directional clear channel signal can be heard at night in much of the eastern U.S. and Canada.
Since 1982 WABC has programmed a talk radio format. From 1960 to 1982, WABC broadcast a Top 40 music format and was the dominant contemporary music station in the New York City area, serving as a template for many other Top 40 stations around the country. During this time, WABC was among the most listened to radio stations in North America.
Today, WABC uses on-air slogans such as Breaking News and Stimulating Talk, New York's 50,000 Watt Beacon of Freedom and Where New York Comes to Talk. Many of WABC's hosts have now moved on to national syndication. The station serves as the flagship station for syndicated talk-radio hosts Mark Levin, John Batchelor and Don Imus. It was also where the nationally syndicated programs hosted by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity got their start, although those programs are now heard on WABC's Talk Radio rival in New York, 710 WOR.
WABC began broadcast operations, originally as WJZ, in early October 1921. In November 1920, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company had established its first broadcasting station, KDKA, located in its plant at East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in order to promote the sale of radio receivers. This initial station proved successful, so the company developed plans to set up additional stations in major population centers, including WBZ, originally in Springfield, Massachusetts, and KYW, originally in Chicago, Illinois.
On September 30, 1921, Westinghouse was issued a broadcasting authorization for a station with the randomly assigned call letters WJZ, located at the company's meter factory at Orange and Plane streets in Newark, New Jersey, and transmitting on a wavelength of 360 meters (833 kHz).
WJZ's studio and transmitter were initially housed in a shack located on the factory roof, that was only accessible by ladder. The station later expanded to a larger studio on the factory's ground floor. The station began test transmissions around October 1, 1921, followed, beginning October 5, by broadcasts of the 1921 World Series baseball games. Announcer Thomas H. Cowan in Newark simply relayed the description phoned in from the Polo Grounds playing field by Newark Sunday Call sportswriter Sandy Hunt. (Initially station announcers were identified only by initials, in Cowan's case as "ACN", for "Announcer-Cowan-Newark").
The station soon expanded to feature a wide variety of live programming. A popular early feature were the "Man in the Moon" bedtime stories, written by Josephine Lawrence and read over the air by Bill McNeary. (Both were Newark Sunday Call employees.) Beginning on November 27, 1921, a weekly 90-minute show presented by Vincent Lopez band was aired.
When it began its broadcast service, WJZ was the only station in the New York City area transmitting on 360 meters. In mid-December 1921, station WDY, operated by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) from Roselle Park, New Jersey, began sharing the wavelength, with WJZ now broadcasting on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and WDY operating on the other three nights. This soon ended when WDY ceased operations in mid-February 1922 and was merged with WJZ, with RCA now assuming half of WJZ's expenses. However, within a few months a large number of additional broadcasting stations began operating on 360 meters, and WJZ was stubborn about having to share "its" wavelength. In May 1922 a proposed timesharing agreement among 15 local stations assigned more than half of the available airtime to WJZ, but the station did not feel this was sufficient, which in turn led the Radio Broadcasting Society of America to petition that WJZ's license be canceled for being uncooperative.
There were no formal standards in the United States defining broadcasting stations until December 1, 1921, when the Department of Commerce, which regulated radio at this time, issued a regulation specifying that stations making broadcasts intended for the general public now had to hold a Limited Commercial license that authorized operation on 360 or 485 meters. WJZ was one of a small number of stations that already met this standard at the time of its adoption. It was also the second oldest of the two licenses previously issued for the state of New Jersey, preceded by RCA's WDY grant. However, WJZ was the first to go on the air, as WDY didn't begin operations until two and a half months after WJZ's debut.
WJZ had difficulty convincing New York City performers – who were not paid – to make the trek to Newark, so on February 5, 1922 a more convenient remote studio was opened at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Fifth Avenue and Thirty-Fourth Street. The American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) was unwilling to provide a telephone line to connect the Waldorf-Astoria studio to the Newark transmitter, so the link was instead made using specially prepared telegraph wires provided by Western Union. However, this expedient only provided marginal audio quality, and "the line was so noisy that when Newcomb Carleton, the president of Western Union, broadcast over it, his voice was completely drowned out".
On March 15, 1922, WJZ broadcast a studio performance of Mozart's Impresario, probably the first full-length opera broadcast in the New York City area. In October 1922, the station aired its second World Series, this time also feeding it to WGY in Schenectady, New York. Shortly after midnight on December 9, 1922, WJZ became the first broadcasting station confirmed to have been heard in Europe, consisting of a short program featuring greetings from the British consul in New York to British listeners and Vaughn De Leath singing her "Oliver Twist" song.
WJZ New York City
May 15, 1923 saw a number of simultaneous major changes. Most notably, on this day the station moved from Newark to New York City, and the ownership was changed from joint Westinghouse-RCA responsibility to full control by RCA. WJZ now occupied studios on the sixth floor of the building where the Aeolian Hall was located, and station publicity heralded the upgrade: "Located in the heart of the city's musical and theatrical district, where entertainment of the highest order is ever available, this station will offer to the American public the most elaborate radio programs yet attempted and with a degree of faithfulness in reproduction that marks the beginning of a new era in radio broadcasting." This was also the day that the Department of Commerce implemented an expansion of the broadcast band, which now consisted of a range of transmitting frequencies from 550 to 1350 kHz, with WJZ assigned the sole use of 660 kHz. Finally, a sister station with the call letters of WJY, operating on 740 kHz, was established, which shared the "Broadcast Central" Aeolian Hall studios, with WJZ providing more serious programming, and WJY's offerings considered more informal.
Program logs from May 15 to December 31, 1923, show WJZ aired 3426 programs, including 723 talks, 67 church services, 205 bedtime stories and 21 sports events. Many of the broadcasts were musical and ranged from Carnegie Hall and Aeolian Hall recitals to harmonica and banjo solos.
As part of the move to Aeolian Hall, WJZ's transmitting antenna was constructed atop the building, but the location in the middle of New York City proved to be a poor choice. At the end of 1925, the station began operations from a new transmitter site located at Bound Brook, New Jersey. However, this overwhelmed several other stations on the air, forcing WJZ engineers to visit homes in central New Jersey to deal with the complaints. As a result, WJZ didn't operate regularly at 50,000 watts until 1935.
Initial network operations
Westinghouse and RCA's original financing plan envisioned that profits from receiver sales would provide the funds for broadcast station operations, but this revenue soon became insufficient. In 1922, AT&T adopted a more practical approach, of selling airtime, which it called "toll broadcasting", in addition to connecting stations together using telephone lines to form a radio network that could broadcast programs simultaneously to multiple sites. This first radio network was called the "WEAF chain", named after the flagship AT&T station (now WNBC), located in New York City.
RCA, along with its "radio group" allies of Westinghouse and General Electric, responded by creating a small network of their own, centered on WJZ. Due to AT&T's interpretation of a patent-rights cross-licensing agreement, the telephone company claimed the sole right to sell airtime, so WJZ was not able to charge for advertising, and again there were technical limitations, since the network had to use inferior telegraph lines to interconnect its stations.
NBC-Blue network flagship years
In the summer of 1926, AT&T decided to withdraw from the broadcasting field, and sold its stations and network operations to RCA. Included with this sale was the right to sell advertising time, and access to telephone lines for radio network connections.
The earlier network operations were reorganized as the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), with the primary network, now known as the NBC Red Network, originating from WEAF. A second network, known as the NBC Blue Network, with WJZ as the originating station, debuted on January 1, 1927. (The WJY sister station was quietly discontinued at this time.) In October 1927, WJZ moved into NBC studios still under construction at 711 Fifth Avenue. A month later, WEAF joined WJZ – and both were together under one roof. On November 11, 1928, as part of a general station reassignment produced by the Federal Radio Commission's General Order 40, WJZ moved to 760 kHz.
On March 24, 1932, WJZ became the first radio station to broadcast a program from aboard a moving train; the station aired a variety show produced aboard a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad passenger train travelling through Maryland. In November 1933, WJZ, WEAF plus the NBC and RCA corporate headquarters moved to 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
In 1941, under the provisions of the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement, stations assigned to 760 kHz were shifted to 770 kHz, which has been WJZ/WABC's dial position ever since.
WJZ and the Blue Network presented many of America's most popular programs, such as Lowell Thomas and the News, Amos 'n' Andy, Little Orphan Annie, America's Town Meeting of the Air, and Death Valley Days. Each midday, The National Farm and Home Hour brought news and entertainment to rural listeners. Ted Malone read poetry and Milton Cross conveyed children "Coast To Coast on a Bus", as well as bringing opera lovers the Saturday matinée Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. Cross would continue to host the Met on NBC, ABC, CBS and NPR until his passing at the beginning of 1975.
Occasionally, a show would premiere on NBC Blue, which had a weaker lineup of stations nationwide, and be shifted to the Red Network if it grew in popularity. Fibber McGee and Molly is one example.
Birth of ABC
In 1942, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that no broadcaster could own more than one AM, one FM and one television station in a single market. On January 23, 1942, the FCC approved the transfer of WJZ's operating license from Radio Corporation of America to the Blue Network, Inc. A year later, on October 12, 1943, WJZ and the NBC Blue Network were sold to Edward J. Noble, then the owner of WMCA. Technically, this spun off network was simply called "The Blue Network" for little over a year.
On June 15, 1945, "The Blue Network" was officially rechristened the American Broadcasting Company, when negotiations were completed with George B. Storer, who had owned the defunct American Broadcasting System and still owned the name.
In November 1948, WJZ and the ABC network finally got a home of their own when studios were moved to a renovated building at 7 West 66th Street. On March 1, 1953, WJZ changed its call letters to WABC, after the FCC approved ABC's merger with United Paramount Theatres, the movie theater chain owned by Paramount Pictures which, like the Blue Network, was divested under government order.
The WABC call letters were once used previously on CBS Radio's New York City outlet, before adopting their current WCBS identity in 1946. Westinghouse, however, did not let the WJZ call sign go forgotten. After acquiring Channel 13 WAAM in Baltimore, Maryland in 1957, Westinghouse applied to change the calls to WJZ-TV in honor of its pioneer radio station. The FCC granted the unusual request (perhaps because Westinghouse was highly regarded as a licensee by both the industry and the FCC at that time), and the Baltimore TV station, now owned and operated by CBS, retains the call letters to this day, along with sister radio stations 1300 WJZ (AM) and 105.7 WJZ-FM.
WABC's first era (1953–1960)
Although WABC continued to air ABC programming during this time, ABC Radio – like the other major radio networks of that era – began to drop significant amounts of long-form comedy and dramatic programming, many of which migrated over to television. In response, WABC began using deejays playing recorded music in greater frequency. Some programs featured Middle of the road (music), including Broadway and Hollywood showtunes and popular music, while other portions of the schedule included ABC Radio's remaining long-form newscasts and dramatic program lineup, in tandem with CBS Radio's WCBS and NBC Radio's WNBC.
(This would continue until 1960, as the Musicradio 77 era formally began, but WABC was still required to carry several of ABC Radio's non-music and entertainment shows, including the long-running Don McNeill's Breakfast Club during the 10:00 am hour, and a long-form news block in the afternoon-drive period. While this was not an issue prior to 1960, such commitments created a programming clash with the Top 40 format up until the network was dissected into four sub-networks in 1968.)
In 1958–1959, legendary rock'n'roll disk jockey Alan Freed hosted a daily evening show on WABC, which was similar in format and musical policy to the early rock shows he had gained fame with on WJW in Cleveland, and later WINS in New York. Freed's time at WABC ended when he was caught up in the investigation of the "payola" scandals of the era.
The Musicradio 77 era (1960–1982)
When Harold L. Neal, Jr. was named General Manager of WABC, he was charged with making WABC successful in terms of both audience and profits. Neal had been at WXYZ in Detroit. By 1960, WABC was committed to a nearly full-time schedule of top-40 songs played by upbeat personalities. Still, WABC played popular non-rock and roll songs as well, provided they scored well on the Top 40 charts. WABC's early days as a Top 40 station were humble ones.
Top 40 1010 WINS was the No. 1 hit music station and WMCA, which did a similar rock leaning top 40 format, was also a formidable competitor, while WABC barely ranked in the Top Ten. Fortunately for WABC, the other Top 40 outlets could not be heard as well in more distant New York and New Jersey suburbs, since WINS, WMGM, and WMCA were all directional stations. WABC, with its 50,000-watt non-directional signal, had the advantage of being heard in places west, south, and northwest of New York City – a huge chunk of the growing suburban population – and this is where the station began to draw ratings. Early in 1962, WMGM, owned by Loew's, which then owned MGM, was sold to Storer Broadcasting. Upon its sale, WMGM reverted to its original WHN call letters and switched to a middle of the road music format playing mostly non-rock artists such as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Andy Williams.
Sam Holman was the first WABC program director of this era. Under Holman, WABC achieved No. 1 ratings during much of 1962, after WMGM reverted to WHN. By the summer of 1963, WMCA led the pack among contemporary stations, with WABC at No. 2 and WINS slipping to third place. It has been said, but is difficult to verify, that WMCA dominated in the city proper, while WABC owned the suburbs. This would be consistent with WMCA's 5,000-watt directional signal.
Hal Neal hired Rick Sklar as WABC's program director. He would go on to become a member of the Radio Hall of Fame and be credited as one of the pioneering architects of the Top 40 format. Under Sklar, the station went to the shortest playlist of any contemporary music station in history. The number one song was heard about every hour during the day and every 75 minutes or so at night. The other top 5 songs were heard nearly as often. Other current songs averaged once to twice per airshift. The station played about 9 current hits per hour and several non-current songs. The non-currents were no more than 5 years old and the station played about 70 of them in total. In his book Rockin' America, Sklar said he was sensitive to payola concerns and advanced airplay. Through the years, WABC was known by various slogans, "Channel 77 WABC" and later "Musicradio 77 WABC". Due to the high number of commercials each hour, WABC played no more than two songs in a row and there was frequent DJ talk and personality between every song. The station averaged 6 commercial breaks per hour but they were no more than 3 ads in a row. Often the air personalities delivered live commercials in their own humorous style, so that listeners would consider the spot part of the entertainment.
Early 1960s disc jockeys included Dan Ingram, Herb Oscar Anderson, Charlie Greer, Scott Muni, Chuck Dunaway, Jack Carney, and Bob "Bobaloo" Lewis. But some of the best known WABC DJs are the ones that followed them in the mid-1960s and 1970s: Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, "Cousin Brucie" Bruce Morrow, Chuck Leonard (one of the earliest African-American DJs to be on the staff of a major mainstream radio station), Johnny Donovan, Bob Cruz (a Dan Ingram sound alike), Frank Kingston Smith, Roby Yonge, George Michael, Jim Nettleton, Jim Perry and Steve O'Brien. Meanwhile, Radio Hall of Fame member Dan Ingram, perhaps WABC's best known DJ, was held over from the early staff, being heard in the afternoon for much of WABC's Top 40 history. Noted sportscaster Howard Cosell did a brief weekday evening sportscast on WABC, as well as hosting a late Sunday night interview show called "Speaking of Everything."
Especially in the afternoons and evenings, WABC was the station that teenagers could be heard listening to on transistor radios all over the New York metropolitan area. Due to its strong signal, the station could be heard easily over 100 miles away, including the Catskill Mountains, Pocono Mountains, through much of Connecticut and Rhode Island. After sunset, when AM radio waves travel farther, WABC's signal could be picked up around much of the Eastern U.S. and Canada. Bruce Morrow often spoke about how he felt an almost psychic bond to his young listeners.
A famous tape, or aircheck, of WABC from August 1964 features some of the DJs speaking from a window of the Beatles' hotel room (The Delmonico Hotel) during the Fab Four's second visit to New York City, while Dan Ingram, back in the studio, played WABC jingles to thousands of teenagers in the streets below, who enthusiastically sang along with them. Ingram later noted that this was actually illegal under FCC rules, but said that they didn't know it at the time. In the wake of the success of "W-A-Beatle-C" (as it was briefly called around the time of the Beatles' U.S. visit), competitor WINS finally dropped out of the Top 40 battle in 1965, adopting an all-news format. As a tribute to WABC, the television network also called itself "A-Beatles-C" whenever it promoted airings of Beatles-related films.
Just before the famous Northeast Blackout of 1965, Dan Ingram noted that the studio's electric power was fluctuating and began having fun with the slowed-down music. After playing "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" by Jonathan King, he quipped it was played "in the key of R." Ingram then proceeded to run some recorded commercials and a portion of Si Zentner's "Up a Lazy River", backtimed to the news, while commenting on how everything seemed to be running slower than normal. During the 6 pm newscast, WABC left the air as the outage settled in for real. Ingram later drove out to the transmitter site in Lodi, New Jersey, with a box of records, and continued his show from the backup studio housed there.
In the 1970s, WABC was either No. 1 or No. 2 consistently, often trading places with WOR. Once in a while, a station attracting an older audience (like WOR or WPAT) would move into the top spot. These stations were not truly WABC's direct competitors because they targeted a much older audience. Chief competitor WMCA began running evening talk by 1968 and stopped playing top 40 music altogether in the fall of 1970. Then in 1971, Country Music station WJRZ abruptly flipped to a Top 40 format and became known as WWDJ. That lasted until April 1974. WOR-FM evolved from progressive rock to Adult Top 40 playing the hits of 1955 to current product by 1968. They dropped most pre 64 oldies in 1972 and became known as WXLO 99X. That station evolved into more on an Adult Contemporary format in 1979 and a Rhythmic Top 40 format in 1980. Other FM competitors like oldies station WCBS-FM, soul station WBLS, and album-oriented rock stations like WPLJ and WNEW-FM all did well in the ratings, but none rivalled WABC's success. AM competitor WNBC also never came close to WABC's audience during this period. WNBC then had a format similar to 99X playing Adult Top 40. In 1977, WNBC tried sounding younger and moved their format musically closer to WABC. Then by 1979 they tried sounding older and somewhere in-between. Until 1978, WABC remained dominant.
WABC's ratings strength came from its cumulative audience, what the radio industry calls "cume". Most listeners didn't stay with WABC for long periods of time, as the station had some of the shortest "time spent listening" (or TSL) spans in the history of music radio—an average listener spent about 10 minutes listening to WABC. It was the price paid for a short playlist, and numerous commercials between songs (the large number of commercials being due to WABC's large audience), but what WABC lacked in TSL it more than made up for with its sheer number of listeners. By 1975, WABC tried becoming more music-intensive, reducing commercial breaks to three per hour. It began playing 3 to 5 songs in a row, still mixed with talk and personality, but done in a tighter manner.
Fed up with the short playlist, Cousin Brucie left in August 1974 to defect to rival WNBC. Rick Sklar was promoted in 1976 to vice president of programming for ABC Radio, and his assistant program director Glenn Morgan became WABC's program director. The station's influence could be found in odd places: Philip Glass' 1976 opera, Einstein on the Beach, has as part of the background a recitation of WABC's DJ schedule in the 1960s.
The end of the 1970s found FM radio beginning to overtake AM music stations in most markets. In June 1975, an FM station on 92.3, owned by the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Racing Association flipped to Soft Rock and became known as Mellow 92 WKTU. That station had very low ratings and had no effect on WABC. But on July 24, 1978, at 6 PM, WKTU abruptly dropped its Soft Rock format in favor of a disco-based top 40 format known as "Disco 92". By December of that year, WABC was unseated, as WKTU became the No. 1 station in New York City. The first "disco" ratings saw WKTU with 11 percent of the listening audience—a huge number anywhere, let alone in a market the size of New York City—and WABC dropping from 4.1 million listeners to 3 million, losing 25 percent of its audience practically overnight.
After this initial ratings tumble, WABC panicked and began mixing in several extended disco mixes per hour and sometimes played two back-to-back. Some of the disco songs ran in excess of eight minutes. What regular listeners heard was a major change in sound. While the station continued playing non-disco and rock songs about a third of the time, familiar format had seemed to disappear and as a result, WABC began to lose its identity. In late spring 1979, Billboard magazine reported that Rick Sklar had demoted program director Glenn Morgan to "moving carts" instead of making programming decisions. WABC's numbers dropped for four consecutive ratings periods.
On August 2, 1979, the Donna Summer disco hit "MacArthur Park" was playing during Dan Ingram's afternoon drive program. During the song, DJ George Michael (who also was a sports reporter) interrupted to break the news that New York Yankees catcher and team captain Thurman Munson had died in a plane crash. In late summer, WABC moved, temporarily, back to their tight playlists.
The "More music, less talk" era
In September 1979, Al Brady Law took over the station, and according to an account by DJ George Michael, Rick Sklar was removed from his oversight of WABC and was moved "upstairs." Law cut back the current songs moderately (though still playing the top song over a dozen times a day) and added more 1970s rock, some album cuts, and a few big 1960s hits. He also changed the presentation of the station. The goal was to increase the station's poor time-spent-listening, and for this, he desired a new direction. He tightened personality on the station, limiting length of talk to 10 seconds and that was to always be done over the instrumental intros of the songs played.
Longtime DJs Harry Harrison, Chuck Leonard, and George Michael exited that November. Dan Ingram moved to mornings, Bob Cruz (a Dan Ingram sound-alike, that until 1979 was Dan's designated fill in guy. While filling in, he would say he was on the Dan Ingram show, but did not identify himself, nor would he claim to be Dan either) moved from overnights to afternoons, and Sturgis Griffin joined for overnights, while Howard Hoffman did evenings. Hoffman was one of the first of the 1980s style of contemporary hit radio (CHR) DJs—heavy on brief phone bits from listeners and a sarcastic sense of humor, sounding "hip", as the future Z100 DJs would a few years later.
The time-spent-listening did improve, and WABC was now holding onto decent overall ratings, but they were under extreme pressure to regain the lost ground. The station started to become slightly information-oriented during drive times, adding morning traffic reports by Shadow Traffic's Jack Packard (aka Bernie Wagenblast) on December 3, 1979. The station also used veteran traffic reporter Joe Nolan in afternoons. WABC did add New York Yankees baseball games that all-news WINS was unable to air due to their coverage of the Iran Hostage Crisis and the 1980 Democratic and Republican conventions. It was the first sign of the end for the music format of WABC.
"77 WABC, New York's Radio Station" and the transition to talk
Al Brady left WABC in July and soon became General Manager of crosstown WYNY, which by then had a similar format to their then-fraternal twin sister station WNBC, as well as WABC. That fall, Jay Clark took over as program director at WABC. Jeff Mazzei arrived as assistant program director from crosstown WNEW (which was moving from adult contemporary to big bands and standards).
Under Clark, the station played current music leaning toward a more Adult Contemporary (AC) sound, trying to appeal to a slightly older audience, as most younger listeners had moved to the FM dial. Part of the reason was the Top 40 chart was leaning that way at that point as well. So WABC still played rock and soul crossovers in moderation, but began to move away from album cuts and more toward 1960s and 1970s oldies. They also dropped the "Musicradio WABC" slogan and became "77 WABC, New York's Radio Station", the apparent implication being that the station was more than just music.
By early 1981, WABC's cumulative audience was down to 2.5 million—rival WNBC, a perennial also-ran, was by this time beating them with 3 million. Fewer people were tuning into WABC, listeners who had switched to FM were not coming back, and, while still moderately successful, the ship was sinking. Like Al Brady Law, Jay Clark tried to improve the time-spent-listening. In March 1981, Bob Cruz departed, Dan Ingram went back to his familiar afternoon slot, and the team of Ross Brittain and Brian Wilson from Atlanta moved into morning drive. Ross and Wilson, as the show was known, was very information-oriented, playing exactly four songs in an hour except on Saturdays when they played the usual 12 or so songs an hour. A week later, the station also began airing a weeknight sports-talk show with Art Rust, Jr. from 7 to 9 pm. WABC's ratings by this point were mediocre and they were still going down.
Also, that March, WABC became the full-time flagship radio outlet for Yankees baseball games, a distinction the station carried through the end of the 2001 season. This would be the longest continuous relationship the team would have with any flagship station (to date). Jay Clark reasoned that Yankee baseball would bring back some listeners to the station and that they would recycle back into the music format, but not even the "Bronx Bombers" could save music on WABC.
In the fall of 1981, WABC dropped the remaining heavy-rock cuts and non-crossover urban hits. They began playing more oldies, as well as songs from the adult contemporary chart, and added an "advice" talk show with Dr. Judy Kuriansky from 9 pm to midnight on weeknights. Howard Hoffman and Sturgis Griffin exited at this point. By then, WABC was almost unrecognizable as a Top 40 station, the ratings were languishing, and rumors were rampant that the station would be changing its format.
In February 1982, WABC officially confirmed it would be going to an all-talk format that May. The airstaff began saying goodbye with a comment here and there from February into May. Finally, on April 30, it was announced that the switch to all-talk would occur on May 10 at noon. From May 7 to 9, the departing station air-staffers said their goodbyes one last time. Staffers that departed included Ron Lundy, Dan Ingram, Marc Sommers, and Peter Bush. Assistant Program Director Jeff Mazzei left for a similar position at WCBS-FM where he would stay for well over 25 years. Marc Sommers also went to WCBS-FM and eventually Ron Lundy and Dan Ingram would. Johnny Donovan and Mike McKay remained at WABC as staff announcers and producers. Mike McKay did not long survive the transition to talk and Johnny Donovan has since retired from WABC.
Monday, May 10, 1982, the day WABC stopped playing music, is sometimes called "The Day the Music Died". WABC ended its 22-year run as a music station with a 9 am–noon farewell show hosted by Dan Ingram and Ron Lundy. The last song played on WABC before the format change was "Imagine" by John Lennon, followed by the familiar WABC "Chime Time" jingle, then a few seconds of silence followed by a minute jingle for talk radio before the debut of the new talk format.
The NewsTalkRadio 77 era (1982–current)
Early years and success
Initially after the format change, the station ran satellite talk shows from corporate ABC's "Talk Radio" network. Initially, WABC's lineup consisted of Ross and Wilson until 10 am, Owen Span from Satellite until noon, Art Athens and News until 1 pm, Money Management talk until 2 pm, Michael Jackson (a talk show host and not the late pop star) from satellite until 4 pm, another advice show with Dr. Toni Grant from satellite until 6 pm, and ending with a half-hour of news at 6. Sports Talk began at 6:30 pm and remained on until 9 pm. Doctor Judy remained in her time slot. Overnights were hosted by Alan Colmes, who played some music initially, but he stopped playing it by mid-1983. At that time, he was less politically based and more entertainment-based. Weekends had Child Psychology advice shows (Dr. Lawrance Balter), Home and Garden shows, talk about religion (Religion on the Line), and of course, the Yankees. Ross and Wilson stayed on and continued to play 4 songs per hour (mostly 1960s and 1970s hits) throughout 1982. In 1983, they stopped playing music as well. Ross and Wilson split up in 1983 when Ross went over to WHTZ. While the station's final ratings as a music station were mediocre, their talk ratings initially were even lower.
Still, the station stuck with the new format. After Brian Wilson left in 1984, Alan Colmes moved to mornings. Jay Clark left that year. He was replaced by John Mainelli and at that point they dropped satellite programming. They added more issues-oriented talk shows, with an increasing number of conservative talk show hosts, although several liberals, including Colmes and Lynn Samuels, also hosted shows. The ratings grew and by the late 1980s, they were a very successful talk station.
From 1984 to 1996 WABC broadcast the popular Bob Grant, a controversial, early "right-wing" talk radio host. After years of what many considered inflammatory remarks, he was fired in 1996 for a controversial comment regarding the death of United States Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. After a number of years at competitor station WOR, Grant returned as a host as of July 2007, was removed again in December 2008, and returned again as a weekend host in September 2009. Alan Colmes would leave in 1985 and by 1987 he emerged at WNBC on overnights, where he played moderate amounts of music there. He would move to afternoons on WNBC and eventually drop music there as well. He was on the air at WNBC's sign off in 1988. Colmes eventually returned to WABC.
Within its first years, the revamped WABC brought in Rush Limbaugh, who would go on to be the anchor program of the local station for two decades, and soon after the giant of talk syndication, the model for countless other conservative radio shows to follow. In the early 1990s Phil Boyce took over as program director.
On February 6, 2006, the Walt Disney Company announced that it would sell WABC and other radio properties not affiliated with either Radio Disney or ESPN Radio, along with ABC Radio's News & Talk and FM networks, to Citadel Broadcasting Corporation for $2.7 billion. The transaction became final on June 12, 2007. Citadel merged with Cumulus Media on September 16, 2011.
In December 2007, Don Imus moved his program Imus in the Morning to WABC after 19 years at WFAN. Imus was fired from WFAN in April for controversial comments about Rutgers University's women's basketball team.
As of January 2012, the WABC broadcast day begins at 5:00 am (Eastern time) with the WABC News Hour. The Imus in the Morning program follows at 6:00. Connell McShane serves as sidekick and newscaster for the program, which is also simulcast on the Fox Business Network cable television network. He replaced Charles McCord, following his retirement on May 5, 2011.
On January 1, 2013, the traffic reports on WABC switched from Clear Channel's Total Traffic to Radiate Media's Right Now Traffic. Taking over traffic during the syndicated Imus In the Morning and the afternoon drive Sean Hannity Show is Jeff McKay, one of New York City's most recognizable traffic voices.
Limbaugh and Hannity departed WABC at the end of 2013. To fill Limbaugh's spot, WABC revived Curtis and Kuby; Curtis Sliwa had been hosting the morning show at WNYM since his departure from WABC while Ron Kuby had for the most part been a commentator on various news shows since his show on Air America Radio was cancelled.
Geraldo Rivera became host of WABC's 10 AM to noon slot beginning in January 3, 2012, replacing Joe Crummey. Curtis and Kuby follows from noon to 3 PM followed by Michael Savage at 3 PM. NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan hosts a 5 PM hour program. Mark Levin takes over in the evenings from 6–9 PM. Late-night hours are covered by Red Eye Radio, a nationally syndicated program hosted by Eric Harley and Gary McNamara.
Sunday afternoons featured the latest incarnation of Bob Grant's talk show until his death in January 2014, a program hosted by Jason Mattera, and an evening show hosted by Aaron Klein, while on Saturday and Sunday nights, the station carries a newsmagazine by John Batchelor. In January 2013 it was announced that Klein's Sunday night program became #1 on the AM dial in New York City in his time slot, according to ratings information released to the media.
Most recently, WABC added the GluckRadio podcast to its website, hosted by famed life coach Dr. Errol Gluck. The show features the most popular guests in the field of sexuality, culture and psychology.
Previously, WABC carried Paul Harvey's newscasts during Imus in the Morning (Paul Harvey News and Comment) and in-between the midday host and Limbaugh (The Rest of the Story) up through Harvey's death in 2009.
Flagship-wise, Limbaugh's show was produced at WABC from 1988 until the early 2000s, when he started doing the program from Premiere Radio Networks and a studio in his home in South Florida. (Even then, until WABC dropped the program, substitute hosts for Limbaugh still used the WABC studios, and Limbaugh on occasion had hosted from WABC.) Imus in the Morning originates from WABC, while Levin originates from Washington, D.C. sister station WMAL. The latter two shows are now syndicated by Westwood One, the successor to the original "ABC Radio Network" (known as Citadel Media from 2009 until 2011, and as Cumulus Media Networks from 2011 until 2014).
In 2004, the station earned the distinction of being a news/talk radio station even longer than it had been a Top 40 station, by marking 22 years in its present format.
Some of the station's former locally based hosts include John R. Gambling, Jay Diamond, Ed Koch, Lynn Samuels, Joy Behar, Mario Cuomo, Steve Malzberg, Richard Bey, Lionel, Harley Carnes, Dick Oliver, Penny Crone, Sam Donaldson, Jerry Agar, Michael Kay, James Golden (in partnership with Joel Santisteban), Brian Whitman, and Mancow Muller. Several nationally syndicated talkers have included Howard Cosell, Ed Hardy, Tom Snyder, Art Bell, Mike Gallagher (first heard locally co-hosting with Penny Crone, later in a syndicated show), Laura Schlessinger, Matt Drudge and Laura Ingraham. Long time WABC (AM) newsman George Weber, who reported the events on 9/11 for the station, was murdered in 2009.
Although the station had good ratings, it underperformed in terms of total revenue, an example being WABC billing $21.3 million in 2008, not even close to industry giant KFI in Los Angeles at $54.4 million.
Phil Boyce departed as program director in October 2008, eventually replaced in February 2009 by former XM Satellite Radio programmer Laurie Cantillo. Laurie Cantillo resigned on October 31, 2011. Chuck Armstrong was named interim program director in November, 2011.
WABC's only current sports contract is with the United States Military Academy for Army football games. In addition to the aforementioned Yankees coverage, the station served two separate stints as the flagship for the New York Jets and was also the home of the New Jersey Devils beginning in 1988. WABC also previously carried Seton Hall University men's basketball.
Early in its Top 40 incarnation, WABC served as the original radio flagship of the New York Mets. A notable aspect of WABC's Mets coverage was Howard Cosell and former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca handling the pre- and post-game shows. The station lost those rights to WHN following the 1963 season.
The Jets first called WABC home in the 1980s, but left toward the end of the decade for WCBS. The team would return to the station in 2000 after spending the previous seven seasons on WFAN. After then-sister station WEPN became the Jets' flagship, WABC began simulcasting the games over their airwaves due to its stronger signal. The arrangement ended in 2008 as WEPN began simulcasting all its programming on two other stations.
In December 2001, broadcast rights to the Yankees were lost after 21 years to WCBS. WABC also lost the radio rights to the Devils in 2005, as New Jersey's hockey team moved to WFAN to substitute for the station's loss of the New York Rangers to WEPN. WABC served as an overflow station for the Rangers from 2005 through 2009, and also served the same purpose for the New York Knicks when their games moved from WFAN to WEPN, but those rights moved to WNYM in 2009. The loss of evening sports programming has forced WABC to attempt to solidify its evening talk lineup.
New Jersey Devils on WABC
|Season||Flagship station||Play-by-Play||Color Analyst||Studio host|
|1994–95||WABC/770||Mike Miller||Sherry Ross|
|1999–2000||WABC/770||Mike Miller||Randy Velischek|
|2002–03||WABC/770||John Hennessy||Randy Velischek|