WFAN-FM (101.9 FM), also known as Sports Radio 66 and 101.9 FM or The Fan, is a sports radio station located in New York City. The station is owned and operated by CBS Radio, and has simulcast CBS' sports radio station, WFAN (660 AM), since November 1, 2012. WFAN-FM operates within the combined CBS Radio facility in New York's West Village neighborhood, and broadcasts from a transmitter located at the Empire State Building.
The station first went on the air in 1945 as WGHF, named after its original owner, William G.H. Finch, and moved to the 101.9 frequency in 1947. In late 1948, it became the New York City affiliate of the farm-oriented Rural Radio Network based in Ithaca, New York, which owned a group of upstate stations that would later associate with WQXR. In 1955, its then-owner, Muzak, changed the call letters to WBFM.
The WPIX-FM era
After the station was purchased by the New York Daily News in late 1963, WBFM adopted the WPIX-FM call letters on October 11, 1964, as the station was now co-owned with television station WPIX. The station was run by two Texans, GM Lynn Christian and Program Director Charlie Whitaker, who had achieved top ratings on KODA-FM, Houston. Broadcasting from the "Pix Penthouse" on the 28th floor of the Daily News Building, the WPIX FM format signaled the end of the dominance of beautiful music, fine arts, and block programming on the FM band and ushered in what was to become one of the most popular formats in FM radio history, Easy Listening (later Adult Contemporary). After Christian and Whitaker left New York in 1968 to run a group of stations, WPIX became famous for not being able to settle on a format for any real length of time, and was derisively nicknamed "the format of the month station" by many in the New York City radio industry, as it went through 11 different formats during its post-easy listening period:
- 1971-1975; 1976-1977: Adult Top 40 - a Top 40 format at the time that played new songs less often than WABC; while still focused on current music, it mixed in rock and roll oldies from about 1964 to what was then recent.
- 1975: Disco. The New York Times reported, "Characterized by a strong bass, a simple melody, and terse repetitive lyrics...'Disco,' as this music is called...is becoming increasingly popular on AM and FM radio stations. WPIX-FM recently switched several hours of its nightly programming over to 'disco'" and leaned disco the rest of the day. The nightly show "Disco 102" was first hosted by Dr. Jerry Carroll, then by Howard Hoffman when Carroll moved to afternoons. By the summer of 1976 the station was back to a gold leaning Top 40 format which was popular on FM stations back then.
- Mark Simone launches "The Simone Phone", a pioneering FM comedy talk show featuring then producer/writer Tom Leykis that contained many popular features like "Dial-A-Date", which were later borrowed by other radio shows.
- 1977-1978: Top 40/rock.
- 1978-1980: Punk/new wave rock—At a time when other rock stations in New York were sticking with traditional AOR formats (WPLJ, WNEW-FM), Adult Top 40 (WXLO) or oldies (WCBS-FM), WPIX staked out a groundbreaking format focused on new wave and punk but included older rock and roll as well, hence its advertising slogan: "From Elvis to Elvis." It helped break in New York and nationally early records by Elvis Costello, the Police, Nick Lowe, the Clash, the Cars, Squeeze, Devo, the Kings, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, the Buzzcocks, Cheap Trick, Talking Heads, David Johansen, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, to name just a few. The station was even featured in lyrics from the Squeeze song, 'I Think I'm Go Go' (P I X and rock and roll).
- March 1980 – 1981: Rock-based top 40—A station spokesperson said the station was "modifying the format to improve the product to make it more mass acceptable."
- 1981-1982: Album-oriented rock.
- January–March 1982: CHR (Top 40)--basically a transitional format to Adult Contemporary.
- March 1982: adult contemporary—began positioning itself as "Nothing But Love Songs" in 1983. Had good ratings from 1983 to 1985.
- 1985: hot adult contemporary "The Ballads and Beat of New York."
- August 16, 1986: adult contemporary/standards/eclectic rock "The Bright and Lively Sound of New York."
- 1987: Hot Adult Contemporary during the day and urban adult contemporary evenings.
- 1987-1988: Hot Adult Contemporary during the day and overnights using "Easy Rock" as a slogan. Smooth jazz in the evenings.
Notable air personalities during the WPIX-FM period included Art Ford, Tom Mercein, Ken Harper, Mark Simone, Dennis Quinn, Jim Kerr, Alan Colmes, Meg Griffin, Les Marshak, Gus Gossert, Alfredo, Jane Hamburger, Joe "from Chicago" Piasek, Ray Otis as "Johnny Alligator," Robert Desidario as "Desi da kid from da Bronx," Dan Neer, Alfredo Santos, Rick Allison, Bill Vitka, and John Ogle. Forecaster Phil Rodent moonlinghted in costume as Capt. PIX. Another of its disc jockeys, Jerry Carroll (a.k.a. "Dr. Jerry"), would gain fame as commercial spokesperson for the Crazy Eddie retail chain. Ted David would later go on to be a news anchor at ABC Radio, and then a business news anchor at CNBC. Ken Harper, host of the all-night "Manhattan After Hours," from 1964 to 1968, went on to produce "The Wiz" on Broadway.
The station gave up quickly on both the Disco and the Rocknroll/new wave formats to see both genres of music become popular several years later.
WPIX-FM then stayed as an adult contemporary station for a few years, as its ratings during this period were pretty good. By 1985, the station began mixing a number of eclectic songs into its adult contemporary format, and was known as "the ballads and the beat of New York."
Also in 1985, the station was running a nighttime show called "The PIX Penthouse", which played R&B and soul songs. It was also used through the 1960s as the station's tagline for an easy-listening format. ("The PIX Penthouse Party" had been originally used as a program title during WPIX-FM's Punk/New Wave era and was notable for playing 1960s music that influenced Punk and New Wave Rock.)
As WQCD, "CD101.9"
By 1987, the station started to play contemporary jazz at night, as its ratings were on the decline. Then, on August 10, 1988 the station adopted a jazz-based adult contemporary format during the day and retained all jazz at night. Later that month, on August 22, the station modified into a full-time contemporary jazz (now known as smooth jazz) format, with the new call letters WQCD and the new branding, "CD 101.9". The smooth jazz format proved successful and long-lasting for a station that had not been used to stability in its programming. New York City had not had a full-time commercial jazz station since 1980, when WRVR (106.7 FM, now WLTW) became country music station WKHK following an ownership change two years earlier.
WQCD's early music blend featured contemporary jazz mixed with soft rock and urban adult contemporary, and some new-age music, with an equal balance between vocal and instrumental music. At night the station played strictly contemporary jazz music, with a majority of it instrumental. As time went on, WQCD phased-out soft-rock cuts and became a full-time contemporary jazz station. The playlist continued to feature large amounts of instrumental jazz and new age, and several urban adult contemporary songs. This formula would largely be unchanged for over 15 years.
Even after the Daily News changed ownership in 1991, WQCD was retained by the News's former corporate parent, the Tribune Company. In 1997 Tribune sold WQCD to Emmis Communications, and the combination of WQCD with Emmis's two existing New York stations, WQHT (97.1 FM) and WRKS (98.7 FM, now WEPN-FM), gave the Indianapolis-based company an FM triopoly in the New York market.
During its time under Tribune ownership, WQCD had been headquartered with WPIX at the (now-landmarked) Daily News Building in Midtown Manhattan. In 1998, Emmis moved WQCD, WQHT and WRKS into a newly constructed common facility at 395 Hudson Street, at the meeting point of Manhattan's West Village and SoHo neighborhoods. The multi-station complex was the first of its kind in American radio, which was now becoming increasingly consolidated.
WQCD goes "New York Chill"
WQCD also ran an experiment from November 22, 2004 until August 2005, when the station's playlist included chill music, a form of relaxing music based on the music found in the beaches of Ibiza. Their ratings were not satisfactory, and the experiment ended. The station retained the tagline, "CD101.9, Your Chill-Out Station" during its successful transition back to the standard smooth jazz format.
Final years of CD101.9
WQCD's on-air staff remained unusually stable in the generally volatile radio climate, led by morning host Dennis Quinn. Midday host Deborah Rath had been with parent company Emmis since 1988, as a veteran of both WRKS and WQHT's original incarnation "Hot 103.5". Afternoon drive host Paul Cavalconte was a veteran of New York jazz, classical, and rock stations, including WQCD's generational predecessor WNEW-AM. Evening host Sharon Davis called WQCD home for nearly a decade. DJ Rafe Gomez hosted "The Groove Boutique", a #1 PPM-rated groove jazz mix show that aired on Saturday nights beginning in 2003 (WQCD was the flagship station for the show, which was syndicated).
As WRXP "101.9 RXP"
On February 5, 2008 at 4:00 p.m., Emmis Communications announced a change to a rock format under the WRXP call letters and the tagline 101.9 RXP: The New York Rock Experience. The last songs played on "CD 101.9" were "Shining Star" by The Manhattans and an instrumental rendition of "Street Life" by U-Nam, while the first two songs played on "RXP" were "Rock and Roll" by Velvet Underground and "Supernatural Superserious" by R.E.M.. With the exception of Paul Cavalconte, the entire WQCD airstaff was released including Dennis Quinn, who had survived every other format change at 101.9 since joining the station as WPIX-FM in 1971. Only program director Blake Lawrence was retained from the previous format for WRXP. Emmis cited a declining audience for smooth jazz, which moved to the station's HD2 subcarrier. (An version of CD101.9 would eventually be launched in late summer 2015.)
WRXP was the first alternative rock station in New York City since WXRK's format flip to active rock in April 2005. Even though classified as alternative rock (with a slight adult album alternative lean), Nielsen BDS and Mediabase reported WRXP as an AAA, with suburban station WXPK recognized as the main AAA station in the New York City market. By 2011, WRXP was classified as an alternative rock station by both Nielsen BDS and Mediabase.
WRXP's first on-air personality was Brian Schock, who, until leaving the station for personal reasons in January 2009, was also the station's assistant program director and music director. Station management promised to hire a New York rock-savvy airstaff for the rest of the station's dayparts, and started with the hiring of former MTV personality Matt Pinfield as the morning drive host. Other additions to WRXP's on-air team included former WNNX personality Steve Craig as midday host along with Brian Phillips as evening host. The weekend air staff included Dave Greek, Greg Russ and Jennifer Kajzer, as well as Cavalconte, the only personality rehired from the WQCD smooth jazz format. In March 2009, WRXP announced through their morning program that Nik Carter, formerly of WXRK, was to join as the anchor from 3 to 7 PM on weekdays.
On June 16, 2008, Leslie Fram, formerly of WNNX in Atlanta, was appointed Program Director. In addition to her duties as program director, Fram was also co-host of the WRXP morning drive (and later midday) show with Pinfield.
On November 9, 2008, Anything Anything with Rich Russo debuted on the station.
Transition to Merlin Media and FM News 101.9
On June 21, 2011, it was announced that majority ownership of WRXP was acquired by Merlin Media LLC, a new entity headed by veteran radio executive Randy Michaels. The sale, which the FCC approved in September 2011, included two other Emmis-owned stations in Chicago, WLUP-FM and WKQX. They then registered several domains for what the new format of the station would be, including a return of WYNY's country format, but many promoted an FM news format. All of the DJs of RXP were soon dismissed, and at 5 PM on July 15, 2011, WRXP's rock format ended with "Long Live Rock" by The Who. WRXP's website () continued operation after the station left the airwaves, continuing to offer its music format via streaming online audio and later a Spotify playlist (with occasional new songs added) until Merlin acquired the domain name (see below).
After a brief period of dead air, WRXP (whose call sign was changed to WEMP on July 21) switched to a stunt of Adult Contemporary music branded as "101.9 FM New," a stunt that served as a transition to the station's new format. "FM New" featured a live morning show that began at 6:00 on July 18, hosted by veteran New York City radio personality Paul Cavalconte (who has been with 101.9 since 1998), with Jeff McKay (one of New York's best-known traffic reporters formerly of Shadow Traffic and WINS) providing traffic and weather updates (until the next day when Meteorologist Scott Derek began). News reports and news blocks were gradually introduced beginning with a 3PM newscast on July 25, 2011, anchored by Dave Packer and Mike Barker.
On August 12, 2011, the station ended its Adult Contemporary stunt and went full-time all-news as "FM News 101.9," following in the footsteps of its Chicago sister station WWWN (the former and current WKQX), which flipped to all-news on July 29. As conceived by Merlin's then-COO, Walter Sabo, "FM News" was what Sabo considered a "redefining" of the all-news format; the on-air presentation was generally looser and conversational in tone, while an emphasis was placed on lifestyle, health, and entertainment features. The initial news staff at WEMP included those with experience in New York radio, including WINS alums Catherine Smith, Alice Stockton-Rossini, and Brett Larson, as well as former WCBS anchor Therese Crowley and WRXP holdover Paul Cavalconte.
Over time, the "FM News" approach on WEMP would be adjusted: The reliance on lifestyle and entertainment features was decreased; the station turned towards a tighter, polished on-air presentation; and several new features were added, including "10 minutes of non-stop news", the "top 5 trending stories" leading off every hour, and hourly sports and business updates. They also advertised "traffic and weather on the 5s". Coinciding with the on-air changes was a major promotional push, including television ads and promotions that tweaked WINS' longtime "22 minutes" slogan, with WEMP proclaiming "Give us 10 minutes, we'll give you the world." (After WINS owner CBS Radio, who would ironically acquire WEMP the following year, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Merlin Media, WEMP dropped its "world" slogan.)
In the time FM News was in operation, it was plagued by a variety of technical issues after management in Chicago decided to automate the news, much like music stations automate music formats. The controversial approach led to a number of on-air gaffs, including wrong time checks and news stories misplaced. The only live elements on the air were traffic reports, which were allegedly demanded by a manager at WEMP, despite the traffic reports being recorded by their Chicago sister station. The expanded traffic reports became one of the few successes of the radio station, and several months later, Chicago's "FM News 101.1" would also adopt the live traffic reports.
WEMP and its all-news format struggled to make gains in Arbitron ratings; for example, in the period ending January 4, 2012, Arbitron rated WEMP at a 0.5, far behind both of the CBS Radio-owned all-news stations in New York, category leader WINS (rated at 3.2 in that January book) or WCBS. (WEMP's share was lower than one of the last ratings books for WRXP, a 2.6 share in July 2011.)
Alternative returns as "RXP"
In July 2012, there was speculation that Merlin Media would convert WEMP to a news/talk hybrid, similar to its sister stations in Philadelphia (WWIQ) and Chicago (WIQI, which was also struggling in ratings with all-news and had added its own talk programming). Instead, Merlin had other plans for the station. On July 17, 2012, at 10AM (ET), Merlin management held meetings with the news staffs of both WEMP and WIQI; while the meeting took place, a newscast on "FM News 101.9" was abruptly cut off and replaced by the reporting of one final story — an announcement that the all-news format was ending immediately:
|“||"This is the final story being covered by FM News. It is to announce that a format change is about to occur at 101.9. In just a few moments, FM News will become New Rock 101.9. The final line of our final story is this: A special note of thanks to everyone involved with FM News for their passion and support. Sometimes just saying thank you isn't enough, but in this case, it'll have to do. Thank you... and good-bye."||”|
After a brief period of dead air, WEMP then returned to an alternative rock format under the "New Rock 101.9" branding, with "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" by the Beastie Boys the first song played. (At the very same time, WIQI transitioned from all-news to adult hits.) In a press release, Merlin CEO Randy Michaels called dropping all-news from both WEMP and WIQI "a difficult decision to make" but one that had to be made in light of "minimal audience engagement." Several "FM News 101.9" staffers were released by Merlin, with a handful retained by the company to likely serve as reporters for Merlin's WWIQ in Philadelphia.
"New Rock 101.9" ("New Rock for New York") featured a playlist that includes current and recent alternative rock songs and artists; the presentation included an irreverent attitude and the "backselling" (identification of artist and song title) at the end of many current songs. To coincide with the format change back to rock, Merlin Media made two noteworthy moves: It filed a request with the FCC on July 18 to revert the station's call sign from WEMP to WRXP (the calls were officially changed on July 25), while also obtaining WRXP-related domain names from the station's previous owner, Emmis Communications, including MyRXP.com (which would redirect to the station's NewRock1019.com website). "New Rock 101.9" ran with limited on-air talent, including former WRXP host Brian Phillips on middays, with the possibility that other former 'RXP staffers would be invited to rejoin the station. The WEMP calls by coincidence moved back to Wisconsin upon their release by Merlin, and are now in use by an easy listening station licensed to Two Rivers which began full-time operations in December 2014.
Sale to CBS and flip to WFAN-FM
Despite WRXP making gains in the Arbitron ratings with its revived alternative format (the station jumped to a 1.6 share in July, and then to a 2.1 share in August), Merlin Media was faced with a high debt load from recent purchases and the cost of its failed news format; additionally, one of Merlin's investors was seeking buyers for the company's stations. Merlin would announce on October 8, 2012 that it had agreed to sell WRXP to CBS Radio. With the purchase (estimated at $75 million), CBS announced it would convert WRXP to a simulcast of its sports radio station WFAN. The simulcast began at 11:57 PM on November 1, 2012, after Jeff Buckley's "Last Goodbye" brought a close to WRXP's "New Rock" format. A call sign change from WRXP to WFAN-FM took effect the next day, November 2. CBS would operate WFAN-FM under a local marketing agreement until closing its purchase on December 10, 2012, officially relieving Merlin Media of its only New York radio property and allowing it to concentrate on its stations in the Chicago and Philadelphia markets.
The purchase of 101.9 by CBS put WFAN back on equal footing with ESPN Radio affiliate WEPN, which made its own AM-to-FM move in April 2012 (to the former WRKS). Speculation at the time suggested that the move would also allow CBS to split the WFAN simulcast at a later date and ensure a full-power New York home for its new national sports network, CBS Sports Radio, which began daily programming in January 2013 (and currently airs on the HD3 subchannel of WCBS-FM); the move, if it occurs, would mirror CBS-owned sports talk pairings in markets such as Baltimore, where WJZ airs CBS Sports Radio full-time and WJZ-FM airs local sports talk.