WPEN (97.5 FM, "97.5 The Fanatic") is a radio station owned by Greater Media. Licensed to Burlington, New Jersey, it currently broadcasts a sports format to the Philadelphia metropolitan area. It has studios located in Bala Cynwyd and broadcasts from a transmitter site in Wyndmoor.
The 97.5 frequency was originally allocated to Trenton, New Jersey. The station there began test broadcasts on January 10, 1949, then official operations on April 19, 1949, as WTOA. It was owned by the Mercer Broadcasting Company, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trenton Times newspaper. WTOA started out broadcasting from 3 pm to 11 pm, with an ERP of 14,500 watts. Its original coverage area reached as far north as Queens, NY and as far west as Reading PA.
By the late 1960s, the station had been acquired by Nassau Broadcasting. Its call letters were changed to WPST on September 13, 1971.
The WPST calls originally stood for "Passport Stereo Trenton," a slogan of the station at the time. WPST is known for its mainstream CHR format, which they've had for many years. Tom Taylor was the PD who launched the format in the mid-1970s, and did mornings on the station until 1987. In August 1975, owner Herb Hobler hired Phil Gieger as the General Manager. Along with Tom Taylor, they revamped the station and coined the phrase, "From The Shore To The Poconos, The Music Is On The FM 97.5 WPST." They initially established an Adult Rock format, and by the Fall of 1975, the station took off and eventually became the number one station in the market. Some WPST DJ's over the years included John Mellon (aka Walt Ballard), Ed Johnson, Doug James, John Brown, Eddie Davis, Trish Merelo, Andy Gury, Brian Douglas, Mel "Toxic" Taylor, Jay Sorensen, Dave Hoeffel, Tom Cunningham, Michelle Stevens, Eric Johnson, Mark Sheppard, Andre Gardner, Phil Simon, Steve Trevelise, Joel Katz, Rich DeSisto, Lee Tobin, Steve Kamer, Lori Johnson, Mark DiDia, Bob Sorrentino, and Scott Lowe.
On February 14, 2005, at 5 pm, 97.5 swapped call letters and formats with 94.5 WTHK. Branded on air as "The Hawk", WTHK had a classic rock format. Like WPST, WTHK was owned by Nassau Broadcasting and licensed as a Trenton station. However, in August 2005 97.5's city of license was changed from Trenton to Burlington.
These changes were the first two steps of a three-step process designed to maximize the value of the licenses for 94.5 and 97.5. The reallocation of the 97.5 frequency from Trenton to Burlington moved it into the far larger Philadelphia market and made it possible to move the 97.5 transmitter to a site much closer to Philadelphia. This made 97.5 a much more valuable property—one ripe for sale to a major-market broadcast company regardless of what format it might be running. The object of the frequency swap was to allow WPST to continue to operate as a highly popular and profitable Trenton-market station on 94.5, a frequency allotment not suitable for relocation to a larger market. The lower-rated WTHK format was deemed expendable. Nassau chose to leave the final necessary step—the actual relocation of the 97.5 transmitter—to the eventual buyer, which would turn out to be Greater Media. Since Greater Media already had a Philadelphia classic rock station in WMGK, it was almost certain that a format change would be in order; Clear Channel's decision to drop smooth jazz from 106.1 left a format hole in the market, and Greater Media decided to fill it with a new version of WJJZ on 97.5.
WTHK signed off on November 15, 2006, at 7 pm EST. Shortly after that, Greater Media began airing a simulcast of WMGK, the Hawk's former competitor, on 97.5 as a placeholder until the sign on of WJJZ. About 3 minutes before WJJZ was to take over, messages urged listeners to reprogram their radios to 102.9 WMGK to continue enjoying classic rock.
The New Smooth Jazz 97.5 WJJZ
Ending of WJJZ 106.1
WJJZ 106.1 stopped playing smooth jazz at noon on August 10, 2006, and flipped to the rhythmic adult contemporary format. After a eulogy of the station by program director Michael Tozzi, 'She's Gone' by Daryl Hall played, then after a brief pause, 'Let's Get It Started' by The Black Eyed Peas began to play. The station name became 'Philly's 106.1', still carrying the inappropriate WJJZ callsign.
After a month, the callsign for 'Philly's 106.1' became WISX, and the WJJZ callsign was left open. Until September 2008, WISX continued to broadcast the smooth jazz format on its HD2 station, and on an internet stream from its website, but eventually, the smooth jazz format was dropped in favor of Tropical (a simulcast of WDAS, which currently broadcasts at 1480 AM; this has since changed to an urban oldies format).
At that time, Loni Taylor, who hosted the mornings at her start, and the 7-midnight timeslot up until the demise of the old station; and Bill Simpson, who hosted the "Philadelphia After Hours" 7-midnight show, which was dropped before the ending of the old station; were working at sister station WSMJ in Baltimore (which has since been flipped to modern rock/alternative as WCHH "Channel 104.3", and again to CHR/Top-40 as WZFT "Z104.3"); Simpson would return to the new WJJZ as the host of a revived "Philadelphia After Hours," while Taylor was a featured voice on Jones Radio Networks' Smooth Jazz stations until September 30, 2008.
It would be 99 days before smooth jazz returned to the Philadelphia airwaves.
Leading up to the launch
Many former Smooth Jazz 106.1 listeners protested angrily when the format was abandoned in Philadelphia. They were extremely vocal and on the first day of Philly's 106.1, anyone who called to complain could hear telephones ringing in the background. There were twenty-two pages of mostly angry posts on , The Philadelphia Inquirer's website, and the format change of 106.1, as well as that of 104.5 (WSNI "Sunny 104.5", which eventually went Spanish as "Rumba 104.5", but has since flipped formats again. The station is now WRFF). Like 106.1, Clear Channel also owns 104.5.
Much to the delight of fans, Greater Media announced in late October that it had plans to flip the format of Burlington, NJ classic rock station WTHK to smooth jazz . WTHK was owned by Nassau Broadcasting, and Greater Media had plans to purchase it even before it was known that a new smooth jazz station would be created. It had also been rumored that Radio One was considering the format for its current hip-hop outlet WPHI-FM ("100.3 The Beat"); at the time, it already owned smooth jazz stations in Indianapolis (formerly WYJZ) and Atlanta (formerly WJZZ-FM).
Greater Media was quick to park the WJJZ call letters at AM station WWTR in Bridgewater, NJ, for approximately a month leading up to the launch. WWTR, which is a simulcast of WMTR, a Greater Media owned oldies stations, was changed to WJJZ during that time. It returned to WWTR after WJJZ moved back to the FM frequency. Although it is possible to have multiple stations with the same letters (on different bands), they must all be under the same ownership. This prevented a rival from gaining these letters.
When the return of the station was announced, there was some question as to whether or not any of the familiar personalities would be returning. On October 19, Greater Media announced that Michael Tozzi, the old frequency's former program director, would be returning but other staff announcements would come in the weeks before and the months after the launch of the new station.
The official transfer of ownership took place on November 15, when WTHK signed off and shut down their Trenton transmitter.
On November 16, at noon, a countdown timer was added to the front page of the new station's website, 975WJJZ.com. Headlining the timer were the words "Countdown to the Return of WJJZ", and the timer was started at 1 day, 6 hours, 0 minutes and 0 seconds. The timer ran continuously above the station's logo. For quite some time, the old station's Web address, WJJZ.com, still existed, but the link automatically redirected to the "WDAS 105.3" website.
Launch of the station
The new WJJZ started out at 6 pm EST on Friday, November 17, 2006. After a minute of silence, a recording of smooth jazz artists greeted listeners was played (the same recording that was played at the closing of the old WJJZ), then Dave Koz announcing the new home of WJJZ. The first song played on the new frequency was the Grover Washington, Jr. tune "Protect the Dream". Until July 2007, the station had no identifying jingle, as they did with the former station. At that time, jingles were introduced using both male and female vocalists. However, in November 2007, as a tribute to WJJZ's heyday on the 106.1 frequency, the new station began to use some of the old station's jingles, with vocal versions added in December. For most of the station's life, branding practices placed the station's frequency before the callsign, billing it as "97.5 WJJZ." This was changed, and the station was then referred to as "WJJZ 97.5" by on-air staff, voiceover announcers and on the website (although the jingles did not include the word "point" in their lyrics, instead referring to the station as "WJJZ 97-5"). These changes may be to recreate the strong image that the old station had.
The new WJJZ broadcast from the same tower used by the old WJJZ, located on Mermaid Lane in Wyndmoor, PA. It began transmission on June 15, 2007. Its new HD radio was launched three days later. The station has the same signal strength as before; the only difference is that the new signal is directional.
At the station's start, there had been very few time slots in which a personality announced the songs. Initially, Michael Tozzi hosted middays, Teri Webb (who left the new station in August 2007) covered evenings and weekend shifts and bassist Gerald Veasley did weekend afternoons. On December 4, WJJZ added Broadcast Architecture's Smooth Jazz Network, with Dave Koz as the afternoon host. Later, Bill Simpson returned to take over evenings, with "Philadelphia After Hours", a staple of the old station. In January, 2007, Frank Childs returned as music director and weeknight overnight host. Later in the same month, Al Winters (formerly of WLVE/"Love 94", in Miami, FL) was hired to host the morning show, and Lisa Fairfax was brought in for weekend overnights. Shortly before Christmas 2007, Desirae McCrae became the latest former 106.1 personality to return to the new WJJZ, and she was in charge of the weekend shift. However, in the beginning of 2008, the respective contracts of Winters and Fairfax were not renewed and both were let go from the station. Ramsey Lewis' morning show was piped in from Chicago.
WJJZ's popular "Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch", formerly at Robert and Benjamin Bynum's Zanzibar Blue (which closed in April, 2007) was moved to Warmdaddy's, another Bynum brothers establishment. Other returning programs included Bill Simpson's "Pathways to Health Radio" and "Standards" with Michael Tozzi.
WJJZ's lack of ratings success fueled rumors of a format change. It was reported that in the summer of 2008 that Greater Media was doing listener research to identify format opportunities for the station. Among the formats tested was Soft AC, Hot AC, all news on FM, FM Talk, and a AAA format similar to WIOQ of the early 80s.
On September 5, 2008, at 6:00 pm, the Smooth Jazz format ended due to low ratings again, as the last song played was Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You". The station then began stunting with a loop of 15 hot AC songs for their upcoming format, ranging from Blondie's "Heart of Glass" to Avril Lavigne's "Complicated". They also had messages playing in between songs to listen soon for "something new, something Now". Three days later (September 8, 2008) at 9 AM, "Now 97.5" made its debut. It positioned itself as "a younger approach to today's soft rock", competing with the current market leader, WBEB ("B-101"). The first song was "Who Knew" by Pink. For the second time in two years, both WJJZ and the "Smooth Jazz" format were replaced with an AC station; also, both times that WJJZ had ended its run, the final song was by a Philadelphia-based act.
The use of the WJJZ call letters ended on September 12, 2008, with the change to WNUW.
On October 31, 2008, at 5:00 pm, the station switched to all-Christmas music. It was announced on-air that the switch to a Christmas format was to celebrate the Philadelphia Phillies's World Series win. The Christmas music lasted through the weekend and they returned to their regular format during the early morning on Monday. However, due to overwhelming listener response, WNUW switched back to Christmas music during the afternoon. WNUW then played Christmas music through the holidays. During WNUW's first week in the all-Christmas format, competitor B101 announced that they'd be sprinkling in Christmas tunes during the weekend of November 8–9--obviously in reaction to WNUW. Then on November 13, B101 flipped to all-Christmas. It was the earliest they'd ever done so. Shortly thereafter, standards-format AM station 1340 WHAT also started playing an all-Christmas format. Then on November 26, in a surprise move, WOGL temporarily changed its format to all-Christmas for the first time. Including Wilmington's 99.5FM WJBR, heard throughout the city, Philadelphians had five Christmas formatted stations from which to choose in 2008. In 2007, they had only one (B101).
The first on-air personality to be hired by WNUW was Glenn Kalina, whose morning show debuted on January 5, 2009.
WNUW never found a significant audience for its Hot AC format, trailing every other commercial Philadelphia FM and even Trenton, New Jersey station WPST, as well as Wilmington, Delaware's WSTW in its last ratings period.
97.5 the Fanatic
On October 9, 2009, at 5 PM, after playing Streetcorner Symphony by Rob Thomas, the sports format of WPEN (950 AM) began to air on FM with the new identity of "97.5 The Fanatic, Powered by ESPN". Sports programming would continue on 950 AM as well, with the AM side focusing on live game broadcasts while WPEN-FM aired mostly Philadelphia-focused sports talk, until December 21, 2012, when 950 AM was sold to Family Radio and became WKDN. After the completion of the sale on January 10, 2013, WPEN dropped the "-FM" suffix from its call sign.
Personalities on the Fanatic include Anthony Gargano, Mike Missanelli, Harry Mayes, Rob Ellis, Eytan Shander, Jon Marks, Joe DeCamara, and Matt Lombardo. Former Fanatic personalities include Tony Bruno (Tony Bruno Show Podcast), Tom Byrne (SiriusXM), Nick Kayal (Unemployed), Sean Brace (www.PhillyInfluencer.com), Brian Startare (www.SportstalkPhilly.com), Phil "from Mt. Airy" Allen and Dan Schwartzman (NBC SportsRadio).
Beginning in the 2012 NBA Playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers games aired on The Fanatic, moving away from WIP where they were aired for years. Less than a week later, The Philadelphia Flyers announced they too were leaving WIP for WPEN.
In 2016, WPEN began airing live broadcasts of Philadelphia Soul regular-season games.
WPEN's HD2 digital subchannel broadcasts Classical music. The subchannel carried Christmas music from late October through December 2010.
WPEN's HD3 digital subchannel broadcasts Spanish CHR branded as "Supra 97" (relayed on translator W237EH 95.3 FM Pennsauken, New Jersey).