WABC-FM / WPLJ 95.5
Before WPLJ was "New York's Best Rock", it tried to out-freeform WNEW-FM. As early as Fall 1967, it experimented on Saturday nights with shows from music producer Tom Wilson, Bob Lewis' "Some Trust In Chariots", Chuck Leonard's "Swingin' People" and "The Other Dan Ingram Show."
By 1968, WABC-FM had a syndicated progressive rock format during the day (Most Music, which evolved into "Love" with Brother John Rydgren) and either Chuck Leonard or "Radio Free New York" with Bob Lewis evenings.
By May of 1970, when the station became WPLJ, live jocks filled the schedule with such names as Dave Herman, Jimmy Rabbitt, Tony Pigg and Jimmy Fink. By 1971, the schedule included Murray Roman, Michael Cuscuna (who later became a Jazz producer), J.J. Jackson, Tony Pigg, Vin Scelsa, Dave Herman and Mike Turner. But by August of 1971, the free-form format was history.
Later in the 1970s, such names as Jim Kerr, Pat St. John, John Zacherle, Carol Miller and Vivian Roundtree were heard. The station became WWPR in December of 1987, but in late December of 1988 switched back to the WPLJ call letters.
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PRESS: WABC-FM Clicks with Classical Plan
Billboard - October 2, 1965
WABC-FM decides to try "top 40" classical radio. We all know how that worked out. I'm surprised they didn't try jingles to go along with it.
PRESS: The Other Dan Ingram Show
Billboard - May 14, 1966
We had always thought that "The Other Dan Ingram Show" happened as a result of WOR-FM's success on FM. But this article demonstrates that it had actually started months before.
PRESS: The Other Dan Ingram Show
FM Guide - August, 1966
At Bob Lewis' urging, Dan Ingram tried an FM show on Saturday evenings, but Dan overdid trying to not fall back into his AM personality...it was really, really low-key. Dan eventually gave it up supposedly because there was no money in FM.
PRESS: WABC-FM: Tom Wilson's "The Music Factory"
Broadcasting: July 31, 1967
Tom Wilson was a noted record producer, working with the seminal albums of Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkle, The Animals, the Blues Project and the Mothers of Invention. When WABC-FM experimented with special shows devoted to rock and jazz on Saturday evenings, Tom was part of it. It was great and intelligent radio.
Having said that, there was a bit of a conflict of interest: Wilson worked for MGM Records and MGM Records sponsored the show.
PRESS: WABC-FM: Do some marketing
Billboard: September 23, 1967
"The dream is WABC-FM...Logically, a stage and screen format has everything working for it."
In this editorial, Billboard calls upon WABC-FM to better promote its "Stage and Screen" format. But Claude Hall, editor of Billboard, didn't yet see what was coming.
But still Show Music during the week...
FM Guide - November, 1967
Although WABC-FM was dipping into the progressive rock scene on Saturdays with shows from Dan Ingram and Bob Lewis, they were still playing Show Music during most broadcast hours.
AIRCHECK: Bob Lewis-Beatles Press Conference
May 19, 1968
Contributed by Frank Quaranti via Rob Frankel
This is a great aircheck contributed by Frank Quaranti of Bob Lewis playing excerpts from a press conference with Beatles Lennon & McCartney, including his own interview with them. The Beatles were in the U.S. to announce the formation of Apple Corps.
This was also the press conference where Lennon admits that their admiration for the Maharishi had been a mistake. Lennon was his usual insightful but strident self and McCartney was trying to be nice.
AIRCHECK: Love Format-Brother John (scoped)
from Rob Frankel
These airchecks, from most probably June 15 or 16, 1968, are great sounding restorations by Rob Frankel. My recollection of the syndicated ABC-FM "Love Format" was that it was automated, boring radio, but this aircheck proves that my recollections are incorrect.
Note the interludes, interviews, other formatics, news and a great selection of music. I especially liked the reference to the band called, "The Traffic" as well as the intro, "Marshall McLuhan tells what's happening to us, baby!"
It's a little hard to perceive on computer audio, but these airchecks sounds really great - wide stereo separation with EQ that really has impact. Listening to them on a good audio system, it's easy to see why people got excited about listening to rock on FM. I wonder if today's technology has killed that impact, either because of the artifacts of solid state electronics and digital technology or because of radio station over-processing the audio.
Update:Rob Frankel has informed us that this is not an aircheck, but a demo of the format that actually preceded the launch. So that makes this even more rare than we thought it was. But it also explains why there's so many interesting bits, things which I don't believe made it into the final format.
AIRCHECK: WABC-FM Jingle
Contributed by Neil Leibowitz
A "stereo ninety-five and a half" jingle from the "Love" syndication era. But listening to it now, it could have been a jingle for almost any format.(Updated with an expanded version in context).
AD: Don't be a snob!
This ad was probably intended for advertising agencies, not for the listening audience. Most adults (and especially agencies) were still scared of hippies in 1969.
AD: 24-Hour Rock Festival
This ad was a bit more generic.
AD: Michael Cuscuna
Michael was one of the early WABC-FM jocks who was hired when WABC-FM was apparently trying to appeal to the musical intellectuals in the audience. He later became an acclaimed jazz producer.
AIRCHECK: Bob Lewis (Scoped)
January 10, 1970
from Rob Frankel
This is a mono aircheck provided by "restorian" Rob Frankel. We hear a very mellow and loose Bob Lewis taking us through a free-form journey. As with several other airchecks on this site, note that much of the music is not the music we hear today on classic rock stations.
From the sound of this aircheck, it might only represent one channel of the stereo signal. But you know what the music is supposed to sound like anyway.
Dig those snazzy jingles!!!
AD: Dave Herman
FM Guide - May, 1970
An ad for Dave Herman. Doesn't seem like much today, but at the time, FM rock stations were trying to demonstrate that they weren't corporate (even though they were) and that they cared about individual air personalities. WABC-FM became WPLJ right around the time this ad was published.
PRESS: Changes at WABC-FM
Billboard: August 8, 1970
Billboard's take on the changes at WABC-FM.
ABC FM Station Strategy
PRESS: Broadcasting - August 10, 1970
An article about the evolving strategy for the ABC FM Network O&Os
AIRCHECK: Paul Is Dead [scoped-stereo](46:54)
July 4, 1978 rebroadcast of a Fall 1969 show
Contributed by Joseph S. Pilliteri
In the Fall of 1969, rumors began to spread that Paul McCartney had actually died in an auto accident in 1966 and that an imposter, William Campbell, had taken his place. The remaining Beatles supposedly left clues in their songs and album jackets.
Many radio stations began dissecting these clues and created special programming around the rumors, which was akin to today's "click bait". Bob Lewis created a show debunking the clues.
Lewis' show, originally broadcast when the station was still known as WABC-FM was rebroadcast on July 4, 1978 after the call letters had changed to WPLJ. This is that recording. Part 1 contains the original broadcast. Part 2 contains a segment added for the 1978 broadcast with Pat St. John who once again looks at both old and new clues.
WABC-FM Photo Section
Contributed by Allen B. Shaw
Here are some great archival photos of WABC-FM.
PROMO: A 1971 Psychedelic Promo for the station
Stations really tried to be creative back then. While the results didn't always look professional, at least they didn't look like a rubber stamp from a third-rate advertising agency.
AD: WABC-FM to WPLJ
circa March, 1971
This is an ad that was placed in the program for the Fillmore East. There's several interesting things of note here: WABC-FM is crossed out to let listeners know that the station has changed to WPLJ. The format of the station is never mentioned nor implied. Nowhere does it say "rock". In fact, the illustration would lead one to believe that this could be a classical music station. This could be interpreted as either a major marketing blunder or as having respect for the intended audience. Since this ad was contained within the program for the Fillmore East, it is unlikely that the station could be anything but a rock (or possibly a jazz) station. And there is still an emphasis on the jocks, who were still considered even more important than the music itself.
PRESS: Is WPLJ Reverting to WABC-FM?
Village Voice - October 14-21, 1971
In late 1971, WPLJ placed increased restrictions on air personalities and instituted a playlist. WBAI air personality Steve Post condemned this in a somewhat inaccurate article in the Village Voice. WPLJ air personality Dave Herman responded back a week later, but left WPLJ before the end of the year and joined WNEW-FM in morning drive a year later.
And Dave Herman's reply:
A promo for Zach contributed by Kimball Brandner. Not the greatest pic of Zach, but there wasn't much money in those days. I suspect this was given out at concerts that were hosted by Zach. Zach used to get a tremendous reaction when he hosted shows - he just seemed so incredibly cool - much cooler than your average DJ. And he didn't even wear his horror makeup at concerts in those days.
Metropolitan Review Magazine - Nov 2, 1971
John Zacherle hosted horror movie TV shows in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He developed a character named Roland in Philadelphia and when he moved to WABC-TV, New York in 1958 for Shock Theatre, started using his own name (eventually with a "Y" added at the end to make it easier to pronounce). While many cities had such hosts, most TV historians consider Zacherle to be the first. Zach was probably best known for breaking into the films and satirizing the contents - he was one of TVs first anarchists. In 1959, the show moved to WOR-TV and in 1963, renamed Chiller Theatre, moved to WPIX. In 1965, Zach started hosting Disco Teen on Channel 47 out of Newark, NJ.
In 1960, there was a "Zacherley for President" promotional campaign. We think the below photo, with Stan Z. Burns and Murray the K from WINS, is from that campaign.
Zach was friends with Dick Clark and filled-in for Clark on tours from time-to-time.
Zach was an early progressive-rock DJ on WNEW-FM, starting in 1968, doing the morning show, of all things. In the Summer of 1969, he moved to a more appropriate shift, 10pm-2am between Rosko and Alison Steele. But in 1971, he moved to WPLJ where he stayed until 1980.
Zach, who is now 91 (as of early 2010), still sounds great and appears at Thriller Theatre conventions, where he is considered to be the main draw.
Male DJs typically wouldn't be mistaken for models and Zach was mostly seen publicly in horror makeup, but as you can see from the photos in the article, Zach was one good-looking guy. He could probably have had a career as a leading man.
Here's a pic of Zach taken just a few years ago:
PHOTO: Zach with Brewer and Shipley
Billboard: January 29, 1972
A photo of the great John Zacherley with Brewer and Shipley.
PRESS: Switch Hitting on ABC-FMs
Broadcasting - March 13, 1972
An article about the ever-changing evolving formats of the ABC network owned and operated FM stations.
AIRCHECK: WPLJ's Roots of Rock w/ Zacherley [scoped - stereo]
Sunday, April 16, 1972
Contributed by Mike
In 1972, WPLJ was a year or so into the "New York's Best Music" format, but they were willing to break format a bit to host a "Roots of Rock" weekend. Many of the songs played are what we would now call "oldies", although some weren't all that old in 1972. But it was still impressive that WPLJ would deviate from format to play these tracks.
There were some bad choices: I don't see how "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" or even Johnny Horton's "Battle of New Orleans" were roots of rock, although they were hits in their day. Seems to me those songs could have been replaced with some real roots music: blues from Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and others or some very early R&B. Hard to tell if Zach was picking the tracks, but there are a fair number of tracks out of Philadelphia, like Chubby Checker and Dee Dee Sharp and Zach spent a lot of time there. We even get to hear Zach's own "Dinner with Drac". We also hear some Beatles, the Who and the Drifters among others.
The show starts with an unnamed announcer. About 20 minutes into the aircheck, Zach takes over for the rest of the show. This aircheck constitutes about 3 hours and 15 minutes of airtime.
AIRCHECK: Jim Kerr and Tom Morgan [scoped - stereo]
Friday, August 29, 1975
Contributed by Rich Barbato
This is a short segment of Jim Kerr followed by Tom Morgan playing "New York's Best Music" on WPLJ. We also hear newscaster Bill Owen from the ABC FM Network News.
Unfortunately, the air personalities don't get to do much more than back announce the records. There are a few things of interest: A record sale for "Born to Run" is announced at $3.99 per LP, which sounds inexpensive, but is actually $17.70 in 2015 dollars, not such a great deal. It was only 68 degrees and it's probably going to be at least 85 degrees on this day in 2015. And we hear a Toyota spot with the unfortunate tagline, "it will never let you go." And we also get to hear Dan Ingram voicing several spots. The segment also opens with a promo for Bruce Springsteen which sounds to me like it's voiced by Dave Herman.
AIRCHECK: Zacherley [scoped - stereo]
Thursday, September 18, 1975
Contributed by Rich Barbato
Here's a bit of John Zacherley doing his thing on WPLJ. Unfortunately and like the air check above from the same time period, he doesn't get to do too much more than back announce the records.
We do get to hear a spot from the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. And we also get to hear about an upcoming Summer-end concert in Mount Vernon featuring KISS, Orleans, John Sebastian, Don McLean, Chris Hillman and Brian Auger & the Oblivion Express for just $6.50 a ticket ($29 in 2015 dollars).
PRESS: Jim Kerr
Billboard: October 3, 1981
Jim Kerr signs a five-year contract with WPLJ
June 12, 1984
Contributed by Myles Putman
WPLJ Photo Section
Contributed by Allen B. Shaw
Here are some great archival photos of WPLJ.
These air schedules are sourced from newspapers, FM Guide (which was usually a few months behind changes), Radio Guide, Richard Neer's book on FM radio, personal recollections of myself and DJs and various postings on the web, especially those of Vince Santarelli. Corrections welcomed. In some cases, the same dates are posted twice due to conflicting information from different sources. This was one shows the schedule from 1967 to late 1978.
Great jocks during this period including Jim Kerr, Tony Pigg, Jimmy Fink, Carol Miller and Pat St. John.