Friday 30 Sep 2016

NYC Country Radio
Matt Seinberg

I am a Country Music fan and have been for about twenty years. I’m not talking about the twangy, whiney all sad in your face country music. I’m talking about “Rockin’ Country,” as performed by Brooks and Dunn, Garth Brooks, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith.

The cows-and-horses-riding-around-the-ranch Country Music is long gone, at least for me. When’s the last time you heard a Janie Fricke song playing anywhere? “Little Jimmy” Dickens had a birthday last week, but not many radio listeners noticed or were told.

New York City hasn’t had a country radio station in over ten years, since Big City Radio shut down the quadcast known as Y107. It consisted of four stations: two in New York City and two in New Jersey. All were on 107.1 FM and consisted of WWXY/Briarcliff Manor, NY, which later used the famous WYNY call letters, WWVY/Hampton Bays, NY, WWZY/Long Branch, NJ and WWYY/Belvidere, NJ.

Here was the problem with the quadcast: not one, in fact, was located in New York City. Moreover, the signal penetration into the city and Long Island was awful. I live in central Long Island. The radio signal I heard came from Briarcliff Manor. It wasn’t terrific. I had to put the receiver into mono mode to eliminate all the static and other background noises.

Y107 had some great DJs, including Jim Kerr, Ray Rossi, Larry Bear, Amy Paige. Two of my favourites were Cousin Vinny (Jimmy Diele) and my college friend, Dennis Falcone.

That was the end of Country Radio in New York. Here’s a quick rundown on the beginning of Country Radio in NYC. It was 15 September 1965 that WJRZ-AM 970, in Hackensack, NJ, started playing Country Music full time. One of the most notable DJs it had was Lee Arnold, who later gained fame at WHN-AM.

Country lasted on WJRZ until 17 May 1971 when it became Top 40 WWDJ. That in itself is another story. It was two years later that country fans got another radio station when on February 26, 1973 WHN-AM 1050 changed from MOR to country, and some big radio names were on the air, including Jack Spector, Bruce Bradley, Del DeMontreux and Lee Arnold.

Being the air check collector that I am, a number of years ago, I contacted Ed Salamon, one of the program directors from WHN, asking for some air checks form his time at the station. After digging through various places at home, a box arrived, and inside was a treasure trove of cassette tapes that I converted to digital files.

Many of the air checks included special guest DJs like Dolly Parton and Anne Murray. Others were entries to the annual Billboard awards, and they sounded great. Country lasted until July 1, 1987 when WHN became the country’s first 24 hour all sports radio station, WFAN.

On 9 September 1980, jazz station WRVR-FM 106.7 became New York’s first FM country radio station. Its new call letters were WKHK, for Kickin’ Country. Many of the DJs from the jazz format stayed on to host the Country Music format, including Les Davis, Pat Prescott and my old friend from WNBC, Batt Johnson. I was lucky enough to get some great SWAG from Batt, including a belt buckle and t-shirt.

Some other notable names that passed through the studios include Steve Warren, Tim Byrd, Cliff Powers, Rosemary Young, Phil Redo, Carol Mason and radio sister JJ Kennedy.

On 23 January 1984, WKHK became lite AC WLTW aka Lite FM. Holdovers included Powers, Young, Redo and Kennedy.

On 1 July 1987, the same day WHN became WFAN, former AC powerhouse WYNY flipped to country, with many of the AC DJs staying on. They included Mike Wade, Randy Davis, Jack Scott, Lisa Taylor, Mike McCann, Floyd Wright, Jay Michaels and the former voice of WNBC, Bill Rock.

On 22 September 1988, one of the most famous frequency flips of all types occurred, when WYNY moved from its long-time home on 97.1 to 103.5, and WQHT went from 103.5 to 97.1. Other notable moments happened when Jim Kerr came aboard to do mornings, lasting from 3 January 1990 to 29 January 1993, and Ray Rossi joined in November 1990 and lasted until November 1994.

On 10 February 1996, Country 103.5 said a tearful goodbye, and the next day another set of familiar call letters appeared once again in New York radio. WKTU was reborn as “The Beat of New York.”

This brings us full circle because 10 months later, in December 1996, Y107 was born.

The debate has raged for years why New York has not had a Country Radio station. The answer has always been that the advertisers won’t support it. Don’t they realize how supportive country fans are of their music and performers?

Well, we may be getting our wish. The rumor mill is rampant that Cumulus’ recent acquisition of WFME 94.7 will change the format from religious programming to country. My question is this: if the format change happens, will it be a satellite delivered, voice tracked from out of town stations or live and local?

I can’t wait for this to happen, and when it does, it will become my number one pre-set button on my car radio. Maybe some of my favorite DJs will even appear with some luck; no name-dropping just yet though.

New York City and Long Island stay tuned for New Country 94.7!

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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