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101.9 FM–A Brief History Lesson

As we wait for Merlin Media to offer its final version of 101.9 FM (WEMP), how about a look down memory lane at 101.9 through the years?

Of course, recent history means Alternative Rocker WRXP, which took ownership of the frequency starting in 2008.

But 101.9 goes back to the 1940s with WGHF for its first owner William G. Finch. After having the station since 1945, Finch moved the station to its new home at 101.9 in 1947.  A year later, it became the New York City affiliate for the Rural Radio Network.

In 1955, the first of several sales took place as 101.9 was handed over to Muzak. The call letters changed as well to WBFM.

WBFM and its elevator music lived on 101.9 through the Kennedy years. In 1964, the frequency enjoyed the start of some of its most successful radio stations.  

To be fair, it’s hard to consider WPIX-FM a success as you’ll see below. But it definitely had longevity. Even though the call letters didn’t change during 24 years, the format frequently did.

In fact, there were 11 format changes in the 24 years that it existed. WPIX-FM would be referred to by many radio insiders as “the format of the month station.”

WPIX-FM, owned by the Daily News, started out playing Easy Listening music, featuring the popular PIX Penthouse with host Tom Mercein (father of then-Giants fullback Chuck Mercein). 

That survived for a few years.

Adult Top 40 had two changes to thrive (1971 to 1975; 1976 to 1977). Disco was sandwiched between from 1975 to 1976.  

There was a Top 40 with a Rock slant in 1977 and 1978.

Hardly the original Easy Listening format, from 1978 to 1980, WPIX-FM opted to promote the burgeoning Punk/New Wave scene.  

The 1980s brought as much uncertainty for programmers.

From 1980 to 1981, WPIX returned to a Rock Top 40 feel, followed by Adult Oriented Rock from 1981 to 1982.

For just two months in 1982, WPIX went to Top 40, as a bridge to Adult Contemporary. By 1983, their slogan was “Nothing But Love Songs” and the famous “Y0ur X Wants You Back” Promotion. The station hit its stride from 1983 to 1985.

The station added contemporary jazz nightly beginning in 1987.  A year later WQCD was born. “CD 101.9,” which had been owned by the Daily News, was retained by new ownership –the Tribune Company.

 In 1997, Emmis purchased CD 101.9 giving New York a triopoly (joining WQHT/Hot 97 and 98.7 Kiss FM/WRKS).

CD 101.9, meantime, was providing something that its 101.9 predecessor didn’t–consistency!

Notable 101.9 air personalities over the years included Jim Kerr, the legendary morning man (now with WAXQ), Meg Griffin, and Mark Simone.

As a full-time contemporary jazz station, the playlist included large amounts of instrumental jazz and new age, plus several urban adult contemporary tracks.

The Jazz format, along with a brief “Chill” experience from 2004 to 2005, ran its course. On February 5, 2008, WRXP gave listeners The New York Rock Experience.

Now, after more than 60 years, we await the next chapter in the life of New York’s 101.9.

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