The station has had a number of call letters, owners and formats throughout its history.
It is currently owned by Emmis Communications, along with sister station WLIB (1190 AM). The two stations share studios in the West Village section of Manhattan, and WBLS' transmitting antenna is located on the Empire State Building. It was previously owned by YMF Media LLC, owned jointly by investor Ronald Burkle and Magic Johnson, which had assumed control of WBLS and WLIB's former parent company, Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, on October 19, 2012 at a purchase price of $180 million.
Several years later the New Broadcasting Company, then-owners of WLIB, was awarded a construction permit for the dormant frequency and on September 15, 1965 reactivated 107.5 as WLIB-FM. As the Federal Communications Commission recently instituted a rule prohibiting full-time AM/FM simulcasting in large markets, WLIB-FM was programmed with a jazz music format. The stations were split up in 1972, when Inner City Broadcasting purchased WLIB (AM); WLIB-FM was then renamed WBLS. Inner City reunited the pair with its purchase of WBLS in 1974.
In 1993, Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, led a threat to boycott the station if they played any form of gangsta rap. Butts' protests culminated in his bulldozing a pile of hip-hop recordings during a rally. In response to the protests, WBLS excised most hip hop music from its air and carefully screened what it did play for content and language.
In 1995, after WRKS was purchased by Emmis Communications and dropped all hip-hop music in favor of a similar adult R&B format, WBLS countered with a controversial advertising campaign labeling WRKS as a "plantation station." WBLS shortly reverted to urban contemporary, only to exit again in 2004 when WBLS switched to urban adult contemporary.
WBLS acquired WRKS's intellectual property in a merger of the two outlets announced on April 26, with a joint statement on both stations' respective websites. In addition to acquiring WRKS's intellectual property, WBLS and WLIB also moved into Emmis's New York production facility in the West Village section of Manhattan, into studio space vacated by WRKS during the week of May 21, 2012.
During the 2012-13 NBA season, WBLS broadcast selected New York Knicks games in an agreement with WEPN-FM. These games conflicted with WEPN-FM's coverage of the NFL's New York Jets when both teams were scheduled to play on Sunday afternoons.
On February 11, 2014, Emmis Communications announced it would purchase WBLS and WLIB from YMF Media LLC for $131 million, pending final approval from the Federal Communications Commission. The purchase was consummated on June 10, 2014.