WKSC-FM (103.5 FM) – branded as 103.5 KISS FM –is a Top 40 (CHR) radio station serving the Chicago area. They are owned by iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel Communications until September 2014). The station is known as "103-5 KISS FM" or simply "103-5". WKSC's main competition is WBBM-FM.
As of November 2013, WKSC-FM is the most popular radio station in Chicago with an average of 2.4 million listeners.
WKSC-FM broadcasts in the HD Radio format.
- 103.5-HD1 is a simulcast of the analog programming on WKSC.
- 103.5-HD2 is called "Air Chicago"; it airs information for Chicago's O'Hare and Midway Airports, along with a Smooth Jazz music format.
WKSC-FM signed on as WKFM on December 19, 1957, and was owned by Frank Kovas, Jr. The original location of WKFM was at 188 West Randolph, with the transmitter located on the top of the tower. On February 2, 1970, the transmitter fell about 30 stories off the building, but, according to Gary Deeb in the Chicago Sun-Times, no one was injured.
The original station operated from 7am until midnight. It played a mix of "semi-classical" and beautiful music. It was a competitor to the "beautiful music" stations of its day, like WFMF, WCLM and WFMQ.
Announcers included Bob Burns, Bob Longbons, Wendell Poe, Dick Lawrence, Ned Jaus, and Bill Jurek.
Sponsors included The House of Menna (an expensive furniture store).
WKFM had a "high brow" kind of sound with announcers and pauses between the songs. There were several newscasts daily. The music had several "moods" through the day: it was more upbeat in the morning and more strings at night, and every program had a "theme song." "Rendezvous with Rhythm" was the title of the afternoon drive program. Though WEFM, the Zenith owned Classical station, was the first station to broadcast in stereo, WKFM was the first to broadcast in stereo 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The evening program was known as a good place to really hear stereo-recorded music, featuring lots of "Command" label stereo records.
According to Broadcasting Magazine, when Kovas sold WKFM to RKO in 1971, it brought the most money ever paid for an FM radio station to that date ($1 million).
RKO, the new owner, changed the call letters to WFYR in March 1973 (the letters FYR was a reference to the famous Great Chicago Fire), installed a Schafer automation system, and for two years, used the Drake-Chenault format Solid Gold Rock and Roll. Later, the Drake format was dumped for live jocks playing oldies.
WFYR also did a "Saturday Night Oldies Dance" from a downtown hotel and RKO eventually operated "The FYR Station," an oldies dance club.
1973—80s: Early RKO years
By 1975, WFYR had flipped to an adult top 40 format, playing the music of the 1960s through current hits.
By the early 1980s, WFYR shifted its focus to 1960s and 1970s oldies, along with some current music and a moderate amount of pre-1960s oldies. They were marketed at that point as an adult contemporary radio station. On weekends, they had "oldies weekends" featuring songs from the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1984, the new WJMK signed at the 104.3 frequency with a format of oldies similar to WFYR, but with more 1955-64 oldies and some current songs. By 1988, WJMK was strictly 1950s and 1960s and very early 1970s oldies. WFYR stayed the course playing hits from 1964-1985 with very little currents and pre-64 songs. By 1989, however, WFYR had begun to drop in the ratings. They then dropped the currents and late 1980s songs all together, continuing as a 1960s and 1970s oldies station.
WFYR was sold to Summit Broadcasting in 1989 due to the FCC's action against RKO General forcing the company to end their broadcasting operations due to their past dishonest business practices. On October 29, 1989, WFYR's oldies format and DJs were abruptly dropped and replaced with a "soft AC" format.
1990s: The rock years
103.5 The Blaze (1991-1994)
In early 1991, WFYR was sold by its parent company Summit Communications to Major Broadcasting of Chicago. Major, a newer company, had success with a high-energy hard rock format in Salt Lake City at KBER-FM. With alternative rock stations WKQX (Q101) and WXRT, talk/comedy WLUP, and classic rock WCKG, there was a need for a straightforward rock station. On March 29, 1991, at 6 PM, the station signed off the air. At 4 PM the following day, the station returned to the air with a 44-hour stunt of Rock Rock ('Til You Drop) by Def Leppard. At Noon on April 1, the station "snuffed the fire and stoked The Blaze!" 103-5 The Blaze featured acts such as Skid Row, Billy Squier, Ratt, Ozzy Osbourne, Slaughter and other hard rock and quasi-metal artists and bands. With the change, the call letters became WWBZ on April 19. The abandoned WFYR call letters eventually came back into use in downstate Peoria's 97.3 FM.
The initial on-air staff consisted of Steven Craig in mornings, Steve Seaver in middays, Brian Kelly in afternoons, music director Kevin Lewis and Leslie Harris at night, as well as several personalities from WFYR and some new hires, including Jimmy Novak, Kent Gustafson (Chris Ryder), Brad Jeffries, "Major Tom" Johnson, Scott Childers, Todd Maverick and Ryan (Cherry) Meiers. In addition to the Blaze DJs, helicopter reporter Major Tom was a hit with listeners with his irreverent morning and afternoon traffic updates. Tom also buzzed a Jonathon Brandmeier remote in Lincoln Park which was live on The Loop, WLUP. When Brandmeier figured out what was going on, he went to a commercial. 1992 brought Blazefest, a rock memorabilia show and concert at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park, with bands such as Kiss, Saigon Kick and Warrant.
Rock 103.5 (1994-1998)
In December 1993, Major sold the station to Evergreen Media, parent company of WLUP (97.9 FM) and WMVP (1000 AM). Glam rock had started to run its course, and Major made a minor sum on the sale. (They moved into television, producing "The Mort Downey Show," and continued radio with syndicated formats.) Evergreen retained the rock format, and the "Blaze" name was kept until July 1, 1994, when the station began stunting with a variety of music genres, as well as promoting a feedback phone number for listeners to call, and taking occasional potshots at B96, WCKG, Q101, The Loop, and even their now-former format. At 6 AM on July 5, the station relaunched as "Rock 103-5," featuring a commercial free "A-Z" kickoff. On July 28, the station changed call letters to WRCX.
Musically, the station added more alternative-type bands such as Collective Soul and Red Hot Chili Peppers into its existing library, and morphed into a current-heavy AOR or active rock format. Mancow Muller was added to mornings and soon began receiving the highest ratings on the station. Other airstaff for the station included Jo Robinson, Terry Gibson, Eddie Webb, Ned Spindle, Sludge, Scott Loftus, Kent "Goose" Gustafson, Scott Struber, Freak, and Chris Payne (who later went on to WKQX). "Blazefest" was changed to "Rockstock", and continued to be a very popular concert series, virtually selling out every show. The station was also well known for heavily promoting Metallica. In February 1996, sister station WYNY in New York simulcasted WRCX for a day as part of a week-long stunt of simulcasting sister stations nationwide before flipping formats to rhythmic adult contemporary as WKTU.
Evergreen owned WRCX until 1997, when they merged with Chancellor Media. On June 26, 1998, Mancow left WRCX and joined WKQX on July 27 (a station he previously talked badly about on a regular basis). By then, WLUP had been sold to Bonneville and returned to a rock format with a lean on harder-edged classic rock, and WKQX was becoming musically closer to WRCX, mixing a moderate amount of active rock. This led to a deterioration in WRCX's ratings.
1998: "Chicago's Jammin' Oldies"
103.5 The Beat (1998–2001)
With Mancow's morning ratings lead-in gone (Bob & Tom were briefly aired on WRCX after his departure), Chancellor announced at 5 PM on October 29, 1998, that WRCX would change formats. After a 24-hour countdown with re-airing station memories (which included phone-calls from Lars Ulrich and Mancow), and a final goodbye from the station's departing staff on October 30, the station continued its rock format (albeit without jocks) until 5:30 PM on November 2, when, after playing "Sad But True" by Metallica, the station flipped to the new "Jammin' Oldies" format, branded first as "The New 103-5", then (after a "name the station" contest) as "103-5 The Beat". The first song on "The New 103-5" was "Get Ready" by The Temptations. On December 21, WRCX changed their call letters to WUBT. Musically, the format featured 1960s Motown, 1970s and 1980s soul and disco, 1980s dance, and rhythmic pop hits from the 1970s and 1980s. It was marketed as "Chicago's Jammin' Oldies" and "Not Your Father's Oldies Station." Chancellor merged with Capstar in 1999, becoming known as AMFM Inc. Radio legend Doug James did mornings on the station. The most well-known personality on WUBT was Larry Lujack. Lujack was hired out of retirement by program director Jay Beau Jones. Lujack had been off the air for many years, but was still very well known in the market. Lujack did his Saturday show from his home in New Mexico while his co-host, Matt McCann, was in the Chicago studio. Lujack's show out performed the rest of the station, which, while it received a ratings boost after the flip, was doing very poor in the ratings about a year afterwards.
2000s: Top 40
KISS 103.5 (2001–02)
In 2000, Clear Channel Communications and AMFM Inc. merged, making WUBT a Clear Channel station. Clear Channel was not interested in keeping the "Jammin' Oldies" format in any of their markets, and flipped each "Jammin" station one by one in 2001. On January 12, 2001, at 4 PM, after playing "Last Dance" by Donna Summer, WUBT flipped to CHR (Top 40) as "Kiss 103.5". The first song on "Kiss" was "Get Ready for This" by 2 Unlimited. The station's call letters became the current WKSC-FM on February 13. At the time of the flip, Big City Radio's WKIE, WKIF, and WDEK had collectively been known as "92 Kiss FM" (also with a CHR format) since 1998. Clear Channel issued a cease and desist to Big City for the use of the "Kiss" name because Clear Channel owned the rights to it in most markets (and continues to do so as iHeartMedia). WKSC's playlist was more rhythmic than WKIE, and the station was heavily voice tracked and automated. Mornings were handled by KIIS's afternoon host Valentine. Overnights were locally voice-tracked by Craig Carson (also known as Matt Wright), who had most recently held the afternoon spot for the previous "Beat" format. Middays were held by Gary Spears of KIIS (later Randi West of Kiss 107 FM in Cincinnati), and afternoons were locally-hosted with Zurek (formerly Rick Party of WGCI-FM). Evenings were also hosted locally by Pyke. Weekends included syndicated Rick Dees (which was dropped from the station at the end of 2004) and American Top 40, first with Casey Kasem, and later with Ryan Seacrest.
103.5 KISS FM (2002–present)
In the fall of 2001, WKSC began leaning more rhythmic, though it still reports as mainstream. On November 19, 2001, Java Joel was hired to do evenings as "The Rubber Room". The show featured wacky stunts, parodies, and interviews. In September 2002, the station adjusted its slogan from "KISS 103.5" to "103.5 KISS FM" and later that year, Scott Tyler replaced Rick Party in afternoons and Nikki replaced Randi West's voicetracks in middays. In early 2003, Valentine was replaced by former San Antonio host DreX. In late 2004, Scott Tyler was released for allegedly making a negative comment toward DreX and moved to KDWB Minneapolis for nights. He was replaced by Nikki (the midday host) and middays were handled by alternating Rod Phillips and Jeff Murray (also known as Smash).
On January 11, 2005, Java Joel was fired from the station for a comment that was deemed racist by one vocal black listener. He was replaced by Mack. The midday position was filled later in 2005 by Atom Smasher. After a year, Atom Smasher was replaced by Kiss FM Music Director and former overnight DJ Smash from 10am-Noon and Nikki from Noon-4pm. Alexx Dupri was also brought over from sister urban station WGCI-FM to Kiss for overnights.
In the spring of 2006, the station finally beat its main rival, WBBM-FM, in the 12+ Arbitron ratings. Toward the end of July 2006, Kiss FM dropped the "point" from their name and started referring to themselves as "103-5 Kiss FM." Nina Chantele from KZZA-FM in Dallas was named midday host. Overnight host Alexx Dupri, who was filling in for Nikki in middays because Nikki was doing afternoons, went back to overnights. On October 4, 2006, Global Records vice president Ty Bentli was hired for the afternoon position, releasing Nikki. Ty eventually left late 2010 for a job at KBIG-FM in Los Angeles.
In late 2006, Silly Jilly, a long-time sidekick of Java Joel was hired to work the night shift from 7-11PM. After years of working with Java and on her own both in Chicago and on her own nighttime show in Pennsylvania, Silly Jilly replaced Mack at night. Local club DJ Special K was given Weekend shifts, including hosting CLUB KISS.
In the first week of September 2008, midday host Nina Chantele was moved from 11am-3pm to 10am-1pm; afternoon host Ty Bentli's shift was moved from 3-7pm to 4-8pm, and the mid hours are now covered by the syndicated show of Ryan Seacrest, which airs 10am-2pm. Silly Jilly's shift was moved over to 8pm-1am. Billy Hammond was released from his late night shift. The station's female voice at the time, Angi Taylor, who was also a long time radio-co host, was added to the cast of the Morning Show during this time.
In 2008, the station's music director position was eliminated, resulting in Smash's release.
In late 2009, Silly Jilly left the evening post and was replaced by weekender Special K (8pm-1am).
2010s: The station today
On December 14, 2010, DreX was fired from Clear Channel after being the morning host for 8 years amid dwindling ratings. One of his co-hosts, Mel-T also left KISS-FM. The following day, it was announced that Charlotte's "Brotha Fred" would take over the morning show on KISS FM starting January 17, 2011. Angi Taylor would return as a co-host, David L. would be a new host, and Tommy Black would serve as producer. In January 2015, DreX was hired as the part-time evening reporter on San Francisco's talk radio station KGO 810.
On January 8, 2011, the new morning show known as "Brotha Fred's Neighborhood" was established with host Christopher "Brotha Fred" Frederick, co-host Angi Taylor, and comedian David L, who followed Fred from NC. Tommy Black continued as producer of the morning show until being replaced by "MJ" SLykas in April 2011. On February 7, 2012, it was announced that David L. was out at WKSC-FM and was returning to his home in Charlotte, NC. Eventually, the show evolved into "Fred and Angi in the Morning" with only the two hosts as the main players on the show and MJ as executive producer.
On July 23, 2013, Special K was released from the WKSC air-staff. It was at this time that overnight jock, Rufio, stepped in as the interim night host until November 5, 2013, when Brady (formerly of sister station WKSS in Hartford) was hired as the stations new night host and Music Director. Rufio is currently maintaining overnight on-air and programming duties.
In December 2014, Nina Chantele was and the Ryan Seacrest and Jordan afternoon shows were expanded to fill the time.
As of November 5, 2013, the current on-air staff of WKSC included: