WPLJ (95.5 FM) is a radio station in New York City owned by the broadcasting division of Cumulus Media. WPLJ shares studio facilities with sister stations WABC (770 AM), WNSH (94.7 FM), and WNBM (103.9 FM) inside 2 Penn Plaza (above Pennsylvania Station) in midtown Manhattan, and its transmitter is atop the Empire State Building. The station airs a Hot Adult Contemporary music format, and is the home of the Todd & Jayde morning show. It is also the flagship station of the "Ralphie Tonight" program.
The station went on the air on May 4, 1948 under the call sign WJZ-FM, and in March 1953, the station's call letters were changed to WABC-FM following the merger of the American Broadcasting Company with United Paramount Theatres. As most FM stations did during the medium's formative years, 95.5 FM simulcasted the programming of its AM sister station.
In the early 1960s, however, WABC-FM began to program itself separately from WABC (AM). During the 1962–63 New York City newspaper strike, the station carried a news format for 17 hours daily. Two-and-a-half years before WINS launched its own around-the-clock, all-news format in April 1965, it was the first attempt at an all-news format in the New York market. This was followed by stints with Broadway show tunes and general freeform programming, including broadcasts of New York Mets baseball games. WABC's AM personalities, notably Dan Ingram, Chuck Leonard and Bob Lewis, hosted programs on the FM side which were the total opposites of the Top 40-powered sound for which they were better known on AM. WABC-FM did continue to simulcast its AM sister station during Herb Oscar Anderson's morning drive program.
At the start of 1968, ABC split its radio network into four distinct components, one of which was dedicated to FM radio. The following year, WABC-FM and its sister stations–KABC-FM in Los Angeles; WLS-FM in Chicago; KGO-FM in San Francisco; WXYZ-FM in Detroit; KQV-FM in Pittsburgh; and newly acquired KXYZ-FM in Houston–began carrying an automated, youth-oriented, progressive rock format known as Love.
1970s: AOR years
In late 1970, Allen Shaw, the then-president of ABC's FM station group, announced two big changes for the stations, which took place in early 1971: ABC dropped Love and installed completely live-and-local, freeform rock formats. The network also applied for call letter changes for the seven stations. The New York outlet was slated to be renamed WRIF, but a clerical error on the part of the Federal Communications Commission resulted in those calls being awarded to the former WXYZ-FM (the present-day WRIF) in Detroit–whose own request for WDAI was itself given mistakenly to WLS-FM in Chicago–leaving WABC-FM to start from scratch for its own rebranding. On February 14, 1971, the station's call letters were changed to WPLJ, chosen after Allen Shaw noticed the letter combination as the name of a song on the 1970 Mothers of Invention record, Burnt Weeny Sandwich. The song, "W-P-L-J", was originally performed by the Four Deuces in 1955 and stood for "White Port and Lemon Juice". On the air, the station hired John Zacherle, Alex Bennett, Vin Scelsa, Jimmy Fink, and Michael Cuscuna (from WMMR and WXPN in Philadelphia) as personalities.
In September 1971, Allen Shaw and ABC Programming Executive Bob Henaberry designed and pioneered the very first AOR (album oriented rock) format on WPLJ, playing only the best cuts from the best selling rock albums with a minimum of disc jockey talk. The slogan of the station was "Rock 'N Stereo". The station would play the music of artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Elton John, Deep Purple, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and The Allman Brothers. The station would also play pop songs from artists such as James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Carly Simon. The station was different from Top 40 stations (such as co-owned WABC) in that they played more album tracks. The audience ratings shot up dramatically, and WPLJ became New York's most listened-to FM rock station for most of the 1970s.
In 1973, Allen Shaw brought Willard Lochridge, the General Manager of sister station WRIF in Detroit, to New York to manage WPLJ. Lochridge then brought Larry Berger, Program Director of WRIF, to WPLJ.
Larry Berger took over as Program Director of WPLJ in 1974, and the station adopted the slogan "New York's Best Rock". Some of the personalities on the station during this period included Jim Kerr, Pat St. John, Jimmy Fink, Carol Miller, Tony Pigg, John Zacherle, Alex Bennett, Bob Marrone and Dave Charity. Berger himself hosted a Sunday night call-in show, during which he would discuss the station with listeners, but would decline to discuss the specifics of the music playlist, something many listeners were concerned with. During these call-in segments, callers suggested that the station sped up or "pitched up" the music so that they could fit in more commercials while still being able to claim that they played a large number of songs per hour. Berger repeatedly denied that this practice was in use at WPLJ. In the September 20, 1999 episode of Crap from the Past, host Ron "Boogiemonster" Gerber suggested that music was sped up on WPLJ to make the same music sound less dynamic on other stations.
Another Sunday night show begun in 1975 was then-Father Bill Ayres' long-running On This Rock, which mixed spirituality and social consciousness together with the music of Harry Chapin, Bob Seger, and others. Ayres was a Roman Catholic Priest with the Archdiocese of New York City. The show also aired on its sister station WABC on Sunday mornings within the last years of its Top 40 music format. Bill Ayres eventually left the priesthood in the 1980s but continues to host a call in Sunday night show today on the station.
By the late '70s, WPLJ tended to emphasize harder rock artists such as Led Zeppelin (there was a nightly "Get the Led Out" segment), Kansas, Boston, and Queen, who happened to get less airplay than on competing station WNEW-FM. At this point, the station reduced its play of softer pop songs, and their ratings remained good. Larry hired Marc Coppola in 1981, a rock oriented jock coming from suburban rival WBAB on Long Island, to do the 10pm-2am shift Monday through Saturday.
During its album-oriented phase, the station was noted for its promotional montages, snippets of classic-rock songs spliced together emphasizing a particular subject, such as gasoline (during the gas shortages of the 1970s).
From the time of Berger's arrival, WPLJ beat main rock rival WNEW-FM in virtually every Arbitron ratings period.
In 1982, WPLJ received a direct competitor in WAPP, which adopted a near-identical AOR format to WPLJ (WAPP launched its rock format commercial-free and remained so for the summer of 1982). WAPP beat WPLJ in the ratings in the Fall of 1982, and WPLJ reacted by adding more new wave such as A Flock of Seagulls, Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Go-Go's, Elvis Costello, Men at Work and Soft Cell, mixed in with the usual AOR fare. WPLJ's ratings ended up being better than those of WAPP after WAPP started playing commercials in the Fall of 1982. In early 1983, the station added "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson, playing it several times a day (note that many AOR stations, including WNEW-FM, added that song and it did chart on the rock tracks chart). In March, WPLJ added Jackson's other hit "Beat It", which received very positive reaction. While Jackson was not a typical AOR artist, that cut was played by many AOR stations due to Eddie Van Halen's role in the song. The station also dropped most 1960s songs by May, and was cutting back on AOR artists while playing more modern rockers.
During this time, WPLJ's logo was very similar to its sister station KLOS (the former KABC-FM) in Los Angeles.
1980s: CHR years
In the Spring of 1983, the station began a transition from AOR to CHR. With word that a Top 40 format was coming to 100.3 FM, WPLJ moved further in a CHR direction. Though the station began playing artists like Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, Larry Berger stated that he did not make the decision to move to a CHR format until the last week of June, and WPLJ adopted a Rock-leaning CHR format on June 30, 1983. At this point, the station played predominantly AOR and New Wave rock cuts, but would mix in two or three rhythmic pop cuts like "Flashdance" by Irene Cara, "Time" by Culture Club, "She Works Hard for the Money" by Donna Summer, and a few others. The station maintained its "New York's Best Rock" slogan, even though the station moved away from playing predominantly rock songs. Larry Berger discussed the changes on his call-in show in July 1983, to the disapproving reaction from the rock audience. (Competitors WNBC had been a de facto Top 40 AM station while WYNY had been the de facto FM hits station throughout the early 1980s, playing many current songs as part of its hot adult contemporary format). WPLJ's airstaff, which stayed on during the early transition months, would gradually change, as WNEW-FM picked up some of the station's best-known rock DJs, such as Carol Miller and Pat St. John. (Morning man Jim Kerr and sidekick Shelli Sonstein would remain with the station through the end of the decade.) Jimmy Fink, Tony Pigg and Marc Coppola eventually moved to Infinity Broadcasting's WXRK when it debuted a couple of years later.
In August 1983, at the same time WHTZ (100.3 FM) was launched across town, WPLJ was known as "The Home of the Hits" and in October, added Top 40-style jingles. In a way, it was "New York's Hit Music Station" just before WHTZ went on the air. The following spring, WPLJ identified itself very briefly as "The New Musicradio PLJ" before quickly segueing to "Hitradio 95" just a short time later. In the Spring of 1985, the station became known on-air as "Power 95". Ratings went up after switching to CHR, though they were still just behind Z100 most of the time. The double-whammy of Top 40 on one end and light-music WLTW on the other proved the kiss of death for the AC format on WYNY, which eventually went country.
On December 17, 1987, the station changed its call letters to WWPR (to complement its "Power 95" slogan), but flipped the call sign back to WPLJ the following year, on December 21, 1988, when research indicated that listeners still identified the station as WPLJ (the call letters were warehoused on what is now WYCK in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania). (It has been said that Z100 joked before WPLJ's call letter change that the "PR" in the calls stood for "Puerto Rican" and that the station planned to flip to Spanish.) 105.1 in New York City later adopted the WWPR-FM call sign for its mainstream urban format in 2002. In 1990, WPLJ dropped the "Power" slogan to revert to using just its call letters.
WPLJ continued to be successful until 1990, when ratings started to decline. With significant pop competition - Hot 97 playing dance and urban pop songs, and Z100 playing mainstream pop music - WPLJ began to lean towards pop-rock hits. Larry Berger departed the station in 1988, replaced immediately by his Music Director Jessica Ettinger who was named Acting Program Director. Eventually in 1989, General Manager Dana Horner hired Gary Bryan from KUBE in Seattle as program director. Bryan would also serve as morning show host beginning that June, ousting 20-year WPLJ morning host veteran Jim Kerr, creating an audience outcry. Turmoil followed as personnel left. Bryan lasted until early 1990, then surprisingly crossed the street to rival WHTZ for Morning Zoo host duty. ABC brass then replaced Horner with Mitch Dolan as General Manager/President of Programming, while Tom Cuddy was named VP of Programming (both formerly of sister station WPRO-FM in Providence), and Rocky Allen (formerly of WKSE in Buffalo) was named as the station's new morning host that August. WPLJ began to regain some momentum, but in a stunning move in the Spring of 1991, Cuddy and Dolan hired Scott Shannon, who had just left his rock hits project, Pirate Radio in Los Angeles. Shannon, the architect responsible for Z100's early success and their first legendary Morning Zoo host, took over as WPLJ's program director and morning show host (replacing Rocky Allen) in April 1991. The station then immediately rebranded as "Mojo Radio" on April 2nd (Shannon's first show was on April 11th), and the station began playing mainstream pop music, with ratings going up slightly. Todd Pettengill would join as Shannon's co-host on August 19th, forming "Scott & Todd in the Morning". Also that month, WPLJ began dayparting its programming by leaning towards Adult Top 40, with more gold and recurrents being played during the daytime hours while still playing some rhythmic-leaning material during the evening hours.
1990s: Hot AC era
By February 1992, the station shifted to what was growing to become a popular format: hot adult contemporary - at about the same time a slightly different version was being pioneered in Houston at KHMX. In an attempt to differentiate itself from its competitors, WPLJ adopted the slogan "No Rap, No Hard Stuff, No Sleepy Elevator Music, Just the Best Songs on the Radio." In addition, the "Mojo Radio" moniker was dropped and the station began using the moniker "95-5 PLJ" (with the "W" typically omitted except for legal station identification).
The station playlist featured many songs familiar only to New Yorkers and "oh wow"-type oldies that would not have been normal for the format in other markets. (In a bit of irony, WPLJ may have helped pioneer many of the concepts made popular by the diverse playlist, music-intensive Jack FM/adult hits format of 2005.) WPLJ, initially, leaned towards 1970s hits as well as mixing in liberal doses of disco and did regular theme weekends featuring "One Hit Wonders" and "#1 Songs" among others. Eventually, it also dedicated Monday-Saturday nights to playing nothing but 1970s music, hosted by former WKTU legend Al Bandiero, a practice that continued for the next few years.
In January 1993, Rocky Allen returned to WPLJ, this time to do afternoon drive for several years until moving to WABC for the morning drive slot in January 1999. (Allen returned again to WPLJ in late 2005.) In 1995, WPLJ signed an agreement with Usen Group of Tokyo, a 500 channel audio cable system, to carry the station live in real time throughout Japan. Also, from August 7–13 of that year, WPLJ was simulcasted on Heart 106.2 in London as part of testing transmissions before it signed on September 5 with a Hot AC format. In mid-1996, WPLJ began syndicating "Scott & Todd" to WMTX in Tampa (where Scott launched the "morning zoo" concept into nationwide success) and WKLI in Albany (Todd's hometown), with a nationwide syndication deal launching in May 1997. The syndication attempt would end on October 16, 1998, as management desired to refocus the show to a local audience.
On February 5, 1999, WPLJ abruptly moved to a modern adult contemporary format, a variation of the Hot AC format. The station eliminated all 1970s music from the playlist, and changed slogans to "New York's Hit Music Station Without the Rap" in an attempt to distance themselves from competitors that played rap music. In addition, many on-air personalities exited, including Kristie McIntyre, Danny & Onions, and WPLJ veteran Fast Jimi Roberts. But, "modern AC" had peaked in 1997-98, and the station transitioned back to a hot adult contemporary format, with its playlist consisting of songs from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
In 2005, with ratings in decline, WPLJ once again started to play more music from the 1970s and 1980s. Given its heritage as both a rock station in the 1970s and for championing a novel hot AC mix in the early and mid-1990s, many people in the radio business saw this move as a precursor to the station switching to a "Jack FM"-type format. However, they were beaten by WCBS-FM, which abruptly switched from oldies to the 'Jack' format on June 3, 2005. WPLJ returned to playing music of the late 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and the present.
While not an overall ratings success, WPLJ has for years been among the more financially successful stations in the New York City market, billing in excess of $40,000,000 per year. WPLJ does extremely well with adult women in the lucrative nine northern New Jersey counties adjacent to New York City.
During its Top 40 years, WPLJ used jingles from JAM Creative Productions, some of which were packages previously used on sister station WABC during its Top 40 days, but since becoming a Hot AC station, WPLJ has used jingles from TM Studios.
In late February 2008, the Rocky Allen Showgram featuring Rocky Allen and Blain Ensley was dropped as part of a company-wide series of staff cutbacks at Citadel. On February 16, 2009, WPLJ started airing the syndicated program The Billy Bush Show in the evenings. He would later be replaced by local host Ralphie Aversa.
In April 2009, WPLJ adopted a new slogan, "Scott and Todd in the Morning and Today's Best Music." A new logo was introduced that July.
On July 25, 2011, Scott and Todd, with the new addition of Cooper Lawrence, joined 20th Century Fox's cast for a six-week summer test of its nightly entertainment news magazine Dish Nation. In January 2012, Fox announced Dish Nation would return for a full 52-week season with Scott and Todd as members of its four city round table.
Citadel merged with Cumulus Media on September 16, 2011. By October 2011, Nielsen BDS moved rival WWFS (owned by CBS Radio) from the AC panel to the hot AC panel, giving New York City two hot adult contemporary stations, although Mediabase moved the station to the hot AC panel later that month. This gave New York City two hot adult contemporary stations for the first time since 1998, when WBIX (now urban contemporary radio station WWPR-FM) dropped it for a rhythmic oldies format.
WPLJ dropped 1980s music from its playlist in January 2012, and shifted their playlist towards more 1990s, 2000s and current music. After 14 years, "Saturday Night '80s" ended broadcast on July 7, 2012. Beginning in 2013, WPLJ dropped most 1990s songs from their playlist. The station's playlist at this point focused on early 2000s to current material.
Every year in December from 12:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve until 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Day, WPLJ had played continuous Christmas music, but this practice was discontinued in 2012.
On February 7, 2014, Scott Shannon announced his retirement from WPLJ after 22 years. Co-host Todd Pettengill immediately took control of the morning show, which re-branded as "The Todd Show" on February 24. Shannon is currently at WCBS-FM. Almost immediately after Todd Pettengill took over as solo host of "The Todd Show," rumors of a falling out between Shannon and Pettengill began to surface, claiming that Pettengill, in conjunction with his new agent and the leadership of Cumulus Radio, pushed Shannon out.
On January 5, 2015, "The Todd Show" was re-branded to "Todd & Jayde in the Morning" due to low ratings. Jayde Donovan, also known as Patricia Sweet, joined Pettengill as a co-host. With the change, co-hosts Cooper Lawrence, Fitz and Meatballs (Richard Deaver Jr.) were all released. Monk (Joe Pardavila), Annie (Anne Marie Leamy), and Johnny on the Street (John Mingione, formerly 'John Online' of WBLI/Long Island) are the other cast members of "Todd & Jayde in the Morning."
Since 2015, WPLJ re-added 1980s and 1990s songs to its playlist, due to increased competition. However, since most Hot AC stations no longer play '80s music (which is primarily heard on adult contemporary and classic hits stations), Mediabase moved the station to its AC panel, despite the station following more of a standard Hot AC playlist. The station has also added more rhythmic material. By November 2015, the station removed most of the '80s music from its playlist, thus having Mediabase move the station back to the Hot AC panel again, but still continues to play some '80s music.
WPLJ signed on digital operations in late 2005. WPLJ-HD1 carries a simulcast of their analog programming, while their digital HD2 channel originally broadcast programming from Scott Shannon's The True Oldies Channel from ABC Radio. On July 4, 2014, WPLJ-HD2 flipped to an adult contemporary format known as "FAS" (referring to sister station WFAS-FM, which flipped from AC to Urban AC), due to the discontinuation of The True Oldies Channel's distribution (the "FAS" programming is also relayed on translator W232AL (94.3 FM), located in White Plains. WPLJ-HD3 airs a simulcast of WABC.