WPPZ-FM, also known as "Praise 103.9 FM", is a Radio One-owned Philadelphia-area radio station licensed to Jenkintown, Pennsylvania and featuring an Urban Gospel format. It has studios located in Bala Cynwyd, and broadcasts from a transmitter site in Philadelphia's Roxborough section. The station has always been short-spaced due to adjacent channel interference from WMGM in Atlantic City, WXCY in Havre de Grace, Maryland, and WNNJ in Newton, New Jersey (all located on 103.7 FM), WAEB-FM in Allentown and WNNK in Harrisburg (both located on 104.1 FM), as well as WRFF (104.5 FM), and co-channel interference from WRCN on Long Island and WNBM in Bronxville, New York. As such, the station broadcasts at only 270 watts, making it the weakest station broadcasting from the Roxborough tower farm.
103.9 originally started out on November 1, 1960 as WIBF-FM, which was owned by Fox Broadcasting, not related to the more recent Fox Broadcasting Company television network. The call letters stood for the station's owners — William, Irwin, and Benjamin Fox.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the station featured a format of MOR, big bands, Dixieland jazz and the area's first FM country music show, plus religious and ethnic programs. By the mid-1970s, the station switched to religious and ethnic programming during the day and Spanish music at night. The Barry Reisman Show, featuring Jewish music and programming, was broadcast during the afternoon drive time from 1969 through the station's sale in 1992. In 1965, the station picked up a television sister in WIBF-TV, channel 29 (now WTXF-TV, a station coincidentally owned by the Fox Broadcasting Company).
The station was bought in October 1992 by Jarad Broadcasting, and on November 9, 1992, at Midnight, 92.7 WDRE from Garden City, New York started simulcasting its programming with WIBF-FM, and shortly after the simulcast began, WIBF's branding was changed to "103.9 WDRE" to match the New York station. The simulcasting was part of a large effort by Jarad called "The Underground Network", a network consisting of 7 stations from across the country simulcasting WDRE. In 1995, the network ceased operations, WDRE in New York would change its call letters back to WLIR, and made WDRE in Philadelphia an independent, local modern rock station; WIBF-FM then changed its own callsign to WDRE - "We DaRE to be Different" to match its branding.
The station helped launch the careers of many famous disc jockeys and local personalities. They include Preston Elliot and Steve Morrison of the Preston and Steve morning show on WMMR, Bret Hamilton of WCAU-TV, Marilyn Russell (formerly of Y100, WXPN, WMGK, now on WBEN-FM), Jim McGuinn (also known as Rumor Boy), the former Program Director of WPLY (now currently programming KCMP in the Twin Cities), and Mel "Toxic" Taylor, who went on to WYSP.
Veteran DJ Mel "Toxic" Taylor (formerly of WPST and WIFI) was the first DJ hired for the only 2 local shows that would be live from Philadelphia each week.
When WDRE Philadelphia became a local radio station in 1995, talent was hired from within the city (e.g. Bret Hamilton, formerly of WIOQ) and outside of the city. While WDRE never became a true mainstream radio station in the Philadelphia radio market due to its weak signal, the station gained a cult status in the Philadelphia area, and as a result, events like the station's music festival (known as "DREfest") sold out to a crowd of over 25,000 people.
However, in December 1996, Radio One bought WDRE from Jarad, and on the 16th of that month, WDRE announced that the station would flip to a then-undisclosed format in February 1997.
Due to the informed notice of the station's flip, the staff at WDRE were able to organize a concert called "Bitterfest", which was to be held at The Electric Factory. The concert featured local acts G Love and the Fun Lovin' Criminals, and was created to celebrate the life of WDRE as a local institution for modern rock. On February 7, 1997, "Bitterfest" was held to a sold out crowd of over 3,000 people, with all of the WDRE staff present at the event. At Midnight on February 8, 1997, as the crowd at Bitterfest chanted "'D-R-E! 'D-R-E! 'D-R-E!", a lucky (or unlucky) listener was selected to "pull the plug" on WDRE, with the station ending with the first song that started the format: Pearl Jam's "Alive". Two of the WDRE disc jockeys (Preston Eliot, Bret Hamilton) went to Y100, as did 'DRE Program Director Jim McGuinn, and midday and Sunday night DJ Marilyn Russell (as Promotions Director for Y100). Y100 was also bought out by Radio One in 2000, and flipped in 2005 to urban contemporary.
WDRE on-air schedule
- Mornings — January '96 — September '96 The WDRE Morning Show with Sarah, Spike and Brian/ September '96 — February '97 The WDRE Morning Show with Sarah, Spike and Vinnie
- Middays — Bret Hamilton
- Afternoons — Preston Elliot
- Evenings — John Castino
- Overnights — Leigh Taylor
- Sunday Evenings — Marilyn Russell
- Sunday Overnights — Dan Fein
- Various Shifts — Brian Robbins
- Various Shifts — Debbie Mann (formerly of WXPN 88.5 and WRNR 103.1 Annapolis, MD)
- Various Shifts — Gil Edwards
- Various Shifts — Rumor Boy (Jim McGuinn)
- Various Shifts — Chris Martin
On February 10, 1997, after a weekend of stunting with classic soul, the station flipped to Urban Contemporary, branded as "Philly 103.9." The call letters were soon changed to WPHI. When the station rebranded as The Beat in April 2002, it shifted to rhythmic top 40. By 2006, Radio & Records/Nielsen BDS moved it to the urban contemporary panel, but Mediabase followed suit in 2011, completing the rhythmic to urban shift.
On February 27, 2005, Radio One moved the "Beat" format to the 100.3 frequency, which was formerly Y100. 103.9 then flipped to urban gospel, branded as "Praise 103.9". The callsign was changed to WPPZ-FM on March 3.
Except for "The Yolanda Adams Morning Show" and CeCe McGhee weekday afternoons, the station ran jockless throughout the day until August 2007. In late August, the addition of performer Lonnie Hunter from Chicago was made to be the mid-day personality along with Sheik Meah. Famous speaker Les Brown was also added to be on Sunday nights from 7–9pm. In September, Pastor Alan E. Waller joined the staff to do a Saturday morning show from 10–11am and two more weekend shows were added. The "Holy Hip-Hop Show" was added on Saturday nights from 7–9pm and a Christian dating show was added on Sundays from 9–11pm.
WPPZ's current staff includes Lonnie Hunter, Brother Marcus, and CeCe Magee. Former DJs include Church Lady (2007–2008), Ed Long (2005–2007), CoCo Brother (2011–2013), and Les Brown and B.I.G. C.I.T.Y. (2008–2009; 2009–present).