I always have a bit of nostalgia when talking about some of the legendary radio stations of New York, many of them no longer on the air; the product of changing listening habits and corporate greed.
There was Musicradio WABC and their long list of legendary DJ’s, which included Dan Ingram, Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy and “Cousin” Bruce. How about 66 WNBC, the long-time home of Don Imus and shock jock Howard Stern.
Well, add another radio station to those who’ve gone out if existence, as 98.7 Kiss FM ended its run as an R&B radio station after 30 years.
In the summer of 1981, WRKS made its debut as an urban contemporary radio station. Led by radio broadcasting legend Barry Mayo, the radio station made an impact by playing a mix of R&B and dance music. Over the years, Kiss FM’s DJ’s would go on to even bigger success, such as Wendy Williams, and even hired former WBLS alumni Ken Webb & Frankie Crocker. Kiss FM also relied heavily on freestyle music, provided by mixmaster Shep Pettibone.
The flip was immediately noticed, as the station climbed the ratings from #22 to #3. The change caught long-time urban contemporary leader WBLS off guard and would lead to a head-to-head battle between the two radio stations for the next 30 years.
In the fall 1983, the station began playing rap music on a regular basis, making it one of the first in the nation to play the once fledgling music format. 98.7 Kiss FM incorporated rap artists such as Afrikaa Bambattaa, Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, the Fat Boys, and LL Cool J into the same rotation as such established acts as Ashford & Simpson, Kool and the Gang, and Gladys Knight.
Pretty soon, similar formats popped up in cities all across the country, hoping to take advantage of WRKS’ success. The formula was so successful that other media groups in New York adapted it’s format. In 1986, Emmis Broadcasting would lay a charge to Kiss FM’s dominance by creating “Hot 103.5” with new call letters WQHT and a new CHR/Dance format. Years later, it would add rap music to it’s daily playlist, putting it in direct competition with WRKS.
Years of competition had took it’s toll on the once great radio station. In the last few years, Kiss FM dropped rap and developed a Classic Soul format. But the end came today, as the station “merged” with it’s longtime rival WBLS. Starting Monday April 30th, the format will flip to ESPN Radio.
Part of me is sad, having enjoyed the refreshing change the radio station was, along with its ability to be bold with it’s choice of music. Without Kiss FM, we probably wouldn’t have rap music as popular as it is today.
A once great radio station, silenced once and for all.