WFLN Classical Radio Philadelphia
95.7 FM was founded by Philadelphia civic leaders as a fine arts station, which signed on as WFLN at 5PM on March 14, 1949. In the early years, programming was heard in the evening hours only. In 1956, an AM operation was added, which mostly simulcasted the FM.
WFLN, which stood for "Franklin Broadcasting" was the first stand-alone (not co-owned with a local AM) station in Philadelphia. For nearly 50 years, the station's studios, transmitter and self-supporting tower were located at 8200 Ridge Pike, at the western edge of Roxborough, a few miles apart from the cluster of other antennas in Roxborough. From the late 1960s until the late 1980s, WFLN also maintained a small office in center city Philadelphia on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near 17th Street. This facility was used as a sales office and small studio where host Ralph Collier would do live and recorded interviews. Until about 2004, remnants of white plastic letters spelling "WFLN" could be observed on a low brick wall at the abandoned location, but they have since disintegrated.
Station leadership was carried out by the Smith and Green families. Programming consisted of classical music along with a number of short "feature" programs. Little emphasis was placed on making the station profitable, and most years it simply broke even.
The station continued along in this relaxed atmosphere until 1988, when it was sold to Marlin Broadcasting, a chain of classical music stations led by Woody Tanger. Tanger decreed that the station would begin to make money with the classical format through a series of drastic changes.
Ten of WFLN's 31 employees, mostly from the sales and office staff were fired. A half-hour noon talk show hosted by long-time fixture Ralph Collier was canceled. (Tanger later fired Collier outright due to comments Collier made about the station in Philadelphia Magazine) Veteran arts critic Charles Lee was yanked off the air, and Tanger cut back dramatically on the station's news coverage, which included firing longtime newsman Jules Rhind. Tanger maintained that news programming was readily available on other stations.
The effect of these sweeping changes was a more efficient operation, an increased commercial load, and a higher salary for the remaining announcers. Shadow traffic reports also began running on the station for the first time.
In 1995, Tanger engineered a complex swap with American Radio Systems, ultimately selling the station for $28 million. This transaction marked the beginning of the end of WFLN as a classical music station, as four more companies bought and sold the station within the next two years. Each new owner became less satisfied with the low revenue returns on the classical format, while the price of the station skyrocketed with each transaction.
In June, 1996, American traded WFLN to Secret Communications for a station in Sacramento. Secret's president, Frank Wood, announced that he would retain the classical format if marketing and programming modifications could increase the station's market share to 4 percent. Based on their research, Secret eliminated some of the station's talk programs, played shorter works and movements of symphonies during prime listening hours, and instructed on-air personalities to enliven their delivery. (This was referred to as the "dumbing down" of the station by some insiders)
Two months later, Evergreen Media Corp. agreed to buy WFLN and three Detroit stations from Secret, which received $38 million for WFLN alone. Technically, Secret never even owned WFLN, since FCC approval of their purchase from American Radio Systems was still months away.
In April, 1997, Greater Media, owners of WMGK-FM, WMMR-FM, and WPEN-AM announced that they would purchase WFLN for $41.8 million. At this price, many in the industry believed that the 50 year old classical format would soon be changed to one that brought in a higher return on the investment.
End of Classical Format
The announcement was made on September 4th, 1997: In less than 24 hours, WFLN would cease to exist. The next day, at 6pm, Jill Pasternak, a WFLN host for 11 years, read the station ID for the last time. Following that, Greater Media CEO Tom Milewski gave a brief speech, in which he explained to listeners that WFLN's classical recordings were being donated to Temple University's WRTI, which would be halving its jazz format to accommodate classical music. Milewski added, "Classical music, is, we feel, best presented in a non-commercial context." After a brief pause, Max 95.7, WXXM was born. The format was modern rock, and the first song was Cheryl Crow's "A Change Is Gonna Do You Good."
The format change did not go quietly among some dedicated listeners who besieged the station with phone calls. Some even stopped by the station to personally bid farewell to the departing announcers. Others formed small groups to figure out a way to bring full-time classical music back to the Philadelphia airwaves.
After a few months, the controversy died down, and WXXM began building its new audience. One of the tactics used by Max 95.7 to distinguish it from the other modern rock stations was to put the most requested songs in very heavy rotation. The ratings for Max were not spectacular, but by 1999 they were showing gains in their target demo.
On May 13, 1999, In the middle of Sarah McLachlan's song "Building A Mystery", the station unexpectedly switched to a soul/oldies format called
"Jammin' Gold" and eventually new call letters WEJM. The format, Rhythm
& Blues hits of the '60s and '70s, seemed immensely popular with listeners,
but could never manage to bring in high enough ratings. Like other stations
around the country with a similar format, Jammin' Gold did well at first, but
then quickly lost audience share. Many in the radio industry believed that the
station mishandled the format, using out-of-town consultants and little-known
air talent. Despite marketing techniques such as dance parties and contests,
ratings remained stagnant.
On June 15, 2001, the format was changed yet again,
this time to adult-skewing modern rock. (Matchbox Twenty, the Dave Matthews Band, Dido, Sugar Ray, Nelly Furtado, Madonna and Macy Gray.)
New call letters WMWX were assigned, and the station name, "Mix 95.7,"
and music sounded strangely similar to its former incarnation Max 95.7. The ratings were also similarly unspectacular.
In March, 2005, the station became "95.7 Ben FM" with a broad, adult-oriented playlist spanning three decades of music. This format is similar to the "Jack FM" format that CBS Radio used on some of its underperforming stations. In fact, rumors were swirling at the time that CBS would flip WOGL to such a format, so Ben FM may have been a pre-emptive move on Greater Media's part. Although many Jack/Ben stations use pre-recorded announcers, Ben does have disc jockeys during the day. Actor John O'Hurley provides the voice of station IDs during nights and weekends. Shortly after the switch to Ben FM, the call letters were changed to WBEN.