WDAS-FM went on the air in 1959 as the sister station to 1480 AM owned by Max Leon. The varied format included combinations of Jazz and Classical music, with occasional simulcasting of WDAS-AM. Some of the early personalities on WDAS-FM included Del Shields and his "Modern Music" show, Kal Rudman playing folk music, and Chris Albertson with tapes of "rarely recorded New Orleans artists."1
In the spring of 1968, the station switched to a progressive rock format under the direction of Hy Lit, who had just left a long stint at WIBG. Known as the "Hyski Underground," the station played mainly album cuts and included DJs Michael Tearson, Ed Sciaky, Gene Shay, Larry Magid, T. Morgan, Wayne Joel, Steve Marko, Rod Carson and the owner's son, Steve Leon, who called himself "My Father's Son" on the air.
Rival WMMR-FM switched to a progressive format around the same time and started pulling in listeners from WDAS. Eventually, the station's programming was turned over to Steve Leon by his father Max with the promise of complete freedom of speech and music. The promise did not last long. On March 5, 1971, the FCC (supposedly under the influence of the Nixon administration) issued a public notice that warned broadcasters against playing songs "tending to promote or glorify the use of illegal drugs."2
Max Leon and his son-in-law, GM Robert Klein ordered all "dope songs" off the station. 28 year-old Steve fought against this ruling, and in an infamous altercation was taken off the air and fired by his brother-in-law while playing Arlo Guthrie's song about marijuana "Comin' Into Los Angeles." The next day, the station launched a "progressive soul" format.3
Inventing A Format
This format evolved into the Urban Contemporary format for which the station is still widely known today. The playlist included R&B, soul and funk, with songs that became classics of the genre. The success of this format at WDAS coincided with the popularity of the "Philadelphia Sound" made famous by Philadelphia International Records with artists such as Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, The O'Jays and the Sylistics. As disco and rap became popular, they too were added to the playlist.
In 1979, WDAS was sold to the black-owned Unity Broadcasting Network for $5 million. By 1982, the station found itself in competition with Power 99 (WUSL), and moved even further towards the Urban Adult Contemporary format, eliminating rap and disco from their playlist. The station also strengthened its community involvement and public affairs programming aimed at the African American community. Despite these efforts, WUSL continued to win the urban ratings race. In 1989, WDAS hired Kernie Anderson, who improved the station's ratings by targeting a somewhat older demographic (the parents of the teens who listened to Power 99) with lots of ballads and 70s and 80s hits from artists like Earth Wind & Fire and Marvin Gaye.
In 1994, WDAS was sold to Beasley Broadcasting and moved into a new building on City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd. In 1996, it was sold to Evergreen Media for $103 million. After a series of mergers, WDAS is now owned by Clear Channel Communications, and continues with the urban adult contemporary format as one of Philadelphia's legendary radio stations.
Joseph "Butterball" Tamburro
Joe Tamburro has been an integral part of Philadelphia radio since he landed a sales job at WDAS in 1964. He quickly became a DJ at the station where he put his lifelong love of soul music and R&B to work. In an industry not known for longevity, Tamburro managed to hold the Program Director's title at WDAS for over 30 years. In May 2001, he was named WDAS VP and General Manager. He has received numerous awards in the music and radio industry for his contributions to both the business and the community.4
WDAS held the first Unity day in 1978 on the Belmont Plateau. This keystone Philadelphia event celebrates family values, pride, multiculturalism and empowerment with music, food, games and activities. The first event drew 20,000 but since then attendance has grown into the hundreds of thousands. The venue was later moved to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where the 30th annual event was held on August 23 – 24, 2008. In June, 2009, Clear Channel Communications, owners of WDAS, ceased to sponsor the event. "Unity Day on the Parkway, Inc." a group of concerned citizens, is now the official sponsor of the event.
Billboard Magazine, various issues, 1961 - 1968
Sirius, R. U. Everybody Must Get Stoned , Citadel Press, 2009, p. 104
Fong-Torres, Ben One Toke Behind the Line, Rolling Stone, 4/15/71
Air Awards, 1997