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History of Philadelphia radio station 1340 WHAT (Marconi Broadcasting)

  • Founded as WNAT

    On October 17, 1922, a new Philadelphia radio station was authorized by the government to the Lennig Brothers Co, a radio supply company headed up by Frederick Lennig at 827 Spring Garden Street. Lennig placed WNAT on the air at 833 kHz in November, 1922. An early slogan for WNAT was "We Never Are Tired." Over the next two decades, the station changed frequencies and ownership a number of times as summarized below:

    YearFrequencyOwnershipNotes
    19251200 kHzLennig BrothersShared time with WIAD
    19271040 kHzLennig Brothers 
    19281310 kHzLennig BrothersShared time with WFKD
    19291310 kHZAlbert Walker 
    19311310 kHzCurtis PublishingShared time with WTEL
    19391310 kHzBonwit-Teller 
    19411340 kHzPhiladelphia Record 

    With the sale of WNAT to Albert Walker in 1929, the station's call letters were changed to WHAT. On March 29, 1930, studios were moved from Spring Garden street to room 538 of the Public Ledger Building at 6th and Chestnut Streets. Albert Walker then sold the station to a subsidiary of the Curtis Publishing Company. By the late 1930s, the station was airing time-brokered religious and ethnic programming. On May 23, 1939, the station was sold to department store company Bonwit-Teller for $10,000. In 1940, Bonwit-Teller sold the station (under the name Independence Broadcasting Company) to the Philadelphia Record Company, a newspaper publisher.

    Banks Ownership

    On February 12, 1944, former WIP salesman William Banks purchased WHAT for $22,500 from the Philadelphia Record and became the station's new President. His sister, Dolly Banks, became program director and expanded on the ethnic format while ending time-brokered programming. In 1946, studios were moved out of the Public Ledger Building to 1505 Walnut Street. WHAT continued to share time with WTEL until 1949, when WTEL was reassigned to its own frequency. WHAT then began a 24 hour per day operation and also was granted permission to raise power from 100 to 250 watts, and eventually to 1000 watts during the day.

    According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, WHAT was known for innovation. "In 1945, WHAT became the first U.S. radio station to hire a full-time black announcer, the first to program a regular show featuring a black woman as hostess and the first station in the city to hire black newscasters. It also was the first in the nation to feature a black as host of a daily talk show."1

    In 1954, the station moved its studios and transmitters to a new structure at 3930-3940 Conshohocken Ave dubbed "The WHAT Radio Center." The station programmed an R&B Soul music format with DJs that included Hy Lit, Sonny Hopson, Jerry Blavat and Georgie Woods. In 1978, a "black talk" format debuted, and ended two years later with a return to black-oriented top 40 music. In 1979, William Banks died at the age of 78 and Dolly Banks was named president and general manager and assumed full ownership of WHAT and sister station WWDB-FM. Dolly resigned as general manager in 1984 but continued as president and chairman of the board until her death on September 10, 1985 at the age of 71.

    WHAT logo

    Ownership Changes

    In October 1986, Reginald N. Lavong and Miller Parker, owners of Main Line Communications purchased WHAT from Independence Broadcasting for $625,000. The sale included the station's office building and 4.5 acres of land on Conshohocken Ave. Former sister station WWDB-FM was sold to lawyer Ragan A. Henry around the same time. In 1989, the station, now running an African American-oriented talk and Nostalgia format, was sold to Philadelphia radio veteran Cody Anderson. Anderson had been general manager of WDAS-AM/FM and his company "KBT Communications" paid $1.65 million to obtain WHAT-AM.

    In 2007, WHAT was sold to Marconi Broadcasting, who ended the station's longtime African American-focus. Known for years as the "Voice of the African American Community," all station employees, including hosts Albert Butler, Elmer Smith, and Mary Mason were let go.

    Mary Mason

    Mary Mason began her broadcast career as a gospel music host on WHAT in 1958. Her first talk show, "Mornings with Mary" first aired on WHAT in 1970. Mason became a prominent and politically influential fixture at the station, with a loyal audience who sought her opinions on a wide range of local, national, and international topics. Her shows on WHAT were the highest rated on the station, and she also hosted programs on sister station WWDB and the former WCAU-AM. During a visit to Phildelphia in 1993, President Bill Clinton made a guest appearance on Mason's morning show.

    New Formats

    WHAT 1340AMInitially, Marconi Broadcasting programmed an alternative format called "Skin Radio" which was the first such format in Philadelphia radio since Y100. The format was short-lived and by August, 2007 switched to an adult standards format reminiscent of the old WPEN, albeit with a more diverse playlist and more 70s music. Originally called "Martini Lounge Radio" the name eventually changed to "The Greatest Music of All Time." The station featured legendary Philadelphia radio talents including Bill Webber, Bob Craig, Elaine Soncini and Mike Bowe.

    Spanish Format

    WHAT abruptly went silent on August 1, 2011 ending the adult standards format. The station was sold to Lawyer and former Philadelphia City Solicitor Ken Trujillo under his personal investment firm, Aztec Capital. WHAT returned to the air that September as Spanish-language music format "El Zol" with a "crossover" format that's not as beat-driven as rivals Mega AM 1310 or Rhumba 1480.

    Sources:
    (1) Burr Van Atta, Obituary: DOLLY BANKS SHAPIRO, 71, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/24/1985, U12
    AIR Awards 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award
    Joe Logan, WHAT-AM OPTS FOR NOSTALGIA OVER TALK, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/16/1989, E06
    Jan Lowry, "WHAT Profile", Broadcast Pro-File
    Joseph N. DiStefano, "Trujillo powers up in Spanish at WHAT-AM", Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/30/2011

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  • Discuss 1340 WHAT Philadelphia

    Comments? Corrections? Worked there? Please let us know!

    1. Posted at 11:08 AM on 10/25/2009 by Diane Blackmon:
    I work as an on-air radio announcer / engineer at WHAT Radio. 1974 -1975. 7p -12Mid. Before going over to WCAU FM 98 (CBS). Had the highest numbers /top ratings ever, until forced out. Station rating droped to an all time low. FM 98 never regained top Ratings. In 1980 they changed their format. WHAT on-air announcers: Mary Mason Tal Forrest Royce Howard Diane Blackmon Billy Toothpick Reggie Fatman Newscasters: Dave Clark Mumbia Jammal and Emilie Kunud-Hansen

    2. Posted at 9:05 AM on 11/28/2009 by john s:
    todays format is working. I listen its nice hearing bill webber and mike bowe and the music is good keep it up there are different households i have heard your station on. keep it going thanks john s

    3. Posted at 5:58 AM on 3/25/2010 by Jason:
    If you are a Facebook member, and would like to join my fanbase for WHAT, click below: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=124509735323&ref=ts Now over 100 members strong and growing. It even was acknowledged on the air by JD and Missy.

    4. Posted at 4:23 PM on 4/6/2010 by SHIRLEY CARTER:
    I LISTENED TO MARY MASON FOR MANY YEARS. I LOVED HER STYLE OF GETTING THE POLITICIANS INVOLVED WITH HER TALK SHOW. WWW.MYSPACE.COM/CONVERSATIONSWITHSHIRLEY

    5. Posted at 2:30 AM on 7/22/2010 by delores brooks:
    mary mason always played a man praying everyday trying to find name of artist

    6. Posted at 9:54 PM on 9/13/2010 by Stephen Weatherly Sr:
    I listened to Mary mason since I was old enuff to know what radio was bcuz my mom Marva Weatherly loved her show and along with my siblings Ms Mason grew in our hearts. I wanna know the info on that prayer she played every morning before her show..

    7. Posted at 10:39 PM on 11/10/2010 by Rob From Mt. Airy:
    Well, as a child I listened to "Mornings with Mary" as I got ready for school. My mother used to listen to her sometimes in the morning. i always remember her advertisement about "little Frankies corner at 5th and Girard Avenue". That was always funny. She was a great personality for her days, but Codie Anderson brought a consciousness to Philadelphia talk radio. It wasn't just making fun of your audience it was about hearing the people who could affect change in the community. DJ Lady B came out of WHAT. A lot of folks came out of WHAT 1340 AM, our youth are only told about Mary MAson. Go to 900Am in Philadelphia, you'll see some remnants of the old WHAT 1340. They had to run Codie out, because people like Brother Rob, Brother Fred, Malik, Sabor, Me, Cedarbrook, and a few others were too vocal forthat city. We have to tell our own history, because when others tell it, the story never gets passed down the right way.

    8. Posted at 9:31 AM on 12/29/2010 by Octavia Mahoney :
    I remember listen to Mary Mason every morning before school. My mom played it. I use to wonder why she played it so loud. But once I saw the neighbors outside bowing their heads from the prayer she use to play I finally understood. 10 years my mornings haven't been right because I have not heard the prayer from the man. If anyone knows the prayer please post it. I'm quite sure it will brigten my day. There brigter days ahead............

    9. Posted at 5:45 PM on 1/7/2011 by R S:
    Mary Mason lives in my mom's building. Her son said that prayer was read by C T Bigelow.

    10. Posted at 2:22 PM on 2/7/2011 by steven brown:
    if anyonoe recieved a copy of the prayer ms. mason played on her show could you please please send me a copy or post it..god bless!!!

    11. Posted at 8:21 AM on 3/28/2011 by Tessie:
    can any one tell me who did the open prayer on the Mary Mason show> It moved me so deaply. tmdobey@juno.com

    12. Posted at 9:57 AM on 8/3/2011 by marie murrin:
    Whats happing @1340??Cant get it on my radio...Where is Mike bowe?? In the last 6 months I ve had no less then 100 pp tune in to hear the oldies. WE play it all the time @ Friendship Circle Senior Center..Now WHAT?????

    13. Posted at 10:24 AM on 8/3/2011 by marty :
    all of a sudden we get very poor reception on car and home radio in plymouth and east norriton areas why?

    14. Posted at 10:51 AM on 8/6/2011 by Bobby:
    We also suddenly cannot get 1340 in the car. This is upsetting. Why are there only comments and no answers on this site??

    15. Posted at 12:55 PM on 8/6/2011 by Alan Boris:
    The oldies format at WHAT 1340 is over and the announcers have been let go. After a week or so of silence, Spanish language programming and/or brokered talk is expected on 1340.

    16. Posted at 11:20 PM on 8/8/2011 by Nick Smigo:
    I was very surprised to hear that WHAT went off the air with their MOR format. Anybody know why? We need an FM station to step up and give us this music. Sorry to hear all the jocks got fired. Adult format is greatly needed in Phila.

    17. Posted at 2:31 AM on 8/9/2011 by MAXINE CALHOUN:
    MISS THE WHAT FORMAT LIKE CRAZY!!!MARY WAS TRULY A CARING INDIVIDUAL.SHE HELPED SO MANY PEOPLE AND BROUGHT SO MUCH "EVERYTHING" TO THE LISTENERS. SHE HAD A "SNAPPY" DISPOSITION AT TIMES, BUT SHE WASN'T AFRAID TO SPEAK OUT.I MISS CODIE AND HIS SONS,NICK TALAFERRA(SP), FATIMA ALI, JOEY TEMPLETON,S MUSIC,AND LORD KNOWS I MISS "THE EDUCATOR" NONE OTHER THAN REGGIE. THE SPORTS WORLD WAS GREAT AS WELL, AND WHAT ABOUT THE DYNAMIC MICHAEL CHORD? LUCIEN BLACKWELL'S GRANDDAUGHTER WAS GREAT. I TOO WOULD LOVE TO GET A COPY OF MARY'S MORNING PRAYER. IT WAS THE BEST. I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO HEAR FROM JOEY TEMPLETON AND DISCUSS WITH HIM ABOUT SUPPLYING MUSIC FOR AN EVENT I'M WORKING ON FOR MARCH OF 2012 IF GOD PERMITS. JOEY, PLEASE CONTACT ME IF YOU SEE THIS EMAIL.LET'S NOT FORGET "LLOYD FATMAN" AND HIS AWESOME MUSIC AND JOLLY OLE VOICE.CAN WE ALSO GIVE A SHOUT OUT TO GEORGIE WOODS, A SUPERSTAR. WE CAN NEVER FORGET HIM AND AND ALL THE "SOUL" HE BROUGHT TO THIS CITY AND OVER THE AIR.HIS OH MARY DON'T YOU WEEP AND WAS IT DON'T EAT CHICKEN ON SUNDAY!!!(LOL) WHAT ABOUT THE NEW YEARS DAY PARTY...ALL THE OLD HEADS PRESENTED THEIR BEST OF "DOWN MEMORY LANE" AND HOW MUCH BETTER NEW YEARS DAY WAS SPENDING IT WITH OUR RADIO FAMILY. FOR ALL THE NAMES I DIDN'T MENTION,I LOVE AND APPRECIATE YOU AS WELL.WHAT THANKS FOR EVERYTHING..GONE BUT NEVER WILL YOU BE FORGOTTEN. MEMORIES OF YOU WILL LAST FOREVER......LOTS OF LOVE....

    18. Posted at 1:20 PM on 8/10/2011 by ronald suber:
    As a young child growing up in Philadelphia I used to listed to "mornings with mary" almost daily before going to school. It kept up with all the current events going on in the city. One thing I miss so very dearly and that was the morning prayer. Never heard it outside of Philly could some one please post it or e-mail me it. I miss it so much.

    19. Posted at 4:21 PM on 8/11/2011 by mitch zatto:
    it is august 2011, and radio station what has turned off its carrier signal; however, looking at the bright side, WMID is beaming in loud and clear from Atlantic City into southernmost Delaware County, PA., and their oldies are every bit as good, daytime only; at night WMID disappears. Good-Bye, WHAT, the station where I first heard the Temptones (aka Daryl Hall, 1967), Ernie Fields (wonderful AM dj, 1966), Steve Byrd (great evening dj, 1969), and of course, Blavat, who set the pace for WHAT in the early-to-mid 1960's. You will be missed.

    20. Posted at 4:45 PM on 8/11/2011 by Paula M:
    I am very upset that this radio station is gone.....What happened...I listened to this station every day...... Will it be back?????

    21. Posted at 2:59 PM on 8/15/2011 by Betty Ann Haslam:
    What happened? I listened every day at work. I am very disappointed. What are the DJs doing now? Especially enjoyed listening to Mike Bowe - he was so down to earth!

    22. Posted at 7:42 PM on 8/15/2011 by lori:
    yes I was wonderign too and tried to research this was helpful . Im in east norriton area. seems they turned off the signal and emplyess were fired. this happens every few yrs they were the only station around with that kind of music ..its back to my cds how dissapointig for many.

    23. Posted at 5:11 PM on 8/17/2011 by jerry werndl :
    hi i would like to know what happen to this station there is no music when i toon in also where is mike bowei enjoyed his radio show ,dose he still do happy hour at sams saloon please anser back jerry,thanks

    24. Posted at 10:55 AM on 8/29/2011 by Jack:
    Sorry to hear that Bob & Mike are gone. Does anyone know where we can here this kind of music. Are there any other stations that have this type of music

    25. Posted at 3:32 AM on 9/3/2011 by Marvin:
    I am very disappointed that 1540 WHAT changed their format (again!) after just a few short years of being the "Martini Lounge Radio" and bringing back some of the old WPEN-style music that I grew up with. I was a fan of Mike Bowe, Elaine Soncini and the others and it's a shame that there is no other station in our area with this format - a sad day for us baby boomers!

    26. Posted at 6:11 AM on 9/14/2011 by Ty:
    Someone ask me if Mary Mason was still on the radio? It's been years & I lost touch with some things I really enjoyed. Mornings With Mary was a great show. Very informative,great subjects discussed & her call in audience. I remember her going to city council meetings on Thursday & telling everyone to keep a score card on politicians to make an intelligent voting decision. Ms Mason & Georgie Woods did great things for Philadelphia. It was hard to walk out the room to do other things when they had interviews or deep discussions. Radio will never be the same.

    27. Posted at 2:09 PM on 9/16/2011 by Carmen:
    Tune in WRDV from Warminster 89.3 107.3 in Philly to hear Big Band fomat during the day.

    28. Posted at 12:54 PM on 10/10/2011 by CactusGirl:
    Thanks, Carmen! You're a life saver!

    29. Posted at 8:23 AM on 11/6/2011 by julie Donnelly:
    What happened to this wonderful station? They played so many great oldies .Even my 28 y/o dtr. loved it. It reminded all of us of our Nana,who whenever she came over to visit us ,we'd put it on for her . Please come back,or let the public know what we can do to help get you back on another station. Kind of like a PBS thing . Iknow so many people would jump at the chance to have you back on the air. please e-mail me back if there is anything I/we can do to make this happen. If anyone else is interested in this pls. e- mail me at juliad330@aol.com. WE WANT YOU BACK ---IN OUR CARS, KITCHENS< OUR LIVES!!!!!!

    30. Posted at 7:19 PM on 12/29/2011 by phillylistens1:
    I have both the Morning and Evening Prayer by Rev. W.T. Bigelow,respond to wtmclive@gmail.com,for info...

    31. Posted at 7:19 PM on 12/29/2011 by phillylistens1:
    I have both the Morning and Evening Prayer by Rev. W.T. Bigelow,respond to wtmclive@gmail.com,for info...

    32. Posted at 8:08 PM on 1/16/2012 by tracey d.:
    Oh my, I was about 7yrs.old and I can put bits and pieces together .

    33. Posted at 7:20 PM on 2/6/2012 by David:
    WHAT's black-oriented Nostalgia format first went on the air in late 1986, when, as mentioned above, Reggie Lavong(who also hosted a daily talk show there at the time)and Miller Parker bought the station. Listeners to the station during this era will remember the voice-overs Lavong(who did also did imaging for the station) recorded: "WHAT Philadelphia remembers you and your music--with(deejay's name)." "Your music. Your memories. Only on... WHAT Philadelphia--with (deejay's name." (The latter of the two legal ID's was later replaced with one with WHAT deejay Greg Norris saying exactly the same thing.) "WHAT...remembers." In 1990 or early 1991, Cody Anderson, who had taken over the WHAT a year or two earlier, switched the station to African American-oriented talk full-time. Late in its history in that format, 'HAT billed itself as "The Voice of the African-American community" until it became alternative-rock station Skin Radio(ID'ing as WHAT only at the top of the hour)in early 2007. After only six months, as mentioned above. it switched back to Nostalgia--by now renamed Adult Standards--this time, a general-market version of the format. Initially billed by then as "Martini Lounge Radio" and concentrating exclusively on traditional pop music dating back to the 50s, it, like most adult standards stations in recent years, added soft rock oldies from the 50s to the 70s if not 80s beginning in 2009. (This was due to both the aging of the format's original demographics and most of the Baby Boomers nearing advanced age and the oldest of such people plus the World War II babies already there(both groups being the first two generations to have grown up with rock'n'roll). At that time, the "Martini Lounge Radio" billing-slash-nickname was replaced with the billing "The Greatest Music of All Time."

    34. Posted at 7:22 PM on 2/6/2012 by David:
    WHAT *did* switch to a Spanish format. Last August or September, to be exact.

    35. Posted at 11:27 PM on 3/18/2012 by D. Taylor:
    Rev. Harold O Davis broadcasted on WHAT, How can I get copies of his sermons.

    36. Posted at 10:47 AM on 5/2/2012 by Lee:
    What is the name of the morning prayer that Mary Mason played in the mornings.

    37. Posted at 10:05 PM on 5/5/2012 by Cherylr Childs :
    PLEASE SEND ME A COPY OF THAT PRAYER BOTH EVEVNING AND MORING IT HAS BEEN MY LIFE SAVING WORDS i ORSERDED BUT GOT NOTHING THE BROADCAST OF MARY MASON CHANGE MT LIFE AND I WAND MY GRAND CHILDREN TO KNOW

    38. Posted at 7:59 PM on 9/4/2012 by Roland Petit:
    There was program in 1956 called "The Rock and Roll Kingdom Show" that was probably hosted by a young Hy Lit. The stated name of the host as featured at the time was the alias "Jessie King."

    39. Posted at 5:41 PM on 11/5/2012 by James:
    Does anyone remember the prayer that the gentlemen would say before Mary would come on? It started " Our father and our God "

    40. Posted at 3:04 PM on 1/3/2014 by Sherrie Drain :
    Can anybody tell me about my sisters Diane and Carol they were adopted by a radio personality around 1958-1965 just would like to find them.

    41. Posted at 12:05 AM on 2/24/2014 by william c parmley sr:
    our father and our god by the rev wt bigelow please someone send me this prayer ineed it for my mens day welcome day opener. thank you so much william parmley sr

    42. Posted at 1:10 PM on 7/4/2014 by gloria:
    is mary mason alive?

    43. Posted at 9:42 AM on 1/27/2015 by jim kuney:
    what happened to Royce Howard ?...Is he alive ?

    44. Posted at 9:32 AM on 11/2/2015 by Rob From Mt. Airy:
    "The voice of the African American community". Thank's, Cody Anderson!!!!

    45. Posted at 5:03 PM on 3/30/2016 by Alfred c Watkins:
    When I was in Philly I listened to Mary Mason every morning. I really enjoyed her show. Are there any recording from WHAT?

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