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History of Philadelphia radio station 106.1 WISX (Clear Channel)

  • WQAL/WWSH Easy Listening

    WQAL logo

    In 1959, engineer George Voron founded 106.1 FM as an adjunct to his electronics company. The call letters were WQAL, which stood for "quality." Mr. Voron built much of the station's equipment by himself, and owned the 500 foot self-supporting tower located next to the studios at 1230 Mermaid Lane in Wyndmoor. The programming consisted of a mix of vocal and instrumental music played from LPs. The first voice heard on the station belonged to announcer David J. Custis.

    WWSH Stereo 106 LogoIn 1970, Voron sold the station to United Artists, although he retained ownership of the station's tower until 1989. In the fall of 1970, United Artists moved the studios to 555 City Line Avenue, and changed the name of the station to "WISH" with new call letters WWSH. Easy listening music was then supplied to the station on over 600 reels of audiotape by the SRP company.

    Nels Hobdell, operations manager of WWSH during much of the 1970s, recalls the idiosyncrasies of this format and its creater, Jim Schulke:

    "The system of playback was called 'matched flow', whereby two machines, each loaded with one hour tapes, would alternate 15 minute segments. The resulting mix was personally programmed by Schulke, and followed a strict formula. For example, there could be no horns playing after 6pm, or no more than four vocals each hour. The short pauses between songs, known as "savor time" were also carefully controlled.

    We were also very conscientious about cleaning the tape heads after each reel, and performing frequent machine adjustments. It's not clear whether any of these things made any difference to the audience, but Schulke was quite adamant that his rules should be followed.

    The general manager at the time, Jim Connor, was also very strict about adhering to the Schulke format. He would be known to follow along at home with the log, and call the program director if the proper song was not being played.

    Shulke felt that my announcing, as well as afternoon host Ted Sohier's, was the best example of how to do his format. At one point my voice was syndicated on over 40 of his easy listening stations nationwide. He would fly radio executives into North Jersey for a demonstration, and often insist that they wear earplugs to keep their senses "pure" during the car ride from the airport. They would then sit down in a special studio, and listen to a live broadcast of WWSH via a gigantic antenna aimed at Philly that he mounted on the roof of the building."




    In 1977, United Artists sold the station to Cox broadcasting, who also owned the Shulke format. Although ratings were still strong, the demographics of the station skewed older, making the station a tougher sell to advertisers. With the audience continuing to age, the format was not attracting any new listeners. In August of 1982, the station announced that it would switch to an adult contemporary format because Philadelphia could not support two local beautiful music stations. The Shulke format then moved to WEAZ.

    WZGO/WTRK Top 40 Era

    106 FM 1980s LogoOn September 6, 1982, WWSH fired its announcing staff and began playing the same format that proved very popular at sister station WSB in Atlanta. Unlike Atlanta, though, Philadelphia already had four adult contemporary stations, and the WWSH effort produced disappointing results. On August first of the next year, the station switched to a top 40 format.

    The next few years saw a number of name changes and variations on the top 40 format, while the station continued to report financial losses. In 1984 the station's name was changed to "Z-106", WZGO, and in May 1986, the name was changed again to "Electric 106", WTRK.

    Eagle 106

    Eagle 106 logoIn March, 1987, Cleveland-based Malrite communications bought the station for $13.8 million. The name was changed to "Eagle 106" with new call letters WEGX. Malrite brought considerable resources and talent to the struggling station. By the summer of 1987, Eagle 106 was back in the ratings race. Malrite attempted to avoid the "bubblegum" image of teen-oriented rival WCAU-FM by targeting more adult listeners during the day. The station remained a dominant top 40 performer for six years. Former child star Danny Bonaduce (from the Partridge Family) was one of the more well-known Eagle 106 DJs. Popular morning shows included "Welch and Woody" in the 1980s and John Lander and "The Nut Hut" in the early 90s.

    Smooth Jazz WJJZ

    On Friday, March 12, 1993, at 1:06 pm, Eagle 106 dumped the Top 40 format and became "smooth jazz", with new call letters WJJZ. The last song played on Eagle 106 was "I Will Remember You" by Amy Grant. The station reportedly wanted to appeal to an older, more prosperous audience than the scores of teens and young adults that were attracted to Eagle 106. At first, the smooth jazz format contained an eclectic mix of Contemporary Jazz, New Age Music, and Adult Contemporary. However, by the mid 90s, the format settled into a more ratings-friendly mix of Adult Contemporary crossover hits and soft R&B.

    In January, 1994, WJJZ was purchased by Pyramid Broadcasting for $20 million. Since Pyramid already owned WYXR-FM, this became the city's first "duopoly" arrangement, taking advantage of new FCC regulations allowing multiple station ownership in a single market. In January, 1996, both WJJZ and WYXR were purchased by Evergreen. Evergreen was later purchased by Chancellor Media, which was then purchased by AMFM, and finally Clear Channel.

    By the early 2000s, the the number of instrumentals on Smooth Jazz decreased and the station began to sound more like a mainstream Adult Contemporary station. After a number of on-air staff changes, the format was finally dropped on August 10, 2006. Program director Michael Tozzi bid farewell to 13 years of Smooth Jazz and Rhythmic Adult Contemporary "Philly's 106-1" began. Within a month, the callsign was changed to WISX. The station was referred to as "My 106-1" until 2010 when it started calling itself "mix 106.1"

    In October, 2006, the WJJZ calls and Smooth Jazz format were picked up by Greater Media's 97.5, although in September, 2008, they too dropped the format.

    106 FM holds the Philadelphia broadcasting record for the most call letter changes (seven).

    Source:
    Interview with Nels Hobdell, May 1996.

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  • Discuss 106.1 WISX Philadelphia

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

    1. Posted at 9:40 AM on 4/10/2010 by Bruce Schaeffer:
    I was the General Sales Manager of WWSH until a year before it sold to Cox Broadcasting. You can add to the story that thousands of dollars in advertising were often turned down because the commercials were too loud or up-front. Jim Shulke was quite a super guy.

    2. Posted at 6:59 PM on 12/21/2016 by Patrick Plott:
    I lived in the San Francisco Bay area back in the 70's and 80's and listened to another SRP subscriber-KFOG 104.5 FM. I too thought that SRP surpassed Bonneville and TM Century, due to their uniqueness, sound quality, and matched flow. There is a question I have been trying to get answered and that is, SRP had one particular Christmas instrumental,"THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS", which featured a harpsichord intr. It sounds like something John Gregory would have done but I cannot find any such recording in his discography. Would you happen to know who the artist was? I also heard it on a YouTube video "WPAT AM and FM Dec 1980" half way through that video. That station too was SRP. If you do know the artist of that Christmas song, I would like to know. That!

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