WQAL/WWSH Easy Listening
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.
In 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
On 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.
In 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).
Interview with Nels Hobdell, May 1996.