|

History of Philadelphia radio station 102.9 WMGK (Greater Media)

  • WCAU/WPEN

    WMGK can trace its origins back to 1940, when the FCC issued call letters W67PH to a new FM station owned by the WCAU Broadcasting Company. On November 1, 1941, W67PH changed call letters to W69PH when its frequency was changed to 46.9 MHz. WCAU-AM programming was duplicated on the FM station when it went on the air November 20, 1942 with studios in the WCAU building at 1622 Chestnut Street, and transmitting tower atop 1616 Chestnut Street.

    W69PH changed call letters to WCAU-FM on November 1, 1943 and was subsequently acquired by The Philadelphia Record newspaper along with WCAU-AM in 1946. When the new higher band FM stations were assigned by the FCC in 1945, WCAU was placed at 102.7 and then moved to 102.9. After a lengthy strike at the Record in 1947, the paper went out of business and sold its assets to the Philadelphia Bulletin, which also inherited the rights to buy WCAU AM and FM. Since the Bulletin already owned WPEN AM and FM, it sold off the less powerful 950 AM and 102.9 FM frequencies and kept the more powerful 1210 Am and 98.1 FM stations as WCAU.

    WPEN-FM 1950s logo

    The new owner of 102.9 FM (and WPEN AM) was the William Penn Broadcasting Company, which was in turn purchased by the Sun Ray Drug Company owned by the three Sylk Brothers. The station, now known as WPEN-FM moved into the three story Philco building located at 2212 Walnut Street, while continuing to broadcast from 1616 Walnut Street. In the 1950s, WPEN-FM offered a "Simplex" background music service for local businesses: While the general public was able to hear the music and commercials being broadcast, subscribing busniesses were provided with a special box that muted the commercials. The system was known as "Musitone" due to the high frequency inaudible tone that was used to trigger the receiver. The FCC was not enthusiastic about the use of Simplex services and pushed for the use of subcarrier systems which were alternate streams embedded in the main FM signal. WPEN became one of the first stations approved for subcarrier broadcasting in 1955. For the next 20 years, it was mainly the rental of subcarrier boxes by businesses for commercial-free music that paid for much of the WPEN-FM operations. (FM listening was scant and commercials rare during this period.)

    By 1958, WPEN-FM was transmitting from a tower atop the Rittenhouse Claridge. During the 1960s, WPEN-FM duplicated a varied portion of the AM programming, playing "standards" the rest of the time. In 1969, a group of local businessmen led by Martin Field purchased the WPEN stations. Through the early 1970s, WPEN-FM continued to simulcast the AM programming around 30% of the time, still broadcasting in mono.

    1990s WMGK logo

    Greater Media

    WPEN AN and FM were sold to Greater Media Inc. in 1975 for $4.3 million. By spring of that year, a new oldies format debuted on WPEN-AM, with a full simulcast on WPEN-FM. Finally, on Labor Day 1975, with new call letters WMGK and in full stereo, 102.9 began a separately programmed soft rock format known as "Magic 103." While a number of Philadelphia FM stations had a hard rock sound aimed at a younger audience, and others supplied easy listening aimed at an older audience, WMGK targeted 25 to 34-year olds with a mellow rock sound. The format, initailly programmed by Dave Klahr, became quite popular in the radio industry and was copied on many stations throughout the country. After a slight adjustment in 1980 by general manager Larry Wexler and program director Bob Craig to remove some album cuts for a broader appeal, Magic 103 was a top 10 station through much of the 1980s.

    In 1978, the studios had moved from Philadelphia to #1 Bala Cynwyd Plaza (now known as 1 Bala Plaza) in Bala Cynwyd, and the transmitter moved from the Rittenhouse Claridge to the Roxborough antenna farm on Domino Ave. The old tower still remains atop the Rittenhouse Claridge, visible from the square below.

    Classic Rock

    Around 1993, WMGK changed their long-standing name "Magic 103" to the more modern digital-sounding "Magic 102.9" but still programmed a mainstream soft rock/adult contemporary format. In the summer of 1994, with stiff competition from WBEB "B101" and WYXR "Star 104.5," WMGK decided to switch to an all 70s format, which was announced by Julian Breen on Mike Bowe's shift on July 10, 1994. Although the 70s format initailly consisted of all hits from the 1970s from easy listening to disco, by early 1995 the mix leaned towards the more classic rock songs of that era. By the fall of 1995, the Magic name was dropped after a 20 year run, and mostly classic rock songs were played. WMGK positioned itself as a "calssic hits" station, staying away from most of the harder classic rock songs. In 1997, Greater Media acquired WMMR and continued leaning softer than most classic rock stations to lessen the overlap with WMMR. Today, WMGK is the only classic rock station in the Philadelphia region.

    Email this page: | Share this page:
  • Discuss 102.9 WMGK Philadelphia

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

    1. Posted at 7:56 PM on 5/22/2010 by robin:
    I remember when WMGK came on the air the called it magic102. They played a lot of "soft" music.

    2. Posted at 2:09 PM on 3/23/2011 by stevewest:
    Not called Magic 102 since they were 102.9 they were know as Magic FM 103. Maybe you are mixed up with WIOQ 102.1?

    3. Posted at 6:48 AM on 6/16/2011 by Jose Flavio:
    I used to live in North Wales PA, during 2 years in the 80s. I do really remember how good was listening Magic 102. What a good time. I live in Brazil. Regards to all

    4. Posted at 6:49 AM on 6/16/2011 by Jose Flavio:
    I do want to correct, was Magic 103 Philladelphia FM. Good any way.

    5. Posted at 12:08 AM on 7/25/2012 by Mike McDevitt :
    Irememberlistening to Mike St. John and his Sat. night Oldies Show on Magic 103 WMGK

    6. Posted at 2:59 AM on 10/17/2016 by Kelly:
    I remember every night I would turn on the late shows to go to sleep to soft rock played on Magic 103.9 fm. Great memories. I lived in Germantown.

    Add your comment

    Your name:
    Your email:  (Will not be displayed or sold)
    Comment: