Two months after WIP became the first commercial radio station in Philadelphia, WCAU went on the air in May, 1922. WCAU's founder was an electrician named Wilson Durham, who started the 250-watt station in the back of his shop at 1936 Market Street.
In 1925, the station was sold to law partners Ike Levy and Daniel Murphy for $25,000. When Murphy became disinterested in the venture, Levy persuaded his brother Leon, a dentist, to take his place. Although many regarded radio as a fad, the brothers had a keen sense of the medium's potential.
In 1928, the men convinced their brother-in-law William Paley, who was working in his father's cigar business, to buy a financially troubled 16 station network called United Independent Broadcasters. In 1928, Paley, 27, used $500,000 of his family's money to purchase the network which he renamed Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). WCAU was the network's flagship station.
After a short stay at 39th and Chestnut Streets, the studios were moved to 1321 Arch Street, and then in 1933 to a state-of-the-art-facility at 1622 Chestnut Street. The new facility was the first ever constructed especially for radio broadcasting, and included eight studios (including one large enough to hold the entire Philadelphia Orchestra), and a special technical research laboratory. After a progression of power boosts, the station finally attained its 50,000 watt clear channel status, and could often be received in most of eastern North America at night.
The 1930s and 1940s were generally regarded as the "Golden Age of Radio", and WCAU was no exception. There were two in-house bands as well as an extensive news department. Through affiliation with the CBS network, listeners were treated to the talents of Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Edgar Bergen, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Kate Smith, Red Skelton, Guy Lombardo, the Dorsey Brothers, Will Rogers, Arthur Godfrey, Burns and Allen, Fred Allen, and Edward R. Murrow, to name a few.
WCAU also featured a number of local personalities, including Bill Dyer, Taylor Grant, Norman Brokenshire, Alan Scott, Bob Menefree, and columnist Jack McKinney. The station's longest running show was The Horn & Hardart's Children's Hour, hosted by program director Stan Lee Broza.
In 1946, The Levys agreed to sell WCAU to David Stern, publisher of the Philadelphia Record. However, when the Record folded shortly thereafter, the rights to purchase WCAU passed to the Philadelphia Bulletin, which also owned WPEN AM and FM. The Levys continued to run the stations for the Bulletin as the newspaper sold WPEN-AM and WCAU-FM, and renamed WPEN-FM to WCAU-FM and WPEN-TV to WCAU-TV. In 1952, the station moved to a new facility on City Avenue, which was built to house WCAU TV as well. In 1957, The WCAU stations were sold to CBS.
In the 1960s, the station gradually moved away from music programming to focus on news and talk. One ambitious news program was Evening Edition, hosted by Taylor Grant and airing at drive time. This newspaper-style show contained numerous features delivered by a variety of reporters, critics, and experts. Local personality Frank Ford was a popular talk show host at this time and one of the first to put actual callers on the air during talk programs. (Hence the slogan "2 way radio")
After corporate orders from CBS to go all news in the mid-1970s, the station did poorly against an entrenched KYW. By the end of the 1970s, the station began losing money. In the early 80s, WCAU lost its focus flipping between all-news and news-talk, but still unable to beat KYW at news or WWDB at talk. By the late 80s, the station settled into a mostly talk format. Well-known hosts during this period included former Mayor Frank Rizzo, whom callers would regularly urge to run again for public office. There was also Steve Fredericks with sports, Harry Gross' financial show as well as Tony Bruno, Dominic Quinn, Clark DeLeon, Ira Mellman, Anita Gevinson, Dr. Marty Weisberg, Maxine Schnall, and Ron Eisenberg.
On August 15, 1990 at 1:05 p.m., the 68 year history of WCAU came to an end. CBS, citing massive losses, fired over 30 of the station's employees, including most of the talk-show hosts and the entire news department. The format was changed to oldies, with half of the broadcast day simulcasting sister station WOGL-FM. The sudden switch stunned radio analysts across the country, many of whom felt that the station could have been salvaged. Known as WOGL, the station retained much of its evening sports programming.
On March 18, 1994, WOGL became all sports WGMP. Much of the station's programming was provided by a syndicated network service. Remaining in the lineup were the Phillies and Villanova and Temple basketball. Instead of going head-to-head with all-sports stalwart WIP, WGMP aimed for a more in-depth approach, featuring longer listener calls and more interviews.
With the exception of sports play-by-play coverage, WGMP's ratings were often quite low. By the summer of 1996, CBS, now with the resources of new parent Westinghouse Broadcasting, began rebuilding the station into a mainstream talk format. A new program director was hired, and local hosts began replacing the syndicated sports programming. In August, the call letters were changed to WPTS, which stood for "We're Philadelphia's Talk Station." A few weeks later, the calls were changed again to WPHT, reportedly to avoid confusion with Trenton's WPST-FM.
For the next two years, WPHT experimented with a number of local hosts and programs. Some of these hosts included Dr. Judith Sills, "Scoot", Jay and Hilarie, Amy and Morima, Nancy Glass, Don Lancer, and combinations thereof. In August, 1998, with continued low ratings, the station decided to eliminate most local hosts in favor of syndicated talk programming, such as the G. Gordon Liddy Show, and Dr. Toni Grant.
Steve Friedman, known as "Mr. Movie" had been heard at various times on 1210 AM since 1982. Nationally known for his movie knowledge, Freidman died of kidney disease just hours after completing his Saturday night show on WPHT in September 2009.
In recent years, the station added more local talent such as Michael Smerconish and Dom Giordano, but still relied heavily on conservative syndicated programming such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly's "The Radio Factor." The station caused a bit of a stir in late 2010 with the announcement that they would be dropping Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. In June 2012, the Rush Limbaugh show also left the station. Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh subsequently resurfaced on startup talker WWIQ 106.9 FM.
Since the departure of Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh, the WPHT lineup has undergone a number of changes. Chris Stigall was hired for the morning show, author/journalist Buzz Bissinger hosted an afternoon show but resigned after six months, Michael Smerconish announced he was leaving for Sirius XM radio, and former Fox contributor Dick Morris was named as his replacement.