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History of Philadelphia radio station 96.5 WRDW (Beasley Broadcast Group)

  • As WHAT-FM

    In 1944, Dolly Banks, and her brother William Banks, purchased WHAT-AM from the Public Ledger. The deal included an extremely low profile FM station at 96.5 FM, which simulcasted the AM until the mid 50s.

    WHAT-FM logo

    In 1956, a young man named Sid Mark began hosting an all night music show, the first "live" programming on the FM station. Each morning at the conclusion of the show, two patch cords would be plugged back in to simulcast the AM for the rest of the day. To the surprise of station management, Mark's Jazz show quickly gained popularity. In 1958, the decision was made for WHAT to became the country's first 24 hour, live FM Jazz station, a format it would keep for the next 17 years.

    WWDB-FM logo

    In the late 60s, the call letters were changed to WWDB, representing the owner's initials (William and Dolly Banks) The name change coincided with a gradual diversification of the jazz format to include standards with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, and Henry Mancini. At some point in the early 1970s, the station experimented with an adult contemporary format. On March 17, 1975, WWDB became the country's first all-talk station on FM.

    The initial lineup of talk show hosts included Wynn Moore, Sid Mark (who also hosted Sinatra shows "Friday with Frank" and "Sunday with Sinatra") Irv Homer, Ken James, Jay Turner, Merrill Reese, Helen Hagan, and Frank Ford. Most of the time, WWDB turned off its stereo pilot, presumably to increase the station's coverage area. During music programming, the stereo pilot was usually turned on.

    When William Banks died in 1979, his sister Dolly Banks assumed full ownership of the station, and was general manager until her retirement in May, 1985. Dolly Banks died that September after which the station was sold for about $6 million to Philadelphia lawyer Ragan A. Henry, who sold it to one of his employees, Charles Schwartz, two months later.

    During its heyday in the 1980's, WWDB was often one of the top 10 rated stations in the market, and was home to such local personalities as Mary Mason, Frank Ford, Irv Homer, Susan Bray ("The saucy Aussie"), and Jim Corea.

    In 1989, WWDB moved its studios from their original location at 3930 Conshohocken Avenue to a new building on Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd. Former sister station WHAT-AM remained behind in the old studios. In January, 1996, WWDB was purchased by Mercury Broadcasting for $48 million. Mercury began to "contemporize" the station by changing the long-standing lineup of hosts and initiating the station's first television ad campaign. In early 1997, Mercury sold the station to Beasley Broadcasting for $65 million.

    Beasley continued to make modifications to the schedule that many long time listeners considered an upheaval. In 1998, management adopted a news-talk format from 5 to 9 a.m., in an ill-fated attempt to challenge all-news stalwart KYW 1060. The station also flirted with the use of nationally-syndicated hosts and brokered programming (thinly veiled program-length commercials.) At one point, some of the older hosts were temporarily "exiled" to low-profile sister station WWDB-AM to make room for more contemporary talkers on the FM, but that too proved ineffective. By 2000, rumors were flying that the station would be changing formats to appeal to a much younger audience.

    96.5 The Point Logo

    On November 6, 2000, over 40 staff members were fired including general manager Dennis Begley, news director Kirk Dorn, sales manager Dan Sullivan, and the station's news and on-air staff. Meanwhile, an electronic voice counted down to a new format: all 80's music called "The Point" with new call letters WPTP. After 45 years, Sid Mark was no longer employed at the station, although his Sinatra show was subsequently picked up by WPHT-AM.

    Over the next few years, the music gradually shifted to Hot AC, but new listeners were hard to come by. On November 17, 2003, owner Bruce Beasley pulled the plug on the adult-pop format in favor of a "rhythmic contemporary-hit" sound heavy on the R&B and hip-hop and aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds. Tagged "Wild 96.5," the calls were changed to WLDW. Eventually, the name was changed to "Wired 96.5" with calls WRDW. Over the years, the music on Wired has included Top 40 pop, rhythmic, and even some dance thrown in.

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  • Discuss 96.5 WRDW Philadelphia

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

    1. Posted at 10:56 AM on 7/19/2012 by LJ Garvin:
    I listened to WHAT-FM in the mid-1960s, and on Sunday mornings during the spring of 1967 they usually opened one of the hours (probably 8AM, 9AM, or 10AM) with an uptempo instrumental jazz (with sax) version of the Righteous Bros. hit "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." Can anyone tell me the performer of that track? I have been looking in vain for this track for many years. It isn't King Curtis, Kai Winding, Sonny Criss, or any other jazz version I have tracked down so far.

    2. Posted at 7:19 PM on 8/27/2012 by Tom Arny:
    I was an avid listener to WHAT between 1959 and '61 while I was at school in the Philadelphia area. There was a morning jazz show that used a jazz band piece as its theme that I think was by Shorty Rogers. I'd love to learn what the title of the piece was and if in fact it was by Rogers. I have an mp3 clip I can post if you think you might be able to tell me.

    3. Posted at 12:49 PM on 9/11/2012 by Tom Arny:
    Mystery solved. The "Morning Theme" was "Viva Puente" by Shorty Rogers. Thanks to all who may have thought about it.

    4. Posted at 6:30 PM on 12/21/2013 by tom:
    what about Dom Quinn and burnie Herman

    5. Posted at 3:17 PM on 6/8/2014 by gloria novick:
    I miss WWDB. I moved to S.Fl in the lat e 80's and I have't found a talk radio station that could come any where near to WWDB standards. I remember Susan Bray, Dominic Quinn, Irv Homer and Bernie McCaine. I sure miss them all

    6. Posted at 9:43 PM on 8/23/2014 by Bob:
    listened to jazz and trying to find a tune they often played, a slow piece I think either Stan Kenton or Maynard Ferguson.

    7. Posted at 1:08 PM on 9/2/2014 by Phil Hendry:
    BLEEP BLEEP SORRY.

    8. Posted at 11:32 PM on 1/24/2015 by Gary:
    I miss Irv Homer...RSP

    9. Posted at 9:26 AM on 3/22/2015 by Alan Tolz:
    In 1979, Jerry Williams was hired by Dolly Banks to be afternoon talk host and Program Director. He brought Bob Grant from NY to preceed him on the air, and Stan Major from FL to do nights. Along with Domenic Quinn, Frank Ford, and Irv Homer (with Larry King overnight from the Mutual Broadcasting studios in Crystal City, VA)WWDB FM arguably had the best talk hosts in the country from 1979 into the '80's.

    10. Posted at 11:58 AM on 7/31/2015 by TZ:
    My mother listened to WWDB during the 70s and 80s. I remember the morning host singing the numbers for snow cancelations. I also recall a host in the 70s whose following were called Rascals and all had some kind of silly name; my father called himself little dumpling. I have an autograph picture of him from some event from back then. Then, of course, the memories of listening to Frank Sinatra each week while my mom worked in the kitchen. These were her friends.

    11. Posted at 10:27 PM on 3/11/2016 by ED:
    Bob, the slow blues song Sid ended his show with was Maynard Ferguson's "Frame for the Blues". https://youtu.be/nn8x3MT-K-U He started his show at 5 o'clock with Stan Kenton Ochestra doing "Maynard Ferguson" featuring him. I remember rushing home from Jr. & Sr. high school to hear this song daily! https://youtu.be/-QRn1g13u1s Enjoy

    12. Posted at 6:55 AM on 4/25/2016 by Don Benn:
    WWDB and every single host named in the article and in the comments (and all of those not mentioned....the rotating specialty weekend hosts) gave Philadelphia listeners quality home town programming. Every week we learned where to eat, how to invest money, how to buy or fix a house, movie trivia, health and fitness advice, dating advice and local (neighborhood ) news and info not found anywhere else. It was warm, it was friendly, it was inviting...and never soiled itself or the listeners with the partisan political "stuff" that fills too many hours of too many talk radio stations. It is missed by many....not the least of whom is....me.

    13. Posted at 3:44 PM on 9/24/2016 by David:
    In the fall of 2014, as result of Beasley Broadcasting's trade with another Philadelphia radio station as well as with multiple radio stations in several other markets with (and simultaneous purchase of WIP-AM from) CBS, WRDW modified to more of a mainstream Top 40 (read: pop-oriented Top 40) (yet still heavy on hip-hop, current R&B, and dance music). In the spring of 2015, WRDW changed its call letters to WZMP and nickname to "97.5 AMP Radio." (AMP Radio being CBS Radio's (at the time) new brand for its Top 40 stations.)

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