Aside from sports radio (WFAN in New York during the Mike and the Mad Dog era, the SCORE in Chicago during the “Harvard the Hot Dog” era, and my current favorite–the Dan Libotard Show with Stugatz on EPSN), two New York radio stations have shaped my musical tastes. The soundtrack of my life was broadcast over WABC and WPLJ.
I grew up listening to WABC when it was New York’s Top 40 station. (Some of my friends listened to Imus and Howard Stern on WNBC, but I was loyal to WABC). When I wasn’t in school my transistor radio was always tuned to AM 77. The rhythms of my day revolved around DJs Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, and Dan Ingram. I remember how distraught I felt when I learned that WABC was going to an all-talk format in my sophomore year of high school. (And to make matters worse, they eventually started broadcasting Yankee games!)
When WABC switched to talk, I switched to WPLJ (FM-95.5). My music interests were changing from disco and Top 40 to classic rock. PLJ played a lot of Doobie Brothers, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, The Beatles, Steely Dan, and Queen. They even played some Springsteen every now and then. Then, as I finished high school, PLJ changed formats to Top 40. In some ways, the station picked-up where WABC left off. During my final years of high school I went back and forth on the dial between PLJ and classic rock station WNEW.
I never really connected with a music-oriented radio station during my stints in Philadelphia and Chicago, but when I came back to the area in the early 1990s to start graduate school on Long Island, I returned to PLJ. By this point, the station was playing a lot of the stuff I listened to back in the 1970s and 1980s. I was a big fan of the morning-drive team of Scott Shannon (who came over from Z100 after popularizing the “Morning Zoo” format) and Todd Pettingell–aka “Scott and Todd” or “The Big Show.” I would listen to the show on long drives from Stony Brook to Nyack, New York where I was teaching Western Civilization courses at Nyack College.
Scott and Todd had a lot of great bits, but my favorite one took place during the NBA finals in the second Michael Jordan-era when they wrote a Wierd Al Yankovic-style tribute to Bulls center Luc Longley using the Barry Manilow song “Mandy.” To this day I cannot hear “Mandy” without thinking of that parody. “Luc Longley, you came to the Bulls from down-under–you’re the 7-foot wonder….” If anyone has a tape or recording of that bit I would love to hear it again. I cannot find it online due to its obscurity.
Needless to say, I was saddened to hear that on May 31, 2019 WPLJ will end broadcasting. In June a Christian radio station will be heard at 95.5 in New York City. Here is a taste of Brian Niemietz’s piece at the New York Daily News:
WPLJ, a rock and pop music staple in New York since 1971 — will sign off for the last time on May 31.
The FM station, which started spinning vinyl when Three Dog Night was king and Carole King was queen, confirmed Wednesday that the end of an era is near.
“As hard as it is to believe, WPLJ will be going away on Friday, May 31,” according to a recorded message on the station’s Twitter page. “The format and personalities you’ve come to love over the years will no longer broadcast on 95.5.”
The 48-year-old station has been sold to Christian conglomerate Educational Media Foundation, which will begin religious programming in June.
The end of an era. Forgive the momentary lapse into nostalgia, but another institution that shaped my life is gone.