Legendary New York radio station WPLJ — which launched in 1971 as a pioneering AOR (album oriented rock) station, then embraced the MTV-inspired new wave movement of the early ‘80s and eventually morphed into a hot adult contemporary outlet — will go dark Friday at 7 p.m. ET.
The frequency, acquired from Cumulus Media by leading religious programmers Educational Media Foundation earlier this year, will immediately transition into a contemporary Christian music station, an affiliate of the national K-LOVE network.
WPLJ was one of several stations EMF picked up for more than $100 million from Cumulus, along with such familiar call letters as news/talk station WYAY in Atlanta; Hot AC outlet WRQX (Mix 107.3) in Washington DC; Triple-A station KFFG in San Jose, Calif.; Hot AC station WZAT (102.1 The Sound) in Savannah, Ga.; and Classic Rocker WXTL (The Rebel 105.9) in Syracuse, N.Y.
This week, the station celebrated its almost-half century-long run by hosting former DJs and staffers on the air, while offering commemorative T-shirts boasting the outlet’s logos over the years. Among the on-air personalities who called in were Scott Shannon (along with co-hosts Patty Steele, Joe Nolan, weatherman Bill Evans and Brad Blanks) and Jim Kerr, now the morning man at iHeartMedia’s New York classic rocker WAXQ (Q104.3). Others who visited the studio included former WPLJ President/GM Mitch Dolan, ex-PD Tom Cuddy (now at crosstown WOR-AM) and past APD/.MDE Louie Diaz (now Cumulus VP Contemporary Programming and PD at WWWQ Atlanta).
The station has been marking its imminent demise by playing classic drops, station IDs and promos.
The last time WPLJ went off the air, it was for 15 minutes after John Lennon’s murder in December 1980, at the request of Yoko Ono herself.
Fans took to Facebook to express their feelings. Posted Randy Shaffer, “WPLJ has been a part of my mornings for the last 20 years and I feel like I’m losing a limb. I will miss you all.”
Current morning show host Todd Pettengill will record the station’s final goodbye, which he says, “should be a thank you for your loyalty and for listening all these years… See you later.”
WPLJ’s call letters came from the name of the first track on the 1971 Mothers of Invention album, “Burnt Weeny Sandwich,” based on a song by one of Frank Zappa’s favorite northern California R&B doo-wop groups, The Four Deuces, which stood for “white port and lemon juice.”
Using the tag line, “Rock ‘N Stereo,” the then-ABC-Radio-owned station was one of the first of the emerging AOR formats, playing such classic rockers as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Steely Dan, Elton John, David Bowie and the Allman Brothers, along with softer pop-rock by James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Carly Simon, separating itself from the Top 40 of the time by playing deeper album cuts under the direction of legendary program director Larry Berger, who passed away last October.
The station segued into a CHR/Top 40 direction in 1983, temporarily changing its call letter to WWPR (Power 95) before switching back to WPLJ a year later after listener research showed the audience identified with the well-known moniker. By 1992, the station adopted the Hot AC format with the slogan, “No Rap. No Hard Stuff, No Sleepy Elevator Music. Just the Best Songs on the Radio,” with Scott Shannon and Pettengill manning the morning show until 2014, when Shannon retired after 22 years at the station, leaving Pettengill to go it alone until Jayde Donovan joined him as co-host in 2015.
Tweeted current WPLJ on-air personality Race Taylor: “It’s official. Goodbyes are hard. This one’s going to hurt a little. Okay, a lot #EndofanEra.”