For a generation of New York radio listeners, Larry Berger served as the man behind the scenes of a radio station that, through two different eras, was a revered leader — even when buffoonery from Scott Shannon at this station’s crosstown rival came in to play.
As the Program Director of WPLJ-FM 95.5 under ABC ownership, Berger led a station that at first Rocked and then “powered” into a highly successful Top 40 station just weeks before Shannon’s WHTZ-FM “Z100” signed on the air.
Berger died Sept. 25, according to All Access Music Group, as word of Berger’s death reached the radio industry late Thursday via the New York Radio Message Board run by Allan Sniffen.
Berger served as PD of WPLJ through two of its golden eras, a rare feat. He joined in 1974, and made WPLJ a fierce competitor of Metromedia’s Album-Oriented Rock WNEW-FM 102.7. On June 14, 1982, a new Rock station entered the fray — Doubleday’s WAPP-FM 103.5. With a commercial-free summer, WPLJ’s ratings were rocked.
Then came word a year later that Shannon, most recently at WRBQ-FM “Q105” in Tampa, was partnering up with Milton Maltz on the launch of a Top 40 FM in New York; at the time WNBC-AM 660, with Don Imus in mornings and Howard Stern in afternoons, was the defacto Top 40 in the market, as WABC-AM 770 had shifted to Talk on May 10, 1982.
As Shannon prepared for Z100’s August 2, 1983 launch, Berger began inserting records such as Sergio Mendes’ “Never Gonna Let You Go” into the mix. By July 1983, a pending CHR war was on. In October 1983, jingles were added to WPLJ.
Fast-forward to 1985, and the “Power 95” branding was introduced to WPLJ — under the same program director that had solidly beaten WNEW during the station’s Rock period since his arrival from WRIF-FM in Detroit in 1974.
In comments to All Access, veteran New York air personality Carol Miller, who worked with Berger and is now the nighttime host at iHeartMedia Classic Rocker WAXQ-FM “Q104.3” in N.Y., said Berger had succumbed “to a month-long illness,” a result from complications of surgery.
“Larry was my mentor — and really, responsible for my career,” Miller said.
WAXQ morning host Jim Kerr, who held a similar role for many years at WPLJ, added, “There was never a better PD. There was never a better friend.”
Berger began his career in radio at then-Soul WWRL-AM 1600 in New York. He then landed at a regional incubator for some of the industry’s top talent of the last 40 years: WALL-AM 1340 in Middletown, N.Y., which Bud Williamson in 2015 resurrected as a Classic Hits station heard on several FM translators across the Mid-Hudson Valley. Berger was PD of WALL in the early 1970s. In 1973, he shifted to WRIF before returning to New York for the big WPLJ job.
By 1988, New York had become a highly volatile radio marketplace. On October 7, WNBC-AM 660 said farewell. At the same time, dance-focused WQHT-FM moved from 103.5 MHz to the 97.1 MHz signal, trading places with WYNY-FM, at the time a Country station. With the birth of “Hot 97” and changing tastes in pop music, few new that, behind the scenes, the leaders at New York’s Twin Towers of radio were about to exit.
On December 1, 1988, Berger resigned as WPLJ PD. According to Radio & Records‘ coverage of his exit, it was to pursue “other interests, including the expansion of his radio and syndication consultancy.” On January 20, 1989, it was revealed that Berger had accepted the PD role at Fairmont Broacasting’s AC KIOI-FM “K101” in San Francisco.
Much like the Dodgers and Giants three decades earlier, Berger and his rival were heading to California.
At about that same time, Shannon revealed that he would not be renewing his contract with Malrite. While his contract ended June 30, 1989, his final show would be January 27, 1989; Shannon infamously moved to Los Angeles to sign on “Rock 40” KQLZ-FM 100.3 “Pirate Radio” under then-owner Westwood One.
Come April 1994, Berger would find himself as OM of Crescent Communications’ just-acquired KSRY, in the San Francisco market.
By 2003, day-to-day duties at a radio station were gone, as Berger Broadcast Consultants took up all of time from the City by the Bay.
Funeral and interment information was not made public by Berger’s family.