From 1974 through December 1, 1988, legendary programmer Larry Berger was the face of an AOR giant-turned-Top 40 dominator strongly competing against the Scott Shannon-led WHTZ “Z100” under original owner Malrite Communications.
Berger died on Sept. 25, 2018, with word of his passing reaching the trade press one month later.
On May 31, 2019, the station he had a big part in making a success will also see its life end. That will be the final day Cumulus Media will operate the New York facility at 95.5 MHz bearing the call letters WPLJ.
WPLJ, which takes its call letters from the Frank Zappa song “White Port Lemon Juice,” will become a key KLOVE member station on June 1 following the closing of the station’s acquisition from Educational Media Foundation.
Word of WPLJ’s end came Wednesday morning by longtime wake-up host Todd Pettingill, who was a protege of Shannon’s at WFLY-FM in Albany, N.Y., before becoming his co-host for many years at WPLJ — a station that Shannon called home for 23 years, starting in 1991 with an on-air poke at “little Stevie Kushner” (a.k.a. Steve Kingston) and debut of “Mojo Radio.”
That era was short-lived, with WPLJ eventually transitioning to Hot AC as Z100 flirted with Alternative before swinging back to Top 40 in 1996.
Shannon exited with his “retirement” from WPLJ in 2014; he later resurfaced as the morning host at Classic Hits WCBS-FM in New York. Yet, Shannon — along with the late Berger — are key to why many are mourning the coming loss of WPLJ.
WPLJ also broke the news of its impending death on Twitter, via a 60-second video.
“The rumors you’ve been hearing are true,” Pettingill states. “As hard as it is to believe, WPLJ will be going away on Friday, May 31. The format and personalities that you’ve come to love over the years will no longer broadcast on 95-5.”
The audio announcement also aired on WPLJ, and features a montage of its past identities, including its late 1980s run as “Power 95.”
The host continued, “Forty-eight years ago this iconic station signed on the air, and we can’t help but think of all of the music, the personalities, the concerts, the prizes — all the fun we had. We had a great time together and we will never forget those times. The coming weeks will bring the end and over the years we’ve made some incredible memories and we’re so glad we became the best of friends. We never took your friendship or loyalty for granted, and we will be forever grateful. From all of us at 95-5 PLJ, thank you for listening.”
Reaction on Twitter was mixed, with some listeners wondering how one could not include Scott Shannon in its on-air montage. One woman wrote, “I’m heartbroken…losing a friend…been listening as long as I can remember…Jim Kerr in the morning…Todd’s young daughters doing Vermont Teddy Bear…wow what will I do in the morning now?”
Kerr was WPLJ’s morning host for much of the 1980s and is now at iHeart Classic Rocker WAXQ-FM 104.3 with his long-time co-host Shelli Sonstein, who also sat aside Kerr at WPLJ.
Listener Lyn Kaminski wrote, “I’m so sad to hear this. Thank you for keeping me company and making me sing, dance, and laugh for decades. I’ll no longer listen to 95.5 when Christian radio takes over. How about Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’ as the last song?”
WPLJ Asst. PD Mike Allan posted the video to Twitter. He remarked, “I feel weird posting this. Thanks for all the kind words and messages. We have a great tribute planned, and will be signing off this iconic radio station at 11:59p on 5/31.”
Pop band O.A.R., which owes WPLJ credit for making its song “Shattered (Turn The Car Around)” a big hit in the New York Tri-State area, also commented via Twitter, to WPLJ host Race Taylor.
“Dude, so much love to you and all our friends at the legendary
@955PLJ You all have had our back the whole way. This business is something else. Thanks for all the hangs.”
As RBR+TVBR reported on February 13, the end of WPLJ was only a matter of when, not if.
That’s when it first became known that Cumulus was selling six stations — including two crown jewels in the former ABC Radio — to EMF for $103.5 million.
Those “crown jewels” are WPLJ and longtime Washington, D.C., sibling WRQX-FM.
There’s as yet no word as to the fate of WRQX, branded as “Mix 107.3” and in the 1980s as “Q107,” perhaps one of the first Hot AC stations to successfully serve a Top 10 market.
Rumors suggest Cumulus Media may relocate “Mix” or sell the intellectual property of the station to another local operator.
Interestingly, WRQX outlived Top 40 rival WAVA-FM 105.1, which Emmis Communications sold to Salem Media Group and changed to Christian Talk & Teaching on Feb. 14, 1992.
Now, some 27 years later, WAVA’s former rival is following it on a path toward Jesus.
EMF is also acquiring WYAY-FM in Atlanta; KFFG-FM in San Jose, WZAT-FM in Savannah, Ga; and WXTL-FM in Syracuse.
For EMF, the Cumulus deal will bring the number of K-LOVE radio signals to 564 nationally, answering questions over whether it will put that or its Air 1 Worship Music format on the stations it is getting.
For WPLJ, the use of a Madonna hit from 30 years ago could say it all:
In the midnight hour I can feel your power
Just like a prayer you know I’ll take you there