Ten Great Radio Battles Of The ’80s and Early ’90s

Whatever CBS’ newly launched CHRs may do in Los Angeles and New York, they’ve had the additional effect of reigniting broadcasters’ interest in radio battles beyond their own backyard — no small accomplishment in these dismaying times. The WHTZ (Z100) vs. WXRK (Now 92.3) battle isn’t just the first time in a while that the out-of-market PDs I talk to have wanted to discuss what’s going on in New York radio, it’s also the first time in a long time that so many have obviously made the effort to listen themselves.
WXRK and KLSX (Amp 97.1) Los Angeles have given the format battle new currency after 10 to 15 years of relative dormancy, during which the best way to dismantle a competitor wasn’t to out-program or out-promote them, but just to buy them and fire everybody, even if they were winning. (Or particularly if they were winning.) All of which got me thinking, of course, of other format battles that were particularly influential for me.
A lot of what we remember as “radio battles” are revealed over the years to be merely attacks from which an incumbent station never recovered. WRBQ (Q105) Tampa’s response to “Power Pig” WFLZ, in retrospect, looks pretty typical – a few months of refusing to budge followed by a period of overreaction. During the first phase, it was much more exciting as a radio person to hear WFLZ. Then it was exciting to hear Q105, but for the wrong reasons.
So here are ten great format battles – some well-known, many less so. It’s hard to pick only ten, of course, so here’s the criteria:
* I kept my list to the ’80s and early ’90s – after I started to understand what I was hearing on the radio; before the implosion of Top 40, consolidation, and the backlash from the ugly tenor of some battles put a damper on format wars. That, of course, leaves out most legendary AM Top 40 battles and a lot of today’s best format wars. But I’m still interested in hearing your thoughts on all eras.
* The stations had to remain evenly matched for at least a year or so, which rules out some exciting format launches like KPWR (Power 106) Los Angeles, WMZQ Washington, D.C., and WBZZ (B94) Pittsburgh where the competition didn’t immediately rise to the challenge.
* The list is limited to markets that I lived in, visited regularly, or at least had a regular aircheck connection in. So no WLOL v. KDWB Minneapolis, although it would likely be on many of your lists. And there’s a lot from great radio markets like Detroit and Houston. But I lived in L.A. at the time and none of its battles made the list.
* It wasn’t my intent, but the list here ends up leaning heavily on CHR, Urban (or something in between). Might have just been a function of my own listening habits in my 20s, but the ’80s also weren’t a great time for Rock radio in general.
Some radio people remember radio battles for the on-air attacks – or the off-air ugliness in the station parking lot – they engender. Mine are as much distinguished by their on-air and promotional energy, and by the musical changes they sparked. Sins of omission are inevitable here, and apologized for in advance; (I didn’t try to name every great jock who came through a station, for instance.) The list is chronological.
1) Houston’s five-way CHR battle of spring 1980 (and, to an extent, the whole market). There was KRBE, a ’70s high-energy holdover under Clay Gish where the band Kiss was still a core artist. (Not a bad thing.) KRLY was evolving from Disco to Top 40 and doing one of the first “outrageous stunt” contests. The new KFMK was an unusual mix of CHR and Urban AC. There was also KAUM and KILT-AM, both in their last year as Top 40. It was also a time of incredible musical cross-polination. Country KIKK played “Fire” by the Pointer Sisters. Urban KMJQ (Majic 102)–itself a dynasty at that time–played “Ride Like the Wind” by Christopher Cross.
2) WRQX (Q107) vs. WPGC Washington, D.C., between winter ’80 and ’81 – Q107 had debuted a year earlier, but finally caught fire in 1980 as a “Rock 40″ outlet under Alan Burns. They were pitted against WPGC, a relatively low-key CHR (like most) in the late ’70s that stepped up its energy level under one Scott Shannon, matching Q107′s unusual night jock Uncle Johnny with a then little-known Don Geronimo. Then in 1981, Q107 segued to AOR for a year and WPGC went AC and suddenly D.C. had no Top 40 station.
3) WBLS vs. WKTU (and WXLO) New York in late ’80 - “Disco 92″ ‘KTU barely had time to enjoy its stunning market upset of 1978-79 when Frankie Crocker came back to WBLS and cemented its “what will they play next” reputation. (It’s during that time I remember hearing both the recently mourned John Lennon and the just-exploding Bruce Springsteen in WBLS’ music promos.) Crocker was the definition of swagger–25 years before it became a buzzword–but WKTU had its own. (The liners called it “Number One on Earth.”) WXLO was the third Urban that couldn’t get traction during this time, but it still had unusual, interesting imaging. When Don Kelly and Barry Mayo converted it to WRKS (98.7 Kiss) the next year with similar music to its rivals but a more codified presentation, the battle would take another turn.
4) Detroit’s four-way Urban FM battle in 1982-83 — WGPR was rough hewn but the home of the Electrifyin’ Mojo, who outdid Crocker for eclecticism and made the B-52′s a core Urban artist in Detroit for several years. WDRQ usurped them first under PD Brian White and MD Lisa Orlando, then WJLB, which had been on FM for a few years, finally got itself together under new GM Verna Green and PD James Alexander and urged listeners to “tune up” from 93.1 to 97.9. In between there was WLBS–first a WBLS clone and then an Urban/Alternative hybrid! And, in the background, a CHR battle between Paul Christy’s WABX, Mike Joseph’s WHYT and Pat Holiday’s CKLW–which got off six more good months as an AM music station.
5) Toronto’s AM Top 40 battle of the early ’80s – It’s still a touchstone for most Canadian broadcasters today. CHUM (Rock 40, like WLS Chicago, but maybe even better in 1981) and CFTR (more mainstream and doing the then-mind-blowing “Commercial Free Sundays”) get the attention. But I always thought nearby CKOC Hamilton was even hotter.
6) Houston’s AM Top 40 battle of summer/fall ’82 between John Lander’s KKBQ (79Q) in a six-month sneak preview of what was to come on AM and Clay Gish’s short lived but no less interesting KYST. R&R obligingly printed both listen lines.
7) Country KILT vs. KIKK-FM Houston throughout the ’80s — At a time when Country was finding its place on FM with a very AC-like presentation, the Houston stations at least enlivened it with great voices and great competitive marketing. More CHR-flavored Country stations in the late ’80s like KMLE Phoenix, KCYY (Y100) San Antonio, and WYAY/WYAI (Y104/Y106) Atlanta took the format to a new place, but this is the one that gave the format its excitement until suddenly Country format battles were everywhere, and often as fierce as CHR wars.
8) WQUE (Q93) vs. WYLD New Orleans in the late ’80s – When a Churban station came to town in that era, the heritage Urban FM didn’t always recover. WYLD did more than that under PD Ron Atkins — ultimately recapturing the lead until a duopoly sent them to Urban AC. It was Atkins’ musically aggressive tenure that prompted then Q93 consultant Jerry Clifton to remark that while anybody could tighten the list, very few people could expand it and find 50 records that deserved to be on the air.
9) WHYT vs. WDFX (the Fox) Detroit in the late ’80s/early ’90s – Okay, so having been in Detroit on the day that “Step by Step” by New Kids on the Block came out seems like a barren source of amusement now, but these two stations made it seem like a big deal then. For a few years, both stations sounded like a throwback to Motor City CHR of 15 years earlier (not surprisingly since former CKLW PD Bill Hennes was involved), each fighting to get the new novelty/reaction record on first. (The war finally ended when WDFX went more adult and, as I remember, decided to let WHYT have “Your Mama’s On Crack Rock” by Disco Rick & the Dogs to itself.)
10) WHTZ (Z100) vs. WPLJ (Mojo Radio) in the early ’90s — Z100 vs. WPLJ was a classic grudge match of almost a decade’s duration but its most intriguing incarnation was its last. Scott Shannon returned to New York, dug in the crates and filled Mojo with Jack-like segues between lost ’70s and ’80s titles and today’s reaction records. (I can’t remember whether I actually heard Grand Funk and the K.L.F. together, but I do remember that they were both there for a moment.) Z100 responded immediately, going for its “oh wow” records and becoming “The New Sound of Z100.” Neither bucked CHR’s decline for long. WPLJ went Hot AC shortly thereafter and Z100 might as well have for a year or so.
Only a lack of space and/or wanting to stick to those battles I observed more closely excludes the following:
* WBCN Boston’s surprise early ’80s resurgence against “Kickass” WCOZ by sacrificing only a little of its eclecticism;
* KDWB vs. WLOL Minneapolis — Two well-matched stations that launched many careers. But I only heard them at Conclave time;
* WIOQ vs. WOGL during Philly’s oldies explosion of 1987-88;
* WIOQ (Q102) vs. WEGX (Eagle 106) a year later in a mini-version of the Tampa battle;
* KMEL vs. KYLD San Francisco in the late ’80s/early ’90s;
* KZZP, KKFR (Power 92) and KOY-FM (Y95) Phoenix from the same time;
* WXKS (Kiss 108) vs. WZOU Boston, also late ’80s/early ’90s;
* KMJK (Majic 107) vs. KKRZ (Z100) Portland, Ore., around 1984;
* Urban WGCI-FM Chicago vs. WBMX (and even, for a while, WJPC-AM) throughout the ’80s;
* Baton Rouge, La.’s three-way Urban battle of the mid-’80s;
* KKBQ (93Q), KRBE, and KNRJ (Energy 96.5) in the late ’80s when Houston became an Alternative hotbed and stations were battling to be first with the new Depeche Mode record (or even the new song by Celebrate The Nun);
* KKBT (the Beat) Los Angeles vs. KPWR (Power 106) in the early ’90s;
* WZOU vs.WXKS (Kiss 108) Boston in the late ’80s/early ’90s as Steve Rivers and Sunny Joe White traded places;
* WGH vs. WNVZ (Z104) Norfolk, Va., in the late ’80s — Somehow included John Mellencamp’s grandma singing on one of the promos meant to characterize the rest of the market as too old. But also one that got ugly enough to end up in court.
I’ve started off the comments section with the help of KSCS Dallas APD/MD Chris Huff, Hispanic Market Wekly’s Adam Jacobson, and Hz So Good author Rich Appel. And now it’s time for you to pick your battles. (And no need to limit yourself to the ’80s and ’90s, just because I did.)

67 replies
  1. Chris Huff
    Chris Huff says:

    Some of the more competitive country battles that come to mind for me include, and the time period they were most evenly matched:
    KNIX vs. KMLE (1994 – present) Summer ’94 was the first time KMLE topped KNIX – it’s been back-and-forth ever since.
    KIKK vs. KILT (1989 – 1992) KILT kicked into high gear in ’89, the 2 usually traded bragging rights until KKBQ’s flip played spoiler to the battle..
    WHKX vs. WYAI/WYAY (1989 – 1992) First high profile duop seriously challenged Kicks until the heritage station pulled away in late ’92.
    WSIX vs. WSM-FM (1991 – 96) The stations were locked into the top 2 spots, each with double-digit shares for 17 consecutive books.
    KUPL vs. KWJJ (1993 – present) It’s been a back-and-forth battle since the first time ‘JJ knocked off KUPL in ’93.
    KAJA vs. KCYY (1995 – present) Y100 was white-hot when it signed on, but KJ evened up the race by ’95 and it’s been a pretty dead heat ever since.
    And of course… KSCS vs. KPLX (1981 – present) Each station has seen its doldrums, but the arrival of PPM has certainly tightened up the battle.
    Other country battles come to mind (eg KMPS vs. KRPM, KFKF vs. KBEQ), but those battles were never evenly matched for very long.
    And coming from Dallas, I also have to throw in one of the more obvious rock battles – KTXQ vs. KZEW (1978 – 1985).

    Reply
  2. Adam Jacobson
    Adam Jacobson says:

    The “battles” as I see them aren’t as numerous as you’d think.
    Y-100 vs. 96X in Miami? 96X didn’t have any listeners over 22.
    Eagle 106 vs. Q102 in Philly? That battle died with bad CHR product.
    I’d focus on:
    KMET vs. KLOS Los Angeles
    WPLJ vs. Z100 New York
    WLS vs. WCFL Chicago
    WCOZ vs. WBCN Boston
    WRQX vs. WAVA Washington, D.C.
    KYA vs. KFRC San Francisco
    KSDO (KS103) vs. B100 San Diego
    CFTR vs. CHUM Toronto

    Reply
  3. Rich Appel
    Rich Appel says:

    A few I recall:
    * WNBC (“The Next One”) going after WABC, late ’70s-early ’80s;
    * WMMR v. WYSP Philly, 1978-79, when Jeff Pollack brought MMR back (“The Rock and Roll Animal”) vs. YSP’s “Superstars”;
    * Of course, Z100 v. PLJ twice, mid/late-?80s and spring/summer ?91 during the short-lived “Mojo”;
    * WROR Boston v. Kiss 108, 1983: WROR’s “Kiss off” campaign [chose] to completely ignore WHTT, which beat both for a couple of books, if I remember correctly.
    * WABC v. WMCA, ’63-’67 (BMR, then Gary Stevens, v. Brucie, Ingram v. Daniel)

    Reply
  4. Don Hallett
    Don Hallett says:

    I was looking for WSNY vs WNCI in the early 80′s. The day I got in the car, turned on the radio and heard Baker Street on NCI I knew the battle was ON!

    Reply
  5. Jay Philpott
    Jay Philpott says:

    I was at WLOL for 4 years, 1980-1984 and it was only the last year that KDWB was our archrival – they had been AOR as Stereo 101 (PD: Dave Hamilton) from 1979-83. But, I did a local “Hot Hits Countdown” that easily beat AT40 and was #1 in the market with a 17 share – http://www.radiotapes.com and http://www.twincitiesradioairchecks.com are two sites with extensive audio, video and print archives about the market. I’ll never forget that Spring ’82 book: 4.2 to 10.0!! Everyone should have a ride like that just once!
    After the Twin Cities, I moved to the Pacific Northwest to do evenings, then middays at KNBQ. THAT was a huge 4-way war: THE BATTLE IN SEATTLE 1984-1988 or so:
    KUBE
    KPLZ (as K-PLUS, now Star 101.5)
    KHIT (now KWRM)
    KNBQ (now KIRO-FM)

    Reply
  6. Randy Black
    Randy Black says:

    3 way run of the late 80′s top 40 in Sacramento
    top 40 battle KSFM KWOD and KROY
    Good Time Eric Scott, Harley Davidson, Mark S. Allen to name a few pat garret on kwod now on KBULL93 SLC

    Reply
  7. Kevin "Koolin'" Fox
    Kevin "Koolin'" Fox says:

    Sean,
    Another great Urban radio war was the 4 way Urban battle in Charleston back in the early 90′s!
    BTW, I was doing afternoons at WYLD during the battle with WQUE. We had a great on-air staff, we were deep in the streets and most of all, WE HAD FUN!
    Great article!
    K-

    Reply
  8. Pete Coughlin
    Pete Coughlin says:

    Sean, How about the huge AOR battle in Rochester WCMF v. WMJQ.? Early 80s for about 3 years until WmJQ went chr.

    Reply
  9. Mark Vanness
    Mark Vanness says:

    My favorite since I was a participant was the 3 way FM102 (KSFM)/ 97 KROY/ KWOD 106 Battle in Sacramento California! That was fun, we often took our battle to the streets with friendly gorrila warfare!

    Reply
  10. Jay Philpott
    Jay Philpott says:

    I almost forgot: my third format war was in Milwaukee between WQFM and WLZR (Lazer 103). I went to Milwaukee to work for Greg Ausham at ‘QFM in Feb ’87…internal problems caused him to cross the street and SIX of us followed him to ‘LZR in Nov ’87
    Spring ’87 WQFM 7.6…WLZR 1.9
    Spring ’88 WQFM 4.2…WLZR 5.8
    93QFM hung on until 1996, but never again topped Lazer
    Great QFM stories at http://www.93qfm.blogspot.com

    Reply
  11. Fred Buc
    Fred Buc says:

    Why didn’t you include some of the great format battles of the 70s??
    Several major medium markets had some great AM Top 40 battles in the early 70s……….

    Reply
  12. Ted Utz
    Ted Utz says:

    I would have to say the greatest of all AOR battles happened in Philadelphia in the middle 80′s. There were three at the time: Pollack consulted WYSP, WIOQ with Alex Demers, and the mighty 99.3 WMMR where we had an all-star cast which also included consultants Lee Abrams, George Harris and Ted Bolton. To make a long story short, WMMR moved from 3 share (12+) to an 11 share (again, 12+) leaving the other two stations with crumbs. Each station boasted mid 2-share ratings. WMMR was THE most dominant FM station in America, which also included the largest AQH numbers of any FM station at the time. Just ask Bruce, Bono, Billy, Phil, Mike and Keith, Steven and Joe, Robert Plant (you name it) where they went to break a record in America…..For the record!

    Reply
  13. Steve Suter
    Steve Suter says:

    The reason I got into radio was the Battle between New Orleans Top 40′s WTIX-AM and WNOE-AM in the 70′s then with respect to the Q93 battle-YLD battle, as a local the real battle was for AC in the 80”s between Magic 101.9 and Lite 105, legendary down here.

    Reply
  14. Bill Cloutier
    Bill Cloutier says:

    In Sacramento iin the mid-80s, is was actually a meage e trois between KSFM, KWOD and KPOP — KROY threw in the towel and went AC in 1984.
    The battle raged for almost two years before my team and I flipped KPOP to AOR KRXQ.

    Reply
  15. Todd Fisher
    Todd Fisher says:

    Philly in 87-88?
    Sean, did you mean WIOQ and WEGX (Eagle 106)?
    That was after WEGX got WCAU out of the format, becoming Oldies WOGL.
    Great list. Of course, I’d have to have the Phoenix battle at the top of my list!

    Reply
  16. Gabe Hobbs
    Gabe Hobbs says:

    Lest we not forget one of the great CHR battles of the late 80′s…..in Tampa. Between WFLZ (The Power Pig) and WRBQ (Q-105). Fun but brutal. It was the fall of 1989 into winter of 1990. The 20th anniversary of the launching of the Power Pig is this September. 20 years!!!!! Wow.

    Reply
  17. Maxx Myrick
    Maxx Myrick says:

    Sean,
    I really miss the radio battles vs the stay in your lane cluster environment of today.
    Some of my favorites include:
    WJLB and WDRQ was one of my all-time favorites especially when it got down to best friends James Alexander and Steve Harris with King James
    emerging the victor in the end. We used to drive up to Detroit on Fridays just to hear the battle.
    WPGC vs WKYS was a pretty good one for a while until the market became saturated.
    And if I don’t say so myself, GCI vs V103 (once we got 106 Jamz, Joyner and Banks) was a pretty good one that knocked GCI forever out of double
    digit shares and off the top of 25-54 demographic.
    I enjoyed every moment of grief we gave Elroy!
    Maxx

    Reply
  18. gillette
    gillette says:

    I was fortunate to be involved in several of the battles mentioned (Sacramento in the 80′s and Detroit in the 90′s)…but what impresses me most is that when Sean thinks of Motown, the first song that comes to mind is “Your Mama’s on Crack Rock!” Well done.

    Reply
  19. Peter King
    Peter King says:

    Syracuse…early ’80s…94 Rock vs 95X. Including the great Judas Priest battle as each rushed to premier the groups new LP in, I think, 1980. Ed Levine vs Howie Castle. As I recall, Levine and 95X stole 94 Rock’s copy at the Greyhound Bus pickup location, and Castle drove like mad to Rochester to get a copy from ‘CMF, I think.Both stations wound up premiering it at midnight! Wow!

    Reply
  20. Brock Whaley
    Brock Whaley says:

    WMET (Metromedia) vs. WLUP (Heftel) Chicago. Early 80′s. Ask any one at The Mighty Met (such as Bob Stroud now at The Drive) How many days it took us to blow up their “Loop-Songs” promotion. Fun for the listeners, and so much fun for the staff. Chicago style AOR battle.

    Reply
  21. Dave Anthony
    Dave Anthony says:

    You mention many great battles and I’m proud to have dirercted excellent air staffs at some of them … KDWB against WLOL … KZZP vs KOPA … KYA vs KFRC (FMs) … KODJ/KCBS vs. KRTH … and on-air during the classic KRIZ/KRUX/KUPD battles. While it may be tempting to just write those off as being another time, several points are worth highlighting. PDs concentrated on just one station, not a group. Entertainment was paramount, as witnessed by the promos and jock content between the songs. Contests were truly exciting, as opposed to the boredom-inducing “tenth caller qualifies to win” methodology. Yes, there’s no doubt some things have changed but the need for exciting, compelling content hasn’t.

    Reply
  22. brian carter
    brian carter says:

    my faves
    Phlliy-POWER 99 vs Q102 mid 90′s
    WNBC vs WABC late 70′s -early 80′s
    WPGC vs Q107 llate 70′s -early 80′s
    WLS vs WCFL mid 70′s

    Reply
  23. Dave Dillon
    Dave Dillon says:

    Let me add the classic Philly battle from the mid 60s through late 70s of WFIL and WIBG. And WIFI was in that fray later too.

    Reply
  24. Paul
    Paul says:

    The WHYT/WDFX battle was fun to listen to (for this non-industry type). WHYT seemed dominant, but WDFX really pushed the envelope with some of their attacks. Does anyone remember a promo where one station claimed to have hooked the other station’s PD’s genitals to high voltage in an effort to get them to tell the truth about their claims? I remember crying with laughter and thinking “this is getting ugly”. But fun! If I could just mention one more thing…I remember WHYT having the neatest versions of songs, special edits (Tina Marie’s “Lovergirl” with the rap intro), that kind of thing. Their production values and energy level were off the chart. A lot of talent there.

    Reply
  25. Dave Logan
    Dave Logan says:

    All good ones here. My personal fave is the AOR battle in San Francisco in 1982 when we signed on KFOG to become the fourth rock station in the market with KMEL, KRQR, and KQAK already established ahead of us. Only one of those stations remains in the rock format today.

    Reply
  26. Dan Vallie
    Dan Vallie says:

    Sean
    great article and you highlighted some of the great battles that we all enjoyed being a part of or at least listening to and learning from.
    I think if each of us made our own top ten it would vary a bit but those you mention would make up the bulk of the great top forty battles. I like your list at least one that I would have moved up is the Q102 Eagle 106 battle…that was exciting and fun and intense. And in AC battles the KOIT and K101 battle was fun for years with KOIT finally winning the prize and still does.
    It is sort of curious and amusing to think though that like you many of us would leave off some of the more significant top forty debuts that won big. There could be an argument made that those stations that won fast and vanquished their competitors did a better job of understanding that particular market and the competitive environment in such a way that the competitor was put to death quickly….which is always a part of the goal. While we all enjoy battles, the bigger win and the more profitable win is to eliminate your direct competitor quickly. That has happened in many markets, like we did with B94 in Pittsburgh which you mentioned. I have even forgotten how long that battle went with 96KX but it seems like a year or two, though we beat them the first time in our second book and never looked back.
    I know you always liked B94 and I always appreciated your comments on the station. You remember things about it that I don’t until you mention them to me. And B97 New Orleans which debuted number one in its first book, immediately beating all stations in the market and remained in that position for years.
    This article makes me want to sit in a bar somewhere and just talk radio awhile, maybe we can do that soon.
    Dan Vallie

    Reply
  27. Mike McGough
    Mike McGough says:

    Just so it doesn’t go unmentioned, the “Grand Daddy Of Them All,” America’s original Top 40 station 660/KOWH & the great 1290/KOIL in Omaha in the fifties. IIRC, Kent Burkhart was the PMD jock at KOWH, so he can back me up on the premise that the Battle Over Omaha was the very first Radio Battle in format radio–any format, any market.

    Reply
  28. Lance Venta
    Lance Venta says:

    WYSP vs. WMMR was mentioned by Rich Appel for its battle in the late 70′s, but that was just the start. You had WMMR’s mid 80′s domination lead to Howard Stern coming to WYSP and taking down John DeBella’s Morning Zoo leading to a run of WYSP at the top while MMR floundered for most of the 90′s. You then had WMMR put it back together in the mid 2000′s while WYSP currently struggles to find its way back.

    Reply
  29. Andy Shane
    Andy Shane says:

    Great article Sean. You made me miss radio for the first time in 10 years, lol. Have to add in the Top 40 battle in Dallas between ’84-’87. KEGL, KAFM,and KTKS from 84-86 and then KHYI(Y-95) coming in to join the battle in ’87. Also Wash DC’s three way battle between Q-107, WAVA and B-106(I think the calls were WBMW), which didn’t have much of a signal but none the less sounded pretty good at times. You also can’t leave out WHTT in Boston in the battle with Kiss 108 and WZOU. Some of the best jocks in the country were on those three stations at the time they did battle. Jo Jo Kincaid and Wild Child Hamilton come to mind, but there were others. Of course some of the earliest battles I remember which got me interested in radio in the first place, were the WABC, WMCA, and WWDJ(97DJ) battles. I always thought 97DJ never got enough credit for being such a great radio station, though no one will ever top the early days of WABC. Thanks for a great article, I’ll check in in another 10 years ;-)

    Reply
  30. Wayne Mayo
    Wayne Mayo says:

    Another great read as always Sean.
    I grew up in NYCi, and spent much of the second half of the 1970′s “catching the fever” for radio as a P1 of ”BLS…and a solid P2 to Top 40 WABC…and Larry Bergers great AOR WPLJ-FM. So, I was the ultimate “Frankie O phile”…feircely loyal to the “Worlds Best Looking Sound”. ‘KTU wasn’t much of a blip on my radar initially- too slick, lacking the warmth and “soul” of my WBLS. It wasn’t years later until I understood why BLS was doing “research” at hip clubs like the Paradise Garage, while KTU was doing theirs at places like Studio 54. So, when Frankie came back to “re-take the crown”, it only seemed natural to my young ears. That all changed for me when Barry Mayo (yes, no relation, lol) took over ‘XLO and it became Kiss in 1981. This Kiss promoitonal cards vs. the BLS promotional cards…the BLS mixers vs Shep Pettibone, Red Alert and the Kiss Master Mixers….Frankie Crocker somehow getting the sound people to look the other way so that he could take the stage at what was supposed to be a Kiss sponsored and hosted concert. Now, THAT was a classic urban radio warfare. I guess u can say the battle between those two stations continues 25+ years later, although of course in a much more subdued version.
    As an aside, if you’ll indulge me a paragraph to play the “what if” game, I’d like to think my station in 2001, Jammin 105 and WRKS were on a virge of what might’ve developed into a nice little Urban AC battle. Kiss had gone more mainstream, we’d started to make inroads in their #’s, and Barry Mayo had been summoned back to the fold all those years later to shore things up on the homefront. Alas, Clear Channel diecided to go after the young end #’s in March 2003, so we’ll never know how much fun it might’ve been for the student to go up against the professor, lol.
    I spent time with family in Phoenix several times during the late 80′s- those KZZP, KOY-FM, and KKFR battles were indeed a fun listen.

    Reply
  31. Simone
    Simone says:

    Syracuse Late 80′s WNTQ -93Q (CHR) and WYYY Y-94 A/C-big 25-54 battle. 93Q skewing older by day and CHR by night. Y94 being very promotionally active showing up at Q’s events/remotes etc.. On air battle with “free money Contests”-each station literally monitoring when the other would be in a stop set, and 93Q running liners talking about Y94 being in commercials but 93Q playing music… That was fun!

    Reply
  32. Bruce Kelly
    Bruce Kelly says:

    Excellent Sean !
    Especially having my memory jogged on how many of those battles I was fortunate enuf to be part of the teams.
    Mid – late 70′s WLEE (AM) vs. WRVQ MD/PM Drive on both.
    Late 70′s – 96X vs. Y-100 PD/PM Drive both
    Early 80′s WPGC vs. Q107 – APD/PM drive on The Pig
    Early 80′s B-94 vs. WHTX MD/PM Drive on The Bee
    Mid 80′s WHTT vs ZOU AM Drive on HitRadio
    Mid 80′s – 90′s KZZP vs. Y-95 & KKFR AM Drive on ALL three
    And, of course 2000 – 2006 Mega Battle XM Sat vs. Sirius 80′s PD
    God – we were ALL gladiators.
    Bruce Kelly
    brucekellyradio@gmail.com

    Reply
  33. Tony Thomas
    Tony Thomas says:

    I’ll add:
    Lehigh Valley, PA Radio-
    Mid 80′s – Top 40′s WAEB-FM (B104) vs. WQQQ (Q100)…Who did GM Jim Shea REALLY work for? I wonder why he’s a CC big-wig nowadays!
    It ended with Q100 flipping to a bizzare rythmic CHR format, then Oldies and B104 reigning supreme for almost 20 years, until Country came back to town…yuck!

    Reply
  34. Don Beno
    Don Beno says:

    I’m surprised Milwaukee in the early 80′s wasn’t mentioned.
    WKTI
    Z-95
    WRKR
    B97
    Four CHR’s, fully staffed and high profile morning shows! ….and bumper stickers everywhere!

    Reply
  35. Tom Mitchell
    Tom Mitchell says:

    Sean,
    Great column. My favorite battle was throughout the 80′s in Rochester; the decade starting with heritage WBBF(AM) which had segued to Hot AC vs. CHR WHFM(FM). I put CHR 98PXY on the air in Summer of 82. Lin put Q92 on in Summer 83. We had an exciting 3 way battle fighting over every concert co-promote, club nights, PXY with one of the first radio scavenger hunts that turned the town upside down, and don’t forget bumper sticker wars rewarding listeners who brought in the competition’s sticker or let us cover it with ours. By 85 WHFM was Country WZKC and in 87 Q92 left the CHR format (also for country which ZKC had dropped), which PXY then had to itself for about 12 years! Lots of name-brand CHR programmers ran thru Rochester in the 80′s including Charlie Lake, Jay Stevens, Cat Collins who was my MD late in the decade, and JJ Rice, my intern who worked his way up to running weekend syndication!.

    Reply
  36. Simon Tunstall
    Simon Tunstall says:

    If we slide back to the mid to late 70′s, Memphis had an epic Top 40 AM battle between Plough Broadcasting’s WMPS 680 and RKO’s 56 WHBQ. WMPS was the leader at the time, and they hired this young guy from North Carolina by the name of Rick Dees.
    After a few years there and a hit song called “Disco Duck”, he was fired because he played his own song on the air. WHBQ was ready to snatch him up.
    WHBQ already had George Klein (Elvis’ best friend) and Dees sent the ratings through the roof!
    He was not in Memphis long when Los Angeles came calling. The rest is history, including the demise of Top 40 AM.
    John Long, PD at WHBQ during this battle, has written an excellent account of this moment in time.
    http://www.oidar.com

    Reply
  37. Bob Heiney
    Bob Heiney says:

    The Philly WFIL vs. WIBG was never really a battle. FIL came on the air in September ’66, without any promotion or fanfare. It basically broke down the door, stole the ball and ran away with it. WIBG could never catch up and pass the newcomer, no matter how hard they tried. FIL’s superior signal and lower frequency made it the station of choice. People north of WIBG’s plant were shut out at sundown.

    Reply
  38. Tom Mitchell
    Tom Mitchell says:

    Sean,
    Great column! My favorite CHR battle unfolded over the entire decade of the 80′s in Rochester, starting with heritage WBBF(AM) which had become Hot AC, vs. CHR WHFM. I put 98PXY on the air in Summer 82. Lin added Q92 in Summer 83. Great 3 way battle fighting for every concert & club night, bumper sticker wars and 98PXY’s Scavenger Hunt which turned the town inside out. WHFM went Country in 85 and Q92 also went Country, in 86. After that, PXY had the fomat to itself for about 12 years. During the 80′s some name brand programmers came thru town, including Jay Stevens, Charlie Lake, Cat Collins who was my MD, and JJ Rice who was my intern, later graduating to weekend syndication board op!

    Reply
  39. Don
    Don says:

    The ultimate “Armageddon” Top 40 battle of all time had to be WLS vs. WCFL in the ’70′s. If we’re delving into the ’70′s here’s a few other notable battles: LA: KHJ vs. KRLA (and later KTNQ), San Diego: KDB vs. KCBQ, San Francisco: KFRC vs. KYA, San Antonio: KONO vs. KTSA, Boston: WRKO vs. WMEX, Pittsburgh: 13Q vs. KQV, Miami: WFUN vs WQAM, Canton: Q-10 vs WINW, Buffalo: WYSL vs. WKBW (truly David vs. Goliath), New Haven: WAVZ vs. WNHC, and Seattle: KJR vs. KOL.

    Reply
  40. Andrea D. Wiener
    Andrea D. Wiener says:

    Good article, but since the focus was RELATIVELY narrow, I thought I’d throw in one or two of my own that a LOT of people barely even remember…
    1) WABC vs. “Disco 92″ – 1977-1978 – when Disco 92 came onto the scene, with its thumping beats and DJs with accents that let listeners KNOW that these guys WERE from the neighborhood, all of a sudden, you saw LONG-time CHR stalwart WABC practically overnight almost turning into “Disco 77″, OBVIOUSLY in an attempt to compete – didn’t work, though – “Disco 92″ just BLEW them away, and by May 1982…well, you know the rest there…
    2) WCBSFM and the SEVERAL attempts by OTHER radio stations to knock it off the top of its perch…oh, if ratings could talk – these would tell an interesting story, to say the least…
    1986-WCBSFM vs. WNSR (“Mix 105″) – when WNSR came on the scene, they were practically nose-to-nose in terms of their playlist – if nothing else, ‘NSR was shooting for the same demo that WCBSFM was…but one BIG difference though – personality radio STILL ruled back then, and WCBSFM had the EDGE there…advantage 101FM!!
    1987-CBSFM vs WNBC-one LAST, DESPERATE attempt by 66 W-N-B-C to knock CBSFM off its perch by doing a “Time Machine” format on the weekends – even with the likes of NY radio vet Carol Mason and ORIGINAL “Record Pig” Big Jay Sorensen and with some GREAT music, PD Dale Parsons and his crew were left at the gate, to wait the eventual “passing” of this GREAT station in 1987…
    1996-CBSFM vs WTJM-the last “radio battle” that legendary CBSFM was involved in…it was the 25-year legacy vs. a fresh newcomer called WTJM – billed as “Jammin 105″, this station played uptempo r&b and pop songs that kept the crowd dancing (and gave CBSFM a scare for like two seconds, iirc) – even with Famous Amos as its highest-profile personality, this station would too eventually be knocked down by the mighty 101FM…

    Reply
  41. Mike
    Mike says:

    Simon mentioned the HBQ/MPS battle in Memphis in the mid-70′s. When you look back at the Top 40 History Books, the HBQ/MPS battle lasted almost 20 years dating back to the 50′s.
    Some other two decade duels included WKY and KOMA in OKC, WDGY and KDWB in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

    Reply
  42. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I agree with Tom Mitchell that the WKTI/WRKR/WZUU, and WBTT battle in Milwaukee in 1983 was really something. I would also add that this was the time when urban WLUM started adding alot of crossover tracks (primarily remixes of top 40 tunes), so it was really a 5 way battle.

    Reply
  43. T.J. Lambert
    T.J. Lambert says:

    Man I love this stuff….way to start a great debate Sean…
    How abut the classc battles of WPOP and WDRC in Hartford….loads of fun and I was lucky enough to be a part of it from 1972-1975 before WPOP became all news….
    Mentioned before bt the WIBBAGE/WFIL battle was terrific…WIFI later…I had my fn on WIBG in 1972 and WIFI in 1975-76….
    Thanks for the stroll

    Reply
  44. Dan Garfinkel
    Dan Garfinkel says:

    Lest we forget: WMMS/Cleveland defeated all comers for over a decade 1975-1986. Included crushing WGCL, M-105, WLYT and any other station that dared challenge the Buzzard. And folks, I know we all have high opinions of ourselves and our work, but real warriors die when they lose, the don’t just hang up a shingle and become consultants.

    Reply
  45. dave lange
    dave lange says:

    How about the Detroit Rock wars from the late 70s till the mid 80s. You had ABX, RIF, Wheels, W4 and a few others jumped in. I even think DRQ was rock for a while in the mix. The dial was packed with rock. Dahl, Howard Stern, went through town.

    Reply
  46. john landecker
    john landecker says:

    I was apart of three radio battles. WFIL-WIBG in the late 60′s. WLS-WCFL in the 70′s and CFTR-CHUM in the early 80s. The biggest was WCFL -WLS the most intense was WFIL-WIBG the ,most polite CFTR-CHUM

    Reply
  47. dennis reese
    dennis reese says:

    Let’s head south as in South Florida. Many battles happened that shaped many programmers including me.
    In the late 60′s it was WQAM vs WFUN
    In the early 70′s it was WMYQ vs WQAM
    Then the mother ship landed…Y-100…that killed the following WQAM, 96X and any other station that came on.
    In 1981 I-95 signed on under Keith Isley and went head to head with Bill Tanners Y-100 ( I was there from 1981-1986) great radio…great programmers and a real battle.
    In 1985 you had Hot 105 come on with Bill Tanner killing I-95 and almost killing Y-100.
    In 1986 you had Power 96 with Bill Tanner yet again killing Y-100 this time (I did nights there with an all star line up from Tanner to Don Cox).
    In 1988 Hot 105 relaunced with massive success I reunited with Keith Isley doing programming and afternoons . The station was #1 in every demo 12-54 in every daypart by the end of the first year…with a 9.3 12+. Numbers that haven’t been touched since then in the markert. Proving hispanics would listen to R&B/POP songs was a real test to the history in the market.
    We would always hear about the New York radio wars or even Chicago and Philly. I’d sya over the 60′s 70′s 80′s and early 90′s Miami was as hot as the temp at times.
    I can say for the money I’d take Bill Tanner or Keith Isley to this day and put them up againist today’s top Programmers. Both had different styles. Tanner the talent side and Isley the research side.
    ***Best Top 40 ever Y-100 from 1975-1980. It’s the reason I’m in this biz!

    Reply
  48. Chuck Knapp
    Chuck Knapp says:

    Boston 1967. Brand new WRKO vs. WBZ and WMEX. An engineers strike at RKO was overcome by the “NOW” crowd. What a fun battle.
    Please don’t forget the great A/C battles going on during the 80′s. Ron Chapman at KVIL in Dallas was untouchable. Here in Minneapolis KS95 beat WCCO 12+ in a Mediastat. Steve Cannon howled about that because WCCO announcers were on strike at the time. I’m sad to report we just lost Steve last week.

    Reply
  49. Tony
    Tony says:

    I can’t believe FLZ vs. Q105 in 89-90 only got *one* mention…..Probably the battle I think of when I think of “CHR Battles”. I lived in Miami at the time but as a “radio geek” followed every minute of it.
    I-95 vs. Y-100….I-95 is a station I grew up with in Elementary School and for the 5 years it was on the air, got an unbelievable amount of traction in Miami..Not to mention it ‘broke’ alot of music…Freestyle, Madonna, Miami Sound Machine, wow…The memories..I was fortunate to do a brief P/T stint on air during its’ last months as Zeta in 2004-2005.

    Reply
  50. Sean Ross
    Sean Ross says:

    WFLZ vs. Q105 is definitely the most top of mind radio battle. But it wasn’t on ny list because, as mentioned above, I saw it as a little too one-sided–an eventual study in what not to do in a similar situation (don’t respond until the younger audience is gone, then overreact in a way that antagonizes the people who had stayed).
    I did get an e-mail from somebody who noted that Q105 managed to forge ahead of WFLZ again. But it was a pyhrric victory — Q105 was headed for Country anwyay.

    Reply
  51. Chris
    Chris says:

    Detroit actually had a three-way CHR war going during 1988-89… you had WHYT, WDFX, and WCZY/All Hits Z95.5, which was oriented more toward adults with a more conservative playlist and Dick Purtan in the mornings. One WDFX liner from this period invited listeners to take “The Hit Music Challenge” – “If you want ‘Cozy’ music and a whole lot of talk, punch 95.5. [Referencing WCZY's past as a Beautiful Music and then AC station prior to "Z95.5"] If you want disco and rap, press 96.3. But if you want the best mix with ten songs in a row, lock it in and rip the knob off… 99.5 The Fox.” WCZY was usually the highest-rated of the three 12+ but that was largely due to Purtan, and it was WHYT and WJLB that dominated the 12-24 numbers.
    There was also a rivalry between WHYT and Z95.5 in about 1984-87 before 99.5 (the former WABX) became The Fox. During the short time Joey Reynolds was WHYT’s morning host in 1984, he poked a lot of fun at 95.5 (which he called “Xerox FM” referring to their supposedly “copying” 96.3′s format) and and Dick Purtan.
    And for much of the ’80s and ’90s, the Traverse City, MI market had its own hot CHR battle… between WKHQ (106 KHQ) at 105.9 and WKPK (106.7 The Peak). The Peak was a surprisingly edgy and aggressive station for such a small market and played the rock and urban songs KHQ wouldn’t, while KHQ stuck to the “safe” mainstream hits and even had a flirtation with Hot AC in the early ’90s. One WKPK liner I remember from the ’90s: “If you stop at 106, you haven’t reached ‘The Peak.’ The difference is .7.” The Peak is long gone now, now a boring soft AC station called WSRT, while KHQ is now approaching its 30th year as a CHR (although it still tends to be conservative-sounding).

    Reply
  52. Kimo Akane
    Kimo Akane says:

    Great topic… my faves KCBQ & KGB in San Diego and KKDJ, K100 and KHJ Los Angeles. Going back a little further KRLA & KFWB.

    Reply
  53. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    after about the late s[ring of 1981 the battle of wbls and then upstart wxlo 99 took a major turn into wxlo’s favor, and that was because by the mid spring of 81 barry mayo was able to get shep pettibone to join wxlo on the condition that shep would be gven credit for his mixes and give shep the exposure that frankie crocker didn’t give him on wbls, by the late spring of 1981 the mixes heard on wbls like empress dyin to be dancin, all of a sudden shifted to being heard on wxlo, some had the call letters of wbls taken out of them, but the term “mastermix.” appeared on them, that was a term barry mayo told shep he should use on his mixes, the rest is history, by 1982 wxlo was already changed to kiss fm and by that time the younger nyc youth shifted to kiss forcing niecey colon MD over at wbls to take input from her 14 year old daughter to bring a young man to wbls who was doing late night time leased radio, by the name of mr magic, kiss had already began incorporating hip hop into it’s playlist…but still throughout the decade of the 80′s wbls could not get kiss off it’s back. And wktu became an alternative between bls and kiss sadly wktu went off the air in 1984, never again will nyc have 3 stations that really played the sounds on of streets on it again.

    Reply
  54. JJ Solomon
    JJ Solomon says:

    The battle which had me appreciate the fine term Chr rhythmic was close to my home in the Neighborhood of Point Breeze in the city where the Steelers keep rackin up Superbowl wins… Pittsburgh.
    WAMO (Hot 106 – J.J. Stone at night — where i get my JJ from) WBZZ B94 (The Real Deal Mike Neal —- aaaaaannnnd were offf – (signature Hot 8 at 8 kickoff) WMXP ( D.C. Taylor at Night — yeidy yeidy…guess whats down my pants…) ’92 to ‘Jan 1, 1993 (the day that Mix Jamz died and became K-Garth 100 point 7)
    Wamo was the heritage Urban (until Summer 2009) with then 72 THousand watts at 105.9 FM. Mix Jamz 100.7 was a kocally owned AC then Hot AC then Rhythmic CHR. When the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out, you heard the soundtrack on MIX JAMZ. WHen Paula Abdul was singin Forever Your Girl, you heard it on Mix Jamz. SOngs that were too pop for WAMO and B94 didn’t touch rhythm or urban except Johnny Gill -Rub You the Right Way. This new wave of rhythm had a home and a night show host that had a feature (guess what’s down my pants) which turned the city upside down.
    My most familiar memory of the time was the personalities that had a life of their own. Each night personality had the attitude and sarcasm which you hear traces of in my delivery here on Greenville Radio where i work now.
    A bit saddened to hear WAMO to go the route of many urbans of this past decade that were locally owned and operated. I would of expected Radio One or another operator to pick the station up.
    I now go back to my grind of production and night show dream that I had hoped to pursue at the above mentioned stations because they each (Real Deal, D.C. Taylor and J.J. Stone) seemed like they were having too much fun!
    JJ

    Reply
  55. Jim Ford
    Jim Ford says:

    I’m late to the game on this, but I ahve to add my small market 1980′s battle that influenced me. In 1984, Wichita, Kansas had a four way CHR battle, KEYN, KKRD, KSKU, and KLEO (AM). KLEO quickly abandoned the fomat for Standards. KSKU became Country KZSN in 1986. KKRD ended up killing KEYN from ’86 – ’89 when KEYN went Oldies. Incidentally, of the 4, KEYN is the only one still around in Wichita.

    Reply
  56. mark
    mark says:

    Great topic. I’ll just point out some obvious battles like KNIX/KMLE in the desert or KWJJ/KUPL up in Portland. Tom Mitchell posted his battles in the 80′s in Rochester while forgetting that WCMF destroyed WMJQ when they went Rock 40 through some very dirty tricks but that’s another story(hint: we sabataged there entire contesting scheme weeks before they flipped).
    The mother of them all is WYSP/WMMR in Philly. It’s been going on since the mid-70′s with no end in sight.

    Reply
  57. Al Brock
    Al Brock says:

    I think somebody mentioned WGH vs WNVZ, in the late 80′s..I was PD of what was then CHR WGH (97 Star) and hired MJ Kelli to work on our team against NVZ. MJ later joined NVZ, and it was an ugly battle between the two stations. We were a rock leaning CHR, and they were more rhythmic, under the direction, I think, of PD, Chris Bailey. I may be a little partial, but I thought the WGH airstaff was much better than the NVZ staff at the time. I left in the late Summer of 86 and the battle intensified after that, getting so ugly that it eventually went to court. We had great street presence, and practically owned the beaches in the summer with our Sunday afternoon beach patrols. It was fun, but a very intense battle.

    Reply
  58. Chris Collins
    Chris Collins says:

    Sacto 80;s battle?????? Are you kidding me?
    In all due respect there was NO battle for first as my morning show (the FM102 Morning Zoo) kicked everyone’s ass for almost 8 full years before the station was ruined and depleted of its mass appeal format in late 1991 after a disastrous hiring by our GM.
    Plus one of those so called competitors did NOT subscribe to ARB so they never really competed period. Plus they NEVER even came close demo wise ever.
    My show, Chris & Mike & the FM102 Morning Zoo, was cutting edge and 10 years ahead of its time staying mostly in double figures in all demos as an original 1000lb Gorilla and will always be one of the top 3 shows in the history of Nor Cal radio as the rest came along for the ride free of charge.
    Wars take prisoners as this battle during my time there was NO war as it was more an annihilation due to good old daily ass kickings!
    ‘And so it goes’……

    Reply
  59. Joanne "Lady J" Ippolito
    Joanne "Lady J" Ippolito says:

    First I’d like to say hello to my old buddy Wayne Mayo who I know from the Original Hot 97 Days. I miss ya buddy – please get in touch – Ladyjoipp@aol.com.
    Second, I’d like to say that much of my “disco” days were spent listening to Paco, Rosco, Al Bandiero, Carlos DeJesus and company at 92 KTU NY. I also listened to Frankie Crocker, Wendy Williams and (I think) Rick Ricardo on WBLS. I later listened to 99 WXLO (Charlie Burger?) which, Wayne mentioned, became 98.7 Kiss FM.
    Finally, I love all of that “feel good” music with great melodies, whether you want to call it Disco, Old School, R&B, Funk, etc. IT’S ALL GOOD IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD ~ Lady J

    Reply

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