WCBS-FM: A Final Appreciation

by Sean Ross, VP of Music and Programming

After 33 years in the Oldies format, WCBS-FM New York—which became 101.1 Jack FM last Friday, June 3—deserves a final sendoff. And not just for the reasons you might think. The press has focused on the veteran air talent displaced by the switch and its larger implications for a format already at a crossroads. But there is more to appreciate about CBS-FM.

WCBS-FM kept the flame alive for the Oldies format during its first fallow period

WCBS-FM kept the flame alive for the Oldies format during its first fallow period. In the mid-‘70s, the “American Graffiti”/”Grease”-led nostalgia for all things ‘50s and early ‘60s tapered off, and the Oldies FMs that had popped up in most cities—usually automated—took another path. WMOD Washington, D.C., became Country WMZQ, WFYR Chicago (now WKSC) segued to AC, as did WHNE Detroit (now WCSX). But in the cradle of doo-wop, WCBS-FM never got the memo. After more than a decade in AM exile, Oldies began returning to FM in the late ‘80s. And, by then, CBS-FM was a 15-year-format veteran.

For that reason, WCBS-FM was the product of a different time and mindset than much of what followed in the Oldies format over the next 15 years. It never became the 225-record “oldies in a box” module of the sort that was plugged in from market-to-market, usually very successfully at first. And programmers outside the market never really understood WCBS-FM or gave it the respect it deserved.

WCBS-FM PD Joe McCoy gradually reassembled much of the airstaff of legendary AM WABC from its Top 40 days—many of whom were first heard at the station on its radio reunion weekends, then on a regular basis. Unlike its contemporaries, WCBS-FM never tried to be a ‘80s Top 40 station that just happened to be playing older records. And McCoy knew better than to hassle Dan Ingram or Harry Harrison to talk less. But beyond that:

  • WCBS-FM always played the pop ‘70s. Most Oldies stations cut the music off between 1971 and 1973. If you wanted to hear anything from the rest of the decade, you had only what was offered on Classic Rock or Soft AC stations. The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac never disappeared from WCBS-FM. If memory serves, neither did “I Will Survive” or “Stayin’ Alive.”
  • WCBS-FM always had a few tentacles in the ‘80s and currents. Songs like “Every Breath You Take” were always there. So, for a while, was the “future gold” category of recurrent music that had been part of most Oldies stations during the ‘70s. Newer songs eventually became the most controversial aspect of CBS-FM. In the early ‘90s, when Oldies were hot and current pop music was at an ebb, those songs were like playing the Eagles and Marshall Tucker Band on a Country station—they seemed unnecessary.
  • WCBS-FM always sounded like New York. Even beyond the doo-wop records that were most important in the Northeast, there were always local hits like “The 81” by Candy & the Kisses and “Just Look What You’ve Done” by Brenda Holloway, and it wasn’t because McCoy didn’t have access to research or know how to play the hits.

These differences were enough to make WCBS-FM one of those stations that didn’t make sense to anybody besides the audience. In the early ‘90s, when KRTH (K-Earth 101) Los Angeles’ tight playlist and retro-Bill Drake formatics were being plopped into every market (including those that had never heard the Drake jingles in 1966), it was common to talk to Oldies programmers in other markets who gave CBS-FM no respect at all, no matter how good the ratings were.

Invariably, the discussion in that era would turn to how somebody needed to do something more like K-Earth in New York (where only a handful of old WOR-FM fans would have had any idea what you were trying to recreate). Say that you thought WCBS-FM was too strong to compete with and you’d be told that they were unfocused, played too many records, talked too much and were only doing well because they didn’t have any competition.

The irony was that a decade later, when Oldies GMs finally began to notice that their audience was both eroding and aging, stations began trying to shoehorn in the same records they had castigated WCBS-FM for playing a decade earlier. When the pre-Beatles music went off most Oldies stations and “Come And Get Your Love” and “Every Breath You Take” went in, it was a stretch for most stations. It should have been less so for CBS-FM, although that didn’t spare CBS-FM some bad consumer press, anyway—particularly when WABC veterans such as Harrison and Ingram became less of a presence.

For that reason, the “end of an era” that CBS-FM’s format change represents really took place a few years ago when the station began adding ‘70s weekends and phasing out the word “Oldies.” While its final PD, Dave Logan, did manage to give the station some promotional and presentational energy in its last days, it’s ironic that the station that once provided the blueprint for modernizing an Oldies station could not easily modernize at the end, perhaps because it was called WCBS-FM.

It’s ironic, too, that a station that very publicly tightened its playlist in recent years was replaced by a format built on variety. While I have been known to find antecedents of Jack/Bob lurking everywhere, the original CBS-FM did indeed play four decades of music, including recurrents, deliberately recalled an era where all types of music were played on the radio together, and tried not to sound too overly formatted in its presentation.

Time will tell whether the hole for a Hot AC/Classic Hits hybrid in New York is bigger than the one that the market’s current Hot AC and Classic Rock outlets have been able to create. Whatever one thinks of the change, WCBS-FM’s contributions, and those of Joe McCoy in particular, deserve some special recognition. And while its departure (particularly in tandem with several other Infinity Oldies outlets) will look like a referendum on the state of the Oldies format, it should be remembered just how different WCBS-FM looked from the rest of the format—even if all Oldies stations look the same to a 26-year-old agency buyer.

For another take on WCBS-FM, read Tom Webster’s recent look at the new WCBSFM.COM “here.”:http://www.edisonresearch.com/homeimg/archives/2005/06/not_dead_yet_wh.html

Sean Ross is Edison Media Research’s VP of Music & Programming and the former editor-in-chief of Airplay Monitor, Billboard Magazine’s radio programming publication. The opinions expressed here are his own and can be found on the edisonresearch.com Web site every week. Sean can be reached at 908.707.4707 or SRoss@edisonresearch.com.

Read other articles by Sean Ross

56 replies
  1. Tom Schuh
    Tom Schuh says:

    Tremendously written, as always. Over 11 years as an Oldies PD in another Northeast market, I always had the utmost respect for what WCBS-FM accomplished. It was one of my benchmark stations, along with John Gorman’s WMJI in Cleveland. We had a standard response whenever we would review a ‘CBS monitor: “Don’t try this at home unless you’ve got a twenty-year head start, the most legendary personalities, and a really big promo budget.”
    By the way, as much ink as the WCBS change has caused to flow, they might actually be angrier in Chicago, based on what I’ve read. Might be worth a bit more breakdown of that situation.

  2. Ed Shane
    Ed Shane says:

    Thanks for a great follow-up. Joe McCoy deserves the high praise you’ve given him. You really hit on something when you said WCBS-FM was “one of those stations that didn’t make sense to anybody besides the audience.” Nice to have somebody point out that the audience has emotional traction in every radio relationship.

  3. Jim Leven
    Jim Leven says:

    Another great essay, Sean. Thanks for the kudos you paid Joe McCoy who did a great deal for WCBS-FM over the years and who inspired many broadcasters (me included) to continue to grow their careers. WCBS-FM was a great radio station that will be missed.

  4. Clark Smidt
    Clark Smidt says:

    WCBS-FM. What a great station. When Joe had his way…it was a monster. And, it WAS New York! I grew up on East 82nd Street, NYNY. Great presentation….targeted variety. OLDIES is NOT a dead format. Very delighted to be consulting KOOL 101, New London, CT. Super response and excellent billing! The music lasts forever….just need to address the rest of the elements and keep it fresh. Here’s to a legend, Joe and all the talent. And, here’s to the next Oldies Leaders! To be continued.
    Clark Smidt

  5. Bob Duckman
    Bob Duckman says:

    A fabulous retrospective on CBS-FM. As recently as just a few months ago when visiting family in NYC, I heard CBS-FM in just about every store I went into. It was New York all the way. Its broad music was its charm along with the legendary performers who knew how to sell the product, the city and the station. The loss of WQSR was sad but the demise of CBS-FM to this oldie loving new yorker was a crushing blow. Thanks for the memories.
    Bob Duckman

  6. JC Haze
    JC Haze says:

    You nailed it, Sean…when you talked about CBS’s heritage in NY. They were actually doing “JACK” back in the 70’s & 80’s, without actually calling it “Jack.” You could tune in one moment and hear Dion & The Belmonts, and then hear “Future Gold” with a new cut from Rod Stewart(Young Turks, etc), and then go into Disco Tex’s “Get Dancin'”
    I’m not sure “Jack” is NY’s answer…but I AM sure there are lots of angry NY Metro listeners who will follow their “heroes”(dj’s), and favorite music, wherever they go! So the question remains: Who, in NY, has the guts to flip to Oldies, and blaze that new trail?

  7. Ed Salamon
    Ed Salamon says:

    Well said, Sean.
    I’ve always been a big fan of Joe McCoy and his air talent roster. He programmed the format to take advantage the unique opportunities in the New York market. As a result WCBS-FM listeners were very passionate about their station.
    Ed Salamon

  8. john gehron
    john gehron says:

    When I programmed WCBS-FM in 1972 it was designed to be broad and even included currents. At that time the format’s appeal was 25-34 and I was concerned that the audience wasn’t ready to give up their currents. We also didn’t have the specialization we do now. I’m sorry to see it go because it was so connected and sounded so New York. Joe McCoy did a great job of hiring the best of New York top 40 talent as they became available.

  9. J.C. Douglas
    J.C. Douglas says:

    I was shocked to hear that my favourite NYC station had flipped to an established format (with questionable legs) rather than New York blazing the radio trail.
    I know nothing about the station’s politics, I only know what I hear on my frequent visits to the big town, most recently a couple of weeks ago. I questioned the wisdom of the Mickey Dolenz morning show – I liked the star-power concept and the authenticity Mickey lent the format, but the station seemed much more 70’s focused than 60’s, and Mickey came off like a first-year radio student … but again, credit for the idea. Elsewhere in Programming however, did you notice that every song with a fade ending would fade almost to zero before the next item or jock would kick in? This was not coincidental … it was as consistent as any other production element on the station, and this is as tightly produced a station as any in the country. Speculation is often dangerous, but it seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to the common focus group complaint, “I hate it when you cut my song off early!!” But would you sacrifice the station’s overall ENERGY to appease that complaint? And is that really what such a complaint would be provoked by? Just let each song fade long enough to be faithful to the recording, no need to go overboard.
    Much like KRTH 101, the existence (and success) of these exciting, personality-focused heritage stations underscored the power that “Oldies” can have (in Canada, it hasn’t happened on FM at all, since we can’t play all “hits” from pre-1981 on FM … Oldies only lives on the poorly attended AM band up here, but that’s another story). I applauded WOMC in Detroit when they hired Dick Purtan and Tom Ryan. And Dick Biondi still on the air in Chicago? Wow!!! Sorry to say it’s no longer.
    One reason CBS-FM never disappointed was because no matter how tight the playlist got, I could never listen a whole hour or two without hearing at least one song I didn’t know. And as a 40-year-old listener to Oldies, that should be the case!
    So why does a station generating so much revenue in NYC change format? The radio fan in me has a hard time reconciling the revolving door of formats, when such a station is billing top ten in the country.
    And so far wcbsfm.com is still playing the “greatest hits of all time” … but without disc jockeys. What fun is that??

  10. Charles Everett
    Charles Everett says:

    Allow this longtime listener (’76-on) to digress.
    CBS-FM was coasting on its reputation the last 15 years. What killed it was lack of creativity plus 20-minute spotloads.
    Did CBS-FM ever acknowledge “The Doo-Wop Box” series? Not that I know of. Did the station do anything around “Pulp Fiction”? Don’t think so. Too wrapped up in the old warhorses (Elvis, Beach Boys, Beatles, Motown).
    “WCBS-FM always played the pop ’70s.” I had my car radio tuned to 101.1 on Memorial Day and heard “I Think I Love You” by The Partridge Family into “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Cool segue! The stinger in between told me who pulled it off: B101 — an AC station from Philadelphia. CBS-FM hardly played “I Think I Love You” unless it was in a feature or specialty show.
    At the end of its life CBS-FM wasn’t your father’s Oldsmobile. It was old, period.

  11. dan vallie
    dan vallie says:

    Thanks for the CBS FM tribute.
    Not enough can be said about Joe Mccoy.
    He did what most programmers say they do but really don’t. Most say they program to their market and specific competitive situation. That is often said, but almost as often not true, at least to degree it was true with CBS-fm.
    All you have to do is listen from market to market to hear similar stations imitating sounds in other markets.
    Joe had vision, courage and understanding of how to create a unique product/radio station for New York. Any way you measure him, you have to say he is one of the best ever.
    I have respected his work and how he has carried himself professionally for many years.
    Hats off to Joe Mccoy, the reason WCBS-fm was so successful over the last manay years.

  12. Guy Zapoleon
    Guy Zapoleon says:

    It’s time radio woke up to the fact that when a station is known for “variety”, that means bigger, deeper playlists. Radio can’t touch us the way it did when it was such a huge part of our lives as the “companion medium” without our friends on the radio– great air personalities. CBS-FM was great because it did both so well! Thanks for your excellent illuminations of these points, Sean.

  13. Sean Ross
    Sean Ross says:

    In all this outpouring of (mostly) good will for CBS-FM and (entirely) good will for Joe McCoy, one correspondent–who asked not to be identified–made one very valid point that bears inclusion. CBS-FM, he notes, was a full-service radio station with news at the top of the hour during most of the day, traffic and weather throughout the day, and a weatherman who doubled as morning sidekick. It’s been full-service stations, whether they’re local N/T outlets or NPR that have siphoned boomers away from music radio. So it’s not insignificant that full-service elements remain a part of so many successful stations, whether they’re WMJI Cleveland or WLNG Long Island, N.Y.

  14. Cliff Blake
    Cliff Blake says:

    While the closest I ever got to programming oldies was Classic hits, WCBS-FM always represented an icon– no, a beacon to demonstrate how to do radio ‘right’. Sean, thanks for an insightful look back. I’m not convinced that switching to the ‘format of the month’ will either be the salvation of that frequency, or answer the greater need that programmers have of how to better reflect the listeners growing need for iPod-like variety. But thanks also to Ed, Clark, Guy Dan, John and others for adding such thoughtful pages to this CBS-FM farewell guestbook.

  15. Joe McCoy
    Joe McCoy says:

    I’d like to thank you & everyone else for the nice things that are being said about me & CBS-FM.
    Radio pro’s who signed in know the real reason why we were successful…we always “seized the moment” & were not afraid to take chances….The great Personalities talked to our listeners,not at them…we made them feel passion for the radio station. Yes,we were full service because we were talking to adults and they needed info. We played music that the Tri-State area loves and did things that would touch them like “Christmas Wish” & “The Rock n’ Roll Radio Greats Reunions”.
    You’re right,PD’s around the country never really understood CBS-FM mainly because many lacked the “gut & feel” part of programming. We all had research but, programming a great radio station takes more than that. It’s the confidence to take chances and do what you think is the right thing.
    I guess you could say CBS-FM was “Joe” before Jack ever came into being. We were variety personified. It was every New York Joe & Jean!
    For me personally,it was something I’ll never forget because for 21 of my 23 years there it was all in my hands to create & win.
    I’m looking forward to new opportunities in radio on July 12th.
    Thanks again to all of the great listeners who loved our station!
    Joe McCoy

  16. Harvey
    Harvey says:

    I stumbled onto your sight because I was seaching for reasons of the 101 FM demise. I am a product of WMCA,WABC and later WCBS FM. I grew up in Brooklyn and live in Connecticut and yearn for the format of my youth. What a shame. I have an ipod, but it does not play Harry Harrison, Ingram, Lundy, Daniels, Dean Anthony. Ed Baer, Herb Oscar or Joe O’Brien and Benny! I am a NY radio junkie who strives and reads Rick Sklar and books on NY radio. It has allowed me to reflect on my youth, remember the Good Guys, All Americans and those who I listend to on a Channelmaster transistor radio under my pillow in 1965. Or on Brighton Beach in 1966. This is a violation of youth and memories. JACK this!

  17. Bob Gillan
    Bob Gillan says:

    I was introduced to music by my older brother and fast became a disciple of Music radio 77-WABC. I switched to WOR-FM oldies and remember the likes of Bobby Wayne, Bill Brown and Tom Clayon on their debut day in 1969 at WCBS-FM. As Oldies 101 emerged a few years later they brough back the innocent youth I had, the simpler times of the 60’s. NOW IT IS A DAMN SHAME THEY WALK AWAY FOR JACK…jack spit.

  18. Bob Hamilton
    Bob Hamilton says:

    As one of the “mature” programmers of today, I have to take a “tip of the hat” to Joe McCoy at WCBS-FM. Some comments were made of how it was different, what is was, how it played. In all you have to say it was “Joe” before “Jack”. We all have done many things that we as programmers felt was the right thing. Cause we found out what the audience liked. It worked for me for 10 years at K-EARTH 101. Each station is different cause the market make up is different! The format in whatever you call it, IS NOT DEAD! Just wall-street’d to death! Carry on!

  19. Allan Brady
    Allan Brady says:

    After leaving NYC, where I grew up on Staten Island, to persue a radio career, I always compared other oldies stations to WCBS-FM. When the opportrunity sprang up I would try to convince programmers to take a chance and get away from the Fried 500…to no avail.
    Time proved that Joe McCoy knew the music, the listener and The City. It was a shame when he left WCBS-FM…it was even more shameful that the format was changed.
    The two days the music died was the day WABC went talk and last Friday.
    After many years away from my hometown, my goal was to someday work for WCBS-FM, but I no longer have the desire to return. It’s like your parents are dead and the house you grew up in is now gone. No sense going back.

  20. andrea d. wiener
    andrea d. wiener says:

    Yeah, but, Sean, you leave out one HUGE reason (for the most part) for CBSFM’s success over most of the past 33 years–air personalities/chemistry.
    Oh, sure, the PDs (Brown/Miller/Gehron/Vanderheyden/McCoy/Logan) did a decent enough job, BUT it was the RIGHT air personalities with the RIGHT chemistry that made it work. Dolenz did NOT have the right chemistry with ANYBODY, no matter how much Logan or Bloch or anyone else tried to make us believe otherwise. It just wasn’t so.
    (long-time listener of 21 YEARS!!)

  21. Matt Seinberg
    Matt Seinberg says:

    Bob Hamilton and Joe McCoy hit the nail on the head. Programming is not always by the book, by all the research and by consultants. Alot of it is “gut programming,” through years of experience. Does Chad Brown, GM of WCBS-FM have 23, or even 10 years of oldies programming experience? I doubt it…to blow up a heritage station like WCBS-FM is a move designed to outrage people, and to garner attention to a huge change. They have gotten so much free publicity from this change to JACK that no amount of money could have done the same thing.
    I remember listening to Dick Heatherton during the afternoon, as he played “Future Gold” and gave weather for the “Island Of Long,” and making his listeners feel that he was their friend. To have Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, Dan Ingram, Dan Daniel, Cousin Bruce Morrow, Bobby Jay, Don K. Reed, Bob Shannon, Randy Davis, Dan Taylor, and Mike Fitzgerald gone is like losing a part of your family.
    Will the outrage of the listeners, and the boycott of advertisers force Infinity to bring back the oldies? I doubt it…the jocks are probably so outraged at how they were treated that I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t want to go back, though the listeners would hope that they would. Either way, good luck to them all!

  22. Vincent
    Vincent says:

    Some perceptive comments in this thread…I can remember moving to north Jersey in 1979 and discovering WCBS-FM, which even though it was an “oldies” station had more of a Top 40 spirit than the waning WABC and the wannabe WNBC.
    I can recall WCBS-FM playing current hits that fit the format, such as Nick Lowe’s “Cruel To Be Kind” and Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, as close as the station came to the “new wave”-era WPIX. Sad to say, neither song received much, if any, airplay on WCBS-FM in its later years — arguably an indictment of a tightened format that lessened the station’s appeal.
    I mourn the loss of WCBS-FM and, above all, its personalities — WABC/WMCA alums like Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie and Ron Lundy, as well as more recent additions such as Bob Shannon (whose work I’ve enjoyed since his Don Bombard days at WOLF in my hometown of Syracuse). They loved the music, loved their listeners, and never needed the veneer of “attitude.” It was radio with heart, and sad to say, we’re increasingly in a heartless society.

  23. MarkDaniels
    MarkDaniels says:

    CBS FM was the best station of its kind in its day. Not only did they play plenty of songs but they had some of the best air personalities that could not be matched anywhere.
    Actually sister CBS Oldies stations back in the late 80’s played over 1000 songs. They all were far deeper with the 50’s and 60’s. On an old Billboard article from 1990 where Joe McCoy was program director of the week he stated even without 70’s and 80’s music they played well over 1000 songs. All along they played quite a few 70’s songs per hour. The 80’s ranged from a couple an hour to one every three hours.
    Also in the early 90’s adn late 90’s adjustments to what was played were made day to day at some points. CBS FM musically was predictably unpredictable. I spoke to Joe about a dozen times between 1989 and 2001 and every time he was very professional. It was indeed a pleasure speaking to him when I had questions about CBS FM and even radio in general.
    I had the pleasure of playing oldies on the radio at an FM oldies station in upstate New York for about a year. Today they are an AC station. They though evolved gradually. They also were quite deep in their music selection playing about 1300 songs but cutting off at about 1973. In the 8 years I worked in radio the Oldies format was my favorite.
    From the late 80’s up to 2001 about 75 % of my radio listening was to CBS FM. It was more than just the music. The station had real personality and that type of station had become a dying breed.
    It seemed that starting in 2001 CBS FM was being forced to modify. It seemed I was hearing closer to 1000 songs initially and no overnight currenst but the 80’s and 70’s a bit more often and one less pre 64 song an hour. Plus Music For Lovers Only, Jukebox Saturday Night, Friday Night Heart & Soul Of rock & Roll, Monday Night 70’s, and Thursday Night 60’s disappeared at the end of January. This was the beginning of what was to come.
    By the Spring of 2002 the music selection was thinning out a bit more. That Fall though the Doo Wop Shop disappeared and the music selection was not what it used to be. I just pulled back listening. The airstaff while still excellent just did not have the same feel anymore. All but about 30 or 40 50’s songs were gone.
    In 2003 the Top 20 oldies Countdowns were gone But heart Of Rock & Roll returned Sunday Nights. In 2004 the music thinned from about 800 songs to about 400. All but about a dozen 50’s songs and about 10 to 12 80’s songs were gone. From 2003 to the end my listening to CBS FM was down to about an hour a week basically out of curiousity.
    From 2002 on I have been quite unhappy with CBS FM. Still there was hope as long as they were still around that things could get better. Still thanks new technology in computers and sound I indeed listen to all the great songs heard on CBS FM through my computer and sound system. I simply program all the great songs similar to the way CBS FM did and listen to the Greatest hits from 1954-1990 (and if I am up on overnights a few new songs). Still it does not replace CBS FM. The personality is now what I miss.
    I really miss the CBS FM of 1995-1999. At that point there was an excellent balance of 50’s music and 70’s music along with an 80’s here & there. There indeed will never be another CBS FM again.

  24. Mike McCann
    Mike McCann says:

    My compliments on your column regarding the demise of WCBS-FM’s oldies format. I’m Mike McCann, former WCBS-FM weekender and a “loyal listener” going back to the summer the station began.
    Looking back over its 33-year run, the CBS-FM’s oldies format debuted the summer I bought my first car (1972). After groovin’ to the hits on 77 and 97 (as in WWDJ), I flipped my FM-converter in my Chevy Vega on and discovered a world of music I had only known in fragments coming from 101.1… Sure, I recognized “Rock Around the Clock,” as well as the Elvis, Coasters and Drifters titles that occasionally made their way onto WABC. Gradually, thanks to CBS-FM, I became aware of an entire rock and roll world that existed before I was a “P1,” as well as the other early and mid ’60s hits that WABC had stopped playing and WWDJ never aired.
    I began learning about this music, the stars, the artists and a bit of the era. And the formatics were fun — good jocks, nice jingles and a smooth production style reminiscent of the WOR-FM sound of a few years earlier.
    The next summer, I went to the station’s first anniversary concert, a 37-performer marathon in Central Park. A remarkable event.
    As my dreams of an on-air career became real, CBS-FM became my competitor (for those of us at WYNY), always standing for quality music and classy jocks. A noble competitor that got its act together right around when ‘YNY was at its peak. By the time 97.1 went country (1987), CBS-FM was a juggernaut, with classic New York jocks and WABC-style format wrinkles enhancing its sound and reputation. It became my goal to work there — a station where you could be yourself, share your love for the music and the times it represented here in the tri-state area. On CBS-FM, you could connect with an audience not ashamed to be nostalgic.
    I got lucky. Very lucky. My professional friendship with Joe McCoy led to an opportunity to help CBS launch an FM oldies station in St. Louis that became home for seven years (1988-95). And when my family came back east, I had only one radio goal left — to work for Joe and CBS-FM.
    It came true in stages. In the summer of 1997, CBS-FM became one of the first stations to sign on for Hot Wax Daily, a music news, feature and soundbite service geared to oldies stations and syndicated by MJI Broadcasting (since merged into Premiere Radio Networks). A year later, Joe offered me the chance to do some fill in work. Occasional shifts late at night became more frequent. Eventually, I became the #1 understudy for Norm N Nite on the Top 20 Countdowns, working the Saturday slot between the icons Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie. By February 2001, the slot became mine permanently, and I was in radio heaven.
    The next year, when CBS-FM turned 30, my story of that 1973 Central Park concert was featured on the station webpage.
    Sure, things hadn’t gone as swimmingly the last two or three years, but the station that tapped the memory bank of those a bit older than mine, became the center of my radio memories and the proudest address of my radio career.
    My dream came true. I’m just sorry it didn’t last a bit longer.

  25. John Reed
    John Reed says:

    Enjoyed your article on the end of WCBS-FM’s Oldies format for corporate America’s
    heaven: radio with liners, music, and none of those pesky announcers reflecting the market.

  26. Ron McKay
    Ron McKay says:

    Commercial Radio is DYING! Jack, Bob & DICK will not save it from the tarpits. Venturing around the world the past few weeks….all my wife and I heard was 60’s and 70’s OLDIES; in malls, restaurants, airports, hotels, etc. Not one John Mayer or Dave Matthews Band, etc. The future is IPODS, Cable and the Internet. So….is OLDIES dead? Only in the minds of the “Bean Counters.”
    Ron McKay

  27. InwoodParkNYC
    InwoodParkNYC says:

    Special songs trigger special memories from our youth. Jack has stripped me of my music and my memories will soon fade.
    This is an outrage. WCBS-FM was by pool-side companion in summer – I swim alone now.

  28. Peter Mc Lane
    Peter Mc Lane says:

    I don’t think JACK will run for 33 years.
    I don’t think we will hear passion for JACK like we have heard from listeners and broadcasters for CBS-FM.
    How much personality is there in an Ipod?

  29. Jeannie
    Jeannie says:

    What a shame – I feel as if I’ve lost a family member or close friend. Although I’ve tried listening to WCBS.com, it isn’t the same – no radio personalities, no news, no weather.
    How sad. How unnecessary.

  30. Patrick Cloonan
    Patrick Cloonan says:

    First of all, as usual, good writing on the subject. But allow me two points made by correspondents. As per the mix of artists, one of the things that stand out about pre-Beatle (and even, to an extent, post-Beatle) rock ‘n roll radio is the ability for a DJ to toss in Elvis, the Beatles, the Skyliners and Petula Clark in a set. And the full-service radio station, so regrettably an endangered species, still could be the salvation of an industry trying to head off I-Pods and satellite subscription radio and the cookie-cutter mentality of corporate heads in San Antonio and New York (just to name a pair). Thanks again.

  31. Larry Stoler
    Larry Stoler says:

    Thank you for an excellent article about WCBS FM.
    I have kept up with radio for 48 years. I have never seen as strong a backlash to a format change and a loss of personalities as what took place on June 3, 2,005.
    Joe McCoy deserves a lot of credit for what made WCBS FM a success for many years. It wasn’t just the music although the way it was programmed was a big part of it. It was the personalities that talked to the audience and not at it. This is an art that has been forgotten or is not taken seriously by programmers and decision makers in radio today.
    When I heard the typical good times, great oldies 300 song oldies station, I always said that one acception existed at least throughout most of its 33 years and that was WCBS FM. I never understood why other programmers didn’t try to copy or use elements of it around the country.
    I feel that many mistakes were made at WCBS FM over the past three years. For example, I never understood the idea of making an oldies station sound current. I don’t think the audience wants a morning show that talks about reality TV shows on an oldies station. They want to be reminded of a time when they first heard these songs.
    Also taking the word oldies out of the presentation is something I don’t get. People still refer to this music as oldies and I don’t know anyone that gets angry or tunes out when they hear that term. Do you? I doubt it.
    I think Jack, Ben, Frank, Mike, whatever you want to call it is the format of the month. It is being done in a world where people want a quick return on their investment so they can sell the station or if they don’t get it, change it again.
    Thank you for a great tribute to a station that deserves it and one that we will always fondly remember.

  32. Bob Walker
    Bob Walker says:

    Sean – great stuff as always. When I read about listener outrage, I can’t help but appreciate the irony of the situation. Here is the generation that “never trusted anyone over 30.” But now thier music is disappearing on the radio. Humm … very similar to when beautiful music and adult standards gave way to oldies on many frequencies around the USA. I guess the BIG CHILL has indeed hit the baby boomer generation.

  33. Chris
    Chris says:

    Now NYC is without an oldies station. Somethings just shouldn’t be. I’ll miss WCBS-FM and all the great memories, DJ’s, and music. I love the 50’s-70’s. Losing WCBS-FM is like losing the New York Jets or Yankees. Can you imagine New York without the Yankees? How about without WCBS-FM? Not smart at all. I don’t believe it. NYC better get another oldies station. I hate to say, but Philadelphia still has one. They have one up on NYC. The Big Apple just turned sour.

  34. Liz
    Liz says:

    I had to move away (unfortunately)from NY 8 years ago. But everytime I go “home” the first thing I do when I get in the rent-a-car is tune the radio to WCBS-FM. Well, that’s what I did when I took a quick trip home with my husband a couple of weeks ago. We arrived at Islip at around noon on Friday, June 3rd, had lunch in Port Jefferson and arrived in Manhattan at around 4:30. Of course the whole time we had the radio tuned to WCBS-FM. We knew we were home. On Sunday, we got back in the car to drive back out to the Island, turned on the radio and – what?–what’s wrong with the radio? It’s broken! What is the problem here?
    We could NOT believe it.
    Has Infinity lost its mind? For 25 years I had been listening to this radio station (yes, even online). I can’t tell you how I miss it, it’s great personalities, the news, the weather…………
    I just feel so grateful I happened to be in NY when it died. I at least got to hear it in its last few minutes (little did I know).
    Please, someone, bring it back somehow.

  35. Harvey
    Harvey says:

    Great article, Sean!
    I remember the first time I ever heard WCBS-FM. It was 1972, and I was 10 years old. I was in a store, and they were playing the then new (unbeknownst to me) WCBS- and Little Darlin’ by the Diamonds came on. When I got home, I found 101.1 on my transistor radio dial, and WCBS-FM became the station I’d listen to from then on, displacing the top 40 WABC, and PIX-FM.
    CBS-FM helped to preserve the serenity and fun of “the old world”- a world inhabited buy real people and good moral values- the world that was being overthrown in the 70’s for the new world of corporate life and financial values. I was a resident of that old world, and CBS helped keep that mentality alive through the music and the people who loved that music.
    By the late 80’s I had pretty much stopped listening to CBS-FM (except for Bob Shannon, whose show I would always catch if I was near a radio while it was on). The DJ’s talked too much; there were too many commercials (and many of the commercials did not fit the format- advertisers catering to an oldies market should strive to make their commercials blend into the format. When I’m listening to music from the past, I don’t want to be jolted into the present every time a commercial comes on) and the playlist was too limited and repetitive. They had virtually stopped playing stuff from the 50’s, and they were playing new music. I’ll always remember the old CBS-FM, and all the years of comfort and memories. I’ve since moved away from NYC, but I’ll always remember CBS as the soundtrack of my life- it was there with me on my first job; it was playing in my first car. It made life more pleasant by helping us escape the realities of the present and recalling a time when things were better. It’s a travesty to lose a station like that….but no matter how you slice it, commercial radio is dead- and even if someone had the sense to bring back good programming with limited commercials, I still don’t see radio prospering, as we are all just too overloaded with advertising, and the advertising bubble (much like the real estate bubble) is going to burst, as it’s seams have been strained for too long already- the country is over-saturated with advertising.

  36. andrea d. wiener
    andrea d. wiener says:

    GREAT postings, ALL of you!! But with the exception of Mike McCann, the rest of you guys are TOTALLY missing the ball on this one!
    Oh, sure, the music will always hold up and there were great guys (and some not so great) as program directors; HOWEVER (and I have said this to so many over the last two weeks), the ONLY REASON that WCBSFM lasted as LONG as it did, doing what it did, was because of the air personalities. Oh, sure, there were some that were not cut out for the station or the format (Sue O’Neil, Micky Dolenz, just to name two), but on the WHOLE, the mix of personalities over ALL 33 years was PERFECT–and they related so well to the listeners and we related well to them. THAT’S THE SECRET OF WCBS-FM’S 33-YEAR SUCCESS!!
    andrea d. wiener
    new york city

  37. Ed Osborne
    Ed Osborne says:

    I joined CBS-FM shortly after it went gold and soon found myself working at the top FM in America. A number of programmers, most notably Joe McCoy, helped keep it in the Top 10 for years/decades afterwards. Then there were all the great personalities, not the least of which were Don K. Reed and Bill Brown. They were there in 1972 and were still spinning the oldies in 2005.
    While it’s always sad to see an old friend retired, think of it this way. Is it likely CBS-FM’s replacement, Jack, will be remembered in 2038?
    Let the critics rail. New York knows what they don’t. In an ever-changing world, CBS-FM was always there, doing what radio does best: informing and entertaining. Thanks to all for 33 years of good times!

  38. Paul Whitworth
    Paul Whitworth says:

    So sad to find that WCBS-FM New York has turned it’s back on a large percentage of loyal listeners.
    New york city has lost a great radio station.
    I remember while on vacation in New York back in the summer of 1980 and tuning my portable radio for the first time into WCBS and i recal what a great mix of music and with fab disc jockeys with great personalities,and ever since my first vacation to your great city i always enjoyed listening to WCBS-FM.
    I hoped one day i would be able to listen to the true sound of WCBS-FM here in Birmingham England via the internet,sadly that dream died last week.
    Paul Whitworth
    Birmingham England

  39. Mark
    Mark says:

    I, too, was a product of WABC, WMCA, WOR-FM, and then WCBS-FM. Though I’ve lived in PA for the last 10 years, I wrote to the Mayor, Infinity, and everyone else I could think of when the DooWop Shop was pulled on Sunday nights. They did it at WOGL as well, and the loyal listeners were actually listened to. Harvey Holiday’s Street Corner Sunday was brought back. So write a letter to Infinity telling them that even though you have gray hair, YOU are the one spending the money with the advertisers. Sad day to see CBS-FM go by the wayside. Good luck to all the great jocks who saw me through my youth. God Bless them all!

  40. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    I was shocked when hitting the first button on my car radio to hear this jack radio,I thought there was something wrong with my radio.New York was robbed of a great radio station after 33 years.I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!!!.Mr. Infinity,in my opinion you made a big mistake.I recommend “jack” meet “jill” and go over the hill ,and stay there for “infinity”.By the way I erased 101,1 from my radio’s.To all the guys @ CBS the real 101.1 FM,Keep the faith Because your listeners are.
    Charlie from Brooklyn

  41. Neal
    Neal says:

    I am 55 years old and have lived in Albuquerque, N M for over 15 years,and you know what I still have my CBS FM T shirt,my ROCK ON WITH NORM N NITE baseball jersey, my CBS FM refrigerater magnet, and even two GOOD GUY sweatshirts.
    If you did not grow up or rather older listening to these greats,it is very difficult to understand the emotions.
    While reading these notes tears actually came to my eyes.
    I actually was such a big fan of WABC I taped and still have the final show that Big Dan Ingram did with Ron Lundy.I listened to it on a trip from N Y to New Mexico,15 years ago,and now yearn to hear it again.
    When ever I visit The City the Hertz car finds 101.1 and the current Mets station, sadly I cant do this again.
    Ironically Abq and Santa Fe had 3 oldies stations till last year, now we are down to one.
    Big oldies 98.5 with Bobby Box(an icon here)and Steve Suttle, and Scotter Sherwood,its litterally my fix for CBS FM.
    The jingles sound like old CBS FM ones, sometimes in fact they are,I find myself singing the call letters CBS FM NEY YORK, silly but true.
    I remember when CBS FM had to identify itself as 101.1 and not 101, small memories,but probably shared by a lot more people than I ever realised
    Thanks For The Memories

  42. Mona
    Mona says:

    I am not as happy at work because I don’t have CBS to listened to. My day drags and I am so upset I now listen to the news. How depressing.
    Please come back you are missed.

  43. John M
    John M says:

    I have to say I am lost these days while in my car listening to the radio, there is a station on LI which seems to fade and there is one in Conn.that too fades and some Caribbean Station takes over that slot, I guess the next time we hear Oldies Music will be next Memorial Day when WABC does the rewound show. I would still enjoy hearing Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram and the other guys again some where and not on Pay Radio, not ready for another bill.

  44. Bob Tarsio
    Bob Tarsio says:

    I had the opportunity to design and build the present studio complex of WCBS FM and as it turned out the last studios that the radio greats would use all under one roof. I was a corporate engineer with Viacom International at the time that Viacom acquired CBS and Infinity Broadcasting in 1999. WCBS FM’s move to the corporate headquarters became my responibity and great fortune. For a short time I got to work with Harry Harrison, Dan Daniel, Bill Brown, and Bob Shannon every day. Occasionally, Dan Ingram, Bruce Morrow, Bobby Jay, Don K. Reed and the other weekend guys would come by too. To be able to work with all of these guys and to build studios that they would use for at least half a decade was a priveledge. To share some of their experiences and history of the radio business was invaluable to me.
    Growing up in a suburb of New York most of these voices were my friends since youth. My dream to be chief engineer at the station they all worked at was a dream come true. I was CE of WCBS FM for only about six months during the studio construction. When it was done, I went back upstairs to work in my old department. What will last the rest of my life is the experience of working with some of the best people in the business.
    WCBS FM may be gone but it will not soon be forgotten.
    Bob Tarsio
    Cortlandt Manor, NY

  45. Amy Auerbach
    Amy Auerbach says:

    It’s been almost 3 months now since the untimely demise of CBS-FM, and I still haven’t gotten over the shock of turning on my radio the evening of June 3 and thinking I had lost the signal. When I see a bus pass by with the an ad for JACK-FM, I get sick to my stomach, and when I hear how bad JACK is doing in the ratings, all I can think is “What did they expect?!!!” I’ve discovered what I miss most are the familiar jingles and wonderful on-air personalities who made the station so great. The music I can hear any time -I have a large CD collection, or I can turn on MusicChoice on TV. And eventually I hope to get a satellite radio. But not hearing the jocks is a huge loss — I had the pleasure of speaking to most of them on the air when I’d do dedications or win call-in contests, as well as meet them, along with other loyal listeners, in person at various CBS-FM events. They weren’t just on-air personalities — they were my radio friends, and I doubt if any other radio station can make their listeners feel about them the way CBS-FM made me, and other listeners, feel.

  46. Bill G
    Bill G says:

    I was totally in shock to hear that wcbs 101.1 radio changed it’s format. I was a loyal listner for many years residing in New Jersey & also listned to it down here in Florida on my computer. I won’t be listening to anymore, without the disc jockys. It’s not all abot music, music, music, the D’J’s make the station too! But that’s modern technology they say. Ha! Ha! Thank you for hearing me!

  47. MJ DACE
    MJ DACE says:


  48. Bill Rock
    Bill Rock says:

    I wanted to wait until the dust settled a little until making a comment about CBS-FM. Joe is right about programming to New York. I have been in New York Radio since the middle 1960’s. I left briefly and returned in 1970 on WWDJ later I spent 3 years on WNBC, then 16 years on WYNY, and more recently on CBS-FM until it changed to Jack. In addition,as an announcer on the NBC television network, United Stations, Westwood one and today being on air on three channels of Sirius Satellite Radio (including the 60’s channel) all based in New York, I think I’ve learned a little about New York Radio.

    New York is an experience. There is nothing like it in America. Not only is it big, its unique in countless ways. And if you’re not a New Yorker it might be difficult to understand why CBS-FM was an icon. Yet there are certain programming axioms that apply everywhere. The most important is relevance. CBS-FM was always relevant. It wasn’t just the music. It knew its audience and what they wanted, what they were thinking, their values, their likes and dislikes. And the on air staff was there because it knew these things and had the ability to relate to its audience. It was the last mainstream personality radio station in the city. Some of the most talented people in the industry worked there at one time or another.

    Sure radio changes because people grow tired of the same diet, but that’s not what the change to Jack was all about. CBS-FM wasn’t ready for the pine box.The demonization of demos over 50 is puzzling. The excuse given is that Madison Ave. likes younger demos because they can be easily lead and that older demos are set in their ways. Joe and I were recently talking about this. We belong to the generation that invented rock and roll. Not to mention how many “boomers” there are in America and how much disposable income we have. We don’t buy the same cars over and over again and we own DVD players and Ipods. So we’re not worth advertising to?

    They changed from CBS-FM to Jack because they could, just as WYNY changed from country to disco. KTU rose and it too dropped off, but that core of country listeners that followed YNY (one million plus cume) will always be there and the irony of it is YNY had the largest cume of any country station in the America. Why, because it was in New York. And in spite of the fact that the CMA’s were held in New York this year, there is no country station, outside of Satellite, which is really national.

    I really feel badly for the listeners in New York. Simply put, they loved CBS-FM. Yes it was the music , yes it had all the components, even news and community committment, a rarity on music stations, promotion etc.,but most of all it was a dependable old friend, something else that is rare in our ever changing society.

    By the way Joe McCoy and I have been friends since we first worked together in 1967 at WAVZ in New Haven and later at WNBC. Just prior to his leaving CBS-FM he hired me to be a part of the air staff. Through the years the on air and programming staff did a wonderful job of molding CBS-FM. Even though in the largest radio market in America, as a New Yorkers (local knowledge)… they “got it”.

  49. kc
    kc says:

    Sadly There are no more oldies channels left that play that great Doo Wop sound. I hadn’t known of their demise since I live further upstate and cannot always get that channel. I tuned in recently when I thought conditions were right for a clear shot and heard instead “JACK”. I asked someone to check it out when they were traveling closer to the channel signal ( downstate) and found out it was true. Today I mourn for a really good oldies station. Is there not anyone who realizes that NY was built upon the dyunamic sounds of doo-wop and r & r. Thanks for a wonderful essay.

  50. Laszlo A. Voros
    Laszlo A. Voros says:

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    bring back CBS FM. 101. I hate Jack FM.
    I despise hip hop and rap. And Q104 won’t play all of the songs CBS did.
    I miss great songs like “I’m your puppet.”
    And “Runaround Sue”. “Jailhouse Rock”.
    And “Johnny B. Goode”.And of course Monkees music.
    Oh won’t you please please help me, send Jack FM to radio oblivion.

  51. andy
    andy says:

    I understand the fans of the old CBS-FM resenting the change in format…I also understand that their ratings towards the end of the oldies format were dropping too as they changed the music, for whatever reason over the final few years. I think Jack FM was the closest thing to a natural progression, when the numbers are falling the way it was said they did. I was told I could catch Jack online, and I have to say I was apprehensive before I tuned it in…but I also have to say I listened for a good long time before I started hearing songs again, and I didn’t hear any more than five or six songs that I didn’t care for when I finally did tune in. Long Island has B103.1, Connecticut has Kool 101, Philly has WOGL, all available online. I know this is no substitute for a lot of listeners but I’ve also been in radio for most opf my life and I know when changes come like this, nine times out of ten, things don’t go back to what they once were. Ask anyone who’s been let go if they’d go back to the place that pink slipped them. I’ve still been pleasantly surprised listening to 101.1 Jack FM everytime I’ve tuned them in. It’s been almost two years and they’re not gone, and that’s more than the former WNEW-FM can say with their format changes of the month…

  52. Patty
    Patty says:

    While I love CBS-FM I miss the real oldies. Music from the 50’s and 60’s. Sure the 70’s are ok but I love the music you can sing to and make out the actual words, and slow dance to. What happened to that. I’m sure that I am not alone heck we still go to oldie concerts. Bring back Edda James, Del Vikings, The Jive Five and all the others that channel 13 and 21 advertise to buy the CD’s and Videos. Come on, if you are going to do varity then really do varity….. You have the music PLAY IT!!! And that is my opinion.

  53. Richard Phillips
    Richard Phillips says:

    WCBS FM under the eye and ear of Joe McCoy the station was super! The jack format killed it for sure. I live in Connecticut and could get the station when I lived in New Haven but when I moved out to Northford, CT I lost the signal. I even put a rotating antennae on my roof but it just could not get the signal. I did it mainly to tune in to the doowop shop. I also host a 36 year long running doowop show on the internet at http://www.wnhu.net Tuesdays from 6pm to 8pm and on Wednesdays from 10am to noon. East coast time. I interviewed Don K Reed several times on the show and he is a real cool guy. Good article about the “old” CBS FM!


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