The History of WNEW-FM

In March 2008, CBS Radio re-launched its now legendary WNEW
radio station, which first began broadcasting on Halloween, 1967 and ran in its
original format until the mid 1980s. 
During its time, WNEW 102.7 FM would become the archetypal progressive rock radio station and would play a
large role in shaping the New York music scene over the next two decades.  With its famous cast of disc-jockeys,
including the likes of Scott Muni, Alison “The Nightbird” Steele, Rosko and
others, the station’s wide influence brought fame and recognition to many up
and coming rock, punk and new wave artists. 
WNEW’s combination of cutting edge music, studio interviews, live
performances and unique on-air personalities created a dynamic and engaging
experience for listeners in the New York area.


The station’s free-form programming style, where DJs were
allowed to choose the tracks they played on their show, led to the broadcasting
of a diverse range of music and allowed WNEW to quickly evolve with the current
musical tastes – a quality to which many credit the long term success of the
station.  This format also allowed the
DJs to develop shows that reflected their own personalities and musical
tastes.  There were veteran jockeys like
Scott Muni, who spent years broadcasting in Top 40 AM radio, alongside younger
DJs like Vin Scelsa and Pete Fornatale, products of the vibrant late 1960’s
college radio scene, as well as DJs that defied categorization like Alison “The
Nightbird” Steele, whose spacey late-night program attracted a huge cult


The WNEW DJs also acted as music gurus to the rock and roll
fans of the Tri-State area.  In addition
to spinning old favorites, the WNEW jockeys considered it their mission to
expose listeners to new and overlooked music. 
Not only did they strive to play music that suited listeners’ tastes,
they sought to expand those tastes.  As a
result of the free-form programming, the WNEW DJs became the original mix-tape
artists.  By paying close attention to
song selection and sequencing they were able to assemble musical collages that
created specific moods and ambiances for their shows.  And furthermore, the emphasis was always on
the music.  These DJs were not the
outrageous “shock-jock” entertainers of today’s radio, but rather acted as
friendly guides to accompany and inform listeners.  With their welcoming hospitality and friendly
didacticism the WNEW staff revealed the potential for community in electronic
media.  Many listeners claimed to feel
close personal connections with their favorite DJs despite having never met
them, and would tune in to shows much in the same way that people tune in to
their favorite television shows today.


WNEW was also instrumental in breaking many of the biggest
names of the era to wider audiences in the New York area.   Bruce Springsteen was one of the early
heroes of the station, gaining significant exposure through airplay, in-studio
interviews and live broadcasts of concerts in 1975 and 1978.  John Lennon was another regular guest at the
WNEW studios, doing guest DJ segments and interviews with his friend Scott
Muni.  In fact, Lennon’s last interview
before his untimely death was recorded at WNEW and his funeral, including a ten
minute moment of silence, was broadcasted live.


In the late ’70s WNEW played a large role in promoting New
York’s emerging Punk and New Wave scenes as well.  The station hosted many live broadcasts from
the great Greenwich Village venue The Bottom Line for bands like The Police,
Joe Jackson and Squeeze.  For many of
these bands these concerts were their New York debut and WNEW’s coverage helped
their music quickly reach a wider audience.

Over the years WNEW helped shaped the rock industry in New
York and across the nation.  It allowed
many bands break into the mainstream and educated listeners back in a time when
radio was instrumental in bringing new music to people.  Perhaps the greatest aspect of the station
however, was community it created between the DJs and listeners, which was
based around the music but transcended a simple relationship of playing and
listening.  The array of distinct
personalities and unique programming that was featured on each show engaged a
wide variety people, and with the broadcasting of local concerts and artist
interviews WNEW became a tool through which people could connect to the current
pulse of the music industry.  Music and
the culture surrounding it play a significant part in people’s lives, and by
the sum of all its parts WNEW became more than just a radio station: it was a
community – one which people could join simply by listening – whose services
catered to all different aspects of people’s relationships with the music.  Whether it was to listen to a favorite song,
learn about a new band, check out a live performance, hear an interview or
simply enjoy the company that the station and its DJs provided, people had only
one stop to make – and that was 102.7 FM. 

With the relaunching of WNEW we at CBS Radio hope to create
a station that fulfills that role again.


2 Comments Below


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May 8, 2011 10:53 pm

Wow, I still have my WNEW-FM Where Rock Lives Sweat shirt, 26 years later. (almost still fits too) Moved away from Long Island 16 years ago, when I returned and found no more N E W I felt like I lost a family member. What a find, can’t wait to blare for all my neighbors to enjoy.

Michael A. Adashefski
May 10, 2011 11:12 am

I have so many warm but fading memories of listening to WNEW-FM during my formative years. You were the first real FM station in the Tri-State area and always played the best music. Plus you were the station that all the musicians stopped at whenever they played in the area and I’d always be listening to hear who was dropping by. NEW played the album tracks-not just the featured singles and your DJs gave some insightful commentaries about the liner notes and press info when a new album came out. When I left the area for the west coast in ’79 WNEW-FM was one of the east coast elements that I wish I could have brought with me. When I returned to east coast many years later I found that the station was gone from the airwaves, leaving a giant void where great radio once lived. Those were the days, my friends.