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Final Listen: WPLJ New York, WRQX (Mix 107.3) Washington

95.5 PLJ WPLJ New York Melony Torres Ralphie AversaWhen WABC New York dropped CHR (really, Hot AC by then) for News/Talk in 1982, it was the first time in my programming education that I’d heard it said that just because people were sentimental about a brand, it didn’t mean they had listened lately. WABC’s drop had been precipitous since the arrival of WKTU in 1978 and hastened by the overall decline of AM music, but it’s remarkable now to think that America’s No. 1 music station had been forced to its end in less than four years.

WPLJ had been trying for well more than four years to reclaim traction for a while in a market where it had to split the Hot AC franchise with WKTU and WNEW. But when the news broke yesterday about the sale of six Cumulus stations to Christian AC “K-Love” owner EMF, including WRQX (Mix 107.3) Washington, D.C., a co-worker messaged to say that she had probably listened to WPLJ every day for the last 20 years, dating back to when the station was one of the format’s defining success stories in the ‘90s.

Mix 107.3 was by no means running in place. It had a great 2018 under PD Rob Roberts and was poised for even bigger things after WIAD (Fresh 94.7) switched to Classic Hits. It’s also a station to which I have a sentimental attachment. I won my first album from Top 40 Q107 when it was new and had just launched into a great CHR battle with WPGC in 1979-80. I already had “Candy-O” by the Cars, but, of course, I went to pick it up so I could go to the station.

The success of K-Love is entirely deserved, and its sister network, Air-1 has done one of the truly interesting things in current radio by refocusing its Hot AC format around praise and worship music. As noted before, one still wishes they would land somewhere other than heritage frequencies. When WLUP Chicago or Mix 107.3 or WPLJ goes away and is replaced by something that already exists, it feels like radio is somehow less. Heritage brands shouldn’t be broadcast’s strongest asset but seeing one like Mix 107.3 take on new life in 2018 is encouraging, and losing one hurts, much less several at a time.

The last time I wrote about WPLJ, former PD Rick Gillette had loaded the station up with the ‘90s/early ‘00s rhythmic gold and teen pop that had been missing from pop radio for years. At the time, I didn’t know if it was research or whim that put “Baby . .  One More Time” back on the radio, but if it was only a hunch by a PD who helped break many of those songs as currents, I’ve seen it multiply confirmed over the years. 

WPLJ is still playing many of those songs although Hot AC has evolved to the point where they don’t look in any way eccentric, as seen on this monitor of the station just before 3 p.m., February 12, before the change was announced. You can find irony in any song played on a station leading into a format change, but the first two were particularly serendipitous.

  • Lifehouse, “Hanging By A Moment”
  • Wiz Khalifa w/Charlie Puth, “See You Again”
  • Taylor Swift, “Delicate”
  • Lukas Graham, “Love Somebody”
  • Train, “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)”
  • Kelly Clarkson, “Heat”
  • Maroon 5, “Sugar”
  • Camila Cabello, “Havana”
  • Backstreet Boys, “All I Have To Give”
  • Halsey, “Without Me”
  • American Authors, “Best Day of My Life”
  • Ellie Goulding x Diplo f/Swae Lee, “Close To Me”
  • Rihanna, “Don’t Stop The Music”
  • Shawn Mendes, “In My Blood”
  • Fall Out Boy, “Sugar, We’re Going Down”
  • Meghan Trainor, “All The Ways”
  • Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop the Feeling”
  • Marshmello f/Bastille, “Happier”
  • Whitney Houston, “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (staged with a sweeper about “the decade of big hair”)

And here’s Mix 107.3 during the same hour:

  • Marshmello f/Bastille, “Happier”
  • Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive”
  • Charlie Puth, “Attention”
  • Ellie Goulding x Diplo f/Swae Lee, “Close To Me”
  • Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around Comes Around”
  • Ed Sheeran, “Shape Of You”
  • 5 Seconds of Summer, “Youngblood”
  • Eminem & Rihanna, “The Monster”
  • Maroon 5 f/SZA, “What Lovers Do”
  • Eurythmics, “Here Comes the Rain Again” (the payoff a mystery oldie contest)
  • Pink, “A Million Dreams”
  • Weezer, “Africa”
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  1. Steve Varholy says

    Sad that WRQX is going away. Back in the Q107 days, I used to love the lazers and the “It’s happening right on Q!” jingles.

    I mourned the loss of WAVA and it’s been 25+ years…

    1. Chris Spil says

      Steve, WAVA switched to Salem’s Christian format exactly 27 years ago! Midnight of February 11 to 12, 1992
      And yep the JAM jingle packages were GREAT! Well those were the days, and I guess everything changes.. (radio too eh)

  2. nickp91 says

    So many amazing talented people both on air and off soon to be out of work

  3. jason steiner says

    I am sad about this, especially for WRQX because they made such a big ratings comeback. I wonder if someone will fill the Hot AC void in DC?

  4. Roddy Freeman says

    WABC’s run as a Top 40 was really 22 years, 1960-1982.

  5. Les Talk says

    From what I understand, WRQX are the only calls Cumulus has kept. Morning show host Jack Diamond has said even though the station has been sold, his show and Mix 1073 have not. So, unless they are selling the brand to another operator, Mix is simply moving to 105.9? To 630 AM and a to be LMA’d FM translator? Stranger things have happened.

    1. Nathan Obral says

      WMAL had a translator CP for 103.1, which was dismissed last May. They didn’t need it because of 105.9. But even then, putting Mix on 630 and a translator and branding it solely by the FM frequency… that might work in a mid-major or small market. Not in a top 10 market like DC.

      Very probable that the WRQX calls will be “parked” on one of their Minneapolis soft AC trimulcast (WGVX/WLUP/WWWM) or on a small rural station so no other station in the DC metro can use it, even if the IP is spun off.

      Quite frankly, Jack Diamond has no more idea as to what will happen as we do. I feel bad for him and the rest of the soon-to-be displaced airstaff. No one saw this coming.

      1. Nathan Obral says

        ** a translator APP, not a translator CP. ^^;

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