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WWBZ (103.5 FM, "The Blaze") was a radio station based in Chicago, Illinois. In early 1991, WFYR-FM (103.5), an adult contemporary and AC/oldies station in Chicago for many years, was sold by its parent company Summit Communications to Major Broadcasting of Chicago. Major, a newer company had success with a high-energy hard rock format in Salt Lake City at KBER-FM. On March 29, the sounds of Whitney, Rod and Elton gave way to 24 hours of "Rock Rock ('til you drop)" by Def Leppard.
At noon on April 1, the station "snuffed the fire and stoked The Blaze!" But this was no April Fools' Day joke. The Blaze had come to Chicago, featuring acts such as Skid Row, Billy Squier, Ratt, Ozzy Osbourne, Slaughter and other hard rock and pseudo-metal bands. The initial on-air staff consisted of Steven Craig (mornings), Steve Seaver middays (now at The Loop), former "Fire" morning guy Brian Kelly in afternoons, music director Kevin Lewis and Leslie Harris at night, as well as several WFYR holders and some new folks including Jimmy Novak, Brad Jeffries, "Major Tom" Johnson, Scott Childers, and Ryan Cherry (Meyers).
As WWBZ pumped out The Best of Rock, not everyone was happy about it - especially Scott Loftus and the folks who built up a loyal following at north suburban WVVX-FM (103.1) in Highland Park (once known as "The Eighties Channel", now Viva 103 - WVIV-FM). The show "Real Precious Metal, or RPM as it was known, was a heavy metal show that aired nightly, and featured some of the less commercial and harder edged acts, as well as some local bands. The staff quickly dismissed The Blaze as "poser rock". However, with a strong signal and plenty of street-buzz, The Blaze quickly took off. The RPM show lasted a while longer at 103.1, and briefly aired on WYSY AM/-FM "Y-108" in Aurora in 1993.
In addition to the Blaze jocks, helicopter reporter Major Tom was a hit with listeners with his irreverent morning and afternoon traffic updates. "...It's a time-sucking abyss on the Ike...you're blowin' chunks southbound Tri-State into the 82nd Street toll bucket! Major Tom, back to ground control with Whitesnake - on 103-5 the Blaze!" Tom also buzzed a Jonathan Brandmeier remote in Lincoln Park which was live on The Loop. When Johnny B figured out what was going on, he went to a commercial. 1992 brought Blazefest, a rock memorabilia show and concert at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park. Crowds rapidly outpaced expectations and ticketholders saw Saigon Kick and headliners Warrant.
By 1994, Major sold the station to Evergreen Media, parent company of WLUP-FM (97.9) and WMVP (1000). Glam rock had started to run its course and Major made a tidy sum on the sale. They divested into television by producing "The Mort Downey Show", as well as syndicated radio formats. While Evergreen kept the Blaze format thru the spring, it eventually gave way to active rock WRCX, "Rock 103 5", featuring a commercial free "A-Z" kickoff around July 4. When WRCX ended its run in 1998, the station became Jammin' Oldies and most recently flipped to become "Kiss 103.5."
The WWBZ call letters also once belonged to AM 1030 in Metro Washington, DC in reference to Boston's WBZ. From the 1930s until the late 1980s, the call letters belonged to a small AM radio station in Vineland, New Jersey at the 1360 spot on the dial. The WWBZ call letters most recently resurfaced on the US East Coast. WWBZ was a beach music station in Charleston, South Carolina.
References in Popular Culture
1992 - Punk rock song called "Get Off My Cloud" recorded by The Squids in 1992 mention "103.5 The Blaze" in the songs lyrics. The Squids were based in Chicago and the lyrics are: "Don't tell me to turn my stereo down When you hear my music on you should be dancing And be real happy that you like to live next door to a guy Who likes to hear really good music Like the Rolling Stones and 103.5 The Blaze"
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