WAAF (FM) history

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WAAF (WAAF 107.3 FM, simulcast on WKAF 97.7 FM) is in the Worcester, Massachusetts market, but by the mid-1980s WAAF had begun to direct most of its attention to the Boston radio market.


The station that became WAAF was actually a distant cousin of an AM station from the early 1930s, WAAB in Boston. Owned by the Shepard Broadcasting Company, WAAB was moved to Worcester in mid-December 1942 and broadcast at 1440 kHz. [1] Shepard was a pioneer in FM broadcasting, putting the first FM network on the air in December 1940, when two Shepard FMs, greater Boston's W1XOJ and New Hampshire's W1XER, were linked up. [2] While W1XOJ was presented as a Boston station, it was in fact located in Paxton, near Worcester. The University of Massachusetts Amherst was a target audience as well.[citation needed] In fact, WAAF was an extremely popular station from Framingham, located on the Boston-Worcester Turnpike (Rt. 9) to Amherst/Northampton.[citation needed]

By 1951, the station was operating under the call letters of WGTR, at 99.1 MHz, owned by Thomas S. Lee Broadcasting, which had purchased the Shepard stations in the late 1940s. (Radio-TV Annual, 1952 edition, p. 1268) Subsequently, the WGTR call letters, and the station itself, seemed to disappear, and only WTAG, owned by the Worcester Telegram and Gazette newspaper, operated an FM in Worcester during the remainder of the 1950s.

The station which took the call letters of WAAB-FM did not go on the air till the autumn of 1961, operating on 107.3 MHz and owned by Bernard E. Waterman. (Radio-TV Annual, 1962, edition, p. 411, p. 695) When Chicago's WAAF changed format and call letters in the summer of 1967, the WAAF call letters were selected and given to what had been WAAB-FM. The new WAAF broadcast a beautiful music format, which was still the most popular FM format at that time. But WAAF switched to its long-running rock music format three years later, in 1970. WAAF still broadcasts from the same Paxton site that pioneering FM W1XOJ used back in the 1930s and early '40s. For more on the early history of WAAF/W1XOJ see FM broadcasting in the USA and History of radio.

Radio station WXOJ-LP 103.3FM "Valley Free Radio" in Northampton, Massachusetts is a low power station whose call letters pay tribute to WAAF's ancestral origins. The FCC reissued W1XOJ as an amateur radio club call sign to Kurt R. Jackson on March 14, 2003. Jackson uses the call sign on a network of simulcast amateur radio repeaters throughout New England, which he named the Yankee Network, a reference to the regional broadcasting network established by Shepard Broadcasting in 1928 that came to include the original WAAB.

On August 12, 2009 WAAF became the longest active running rock radio station in Massachusetts, when rival station WBCN signed off analog radio to make room for an all sports talk formatted station.

Freeform era 1970-1974[edit]

In the early 1970s the rock-format WAAF ran was referred to as freeform, where the air talent is given total control over what music to play, regardless of commercial interests.

In the early 1970s WAAF featured typical rock artists of the day such as The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, It's a Beautiful Day, Aerosmith, The Doors, Chicago, Stevie Wonder, The Electric Flag, Billy Preston, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Steppenwolf, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and many others.

In hindsight, some of these artists are now considered more pop sounding and part of the oldies or classic hits musical genres. Some are more eclectic-sounding acts, popular during the hippie/counterculture era of the 1960s and early 1970s and not remembered as well past that time period. With FM radio stations expressing a wide artistic freedom at that time, various musical styles were considered proper for a rock station. In this period, the station's ID was "WAAF Worcester, The Rock Of New England".

Summer 1974[edit]

During the summer of 1974, WAAF briefly switched to a hybrid Top 40/Gold format. WAAF played a mix of hit music from the 1960s mixed with then-contemporary hit music of the 1970s such as ABBA. This format continued until August when consultants Jason (Jim) Janulis and Dean Landsman were hired to program the station and returned it to an album rock format that had some interesting innovations. Under Janulis & Landsman, the station appeared for the first time in the Boston Arbitron market report with rather impressive ratings in age 18-49 deomographics. Jason Janulis went on to create and operate two unique new, used and rare record stores (Beggars Banquet 1976-1984) located in Harvard Square, Cambridge. Many of the Boston musicians such as Peter Wolf (a former radio personality himself) liked to visit the stores. Janulis also became Program Consultant/Director of "Free Form" Progressive Radio station WCAS/740 in Cambridge. In 1995 he produced a syndicated radio documentary "Celebrating Janis, Another Side of Janis Joplin", sponsored by Sony Music. The Joplin documentary was broadcast on 35 classic rock stations nationwide. Presently he is completing a book and audio book about Janis Joplin. Janulis later went on to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. Landsman later went on to consult for WBCN/104.1 in Boston.

Album rock era 1975-1981[edit]

By the mid-1970s the format WAAF practiced became known as AOR (album-oriented rock). The ownership also changed. In the summer of 1976, the station was acquired by Robert L. Wiliams, who owned WEZN Radio in Bridgeport, Connecticut. ("Broadcaster Receives Aid in Purchase." Hartford Courant, 23 July 1976, p. 56.)

Though some critically acclaimed artists like Blue Öyster Cult, Elvis Costello and Tom Petty were played, this was the era of arena rock, and the majority of airtime was given to mainstream rock bands such as Boston, Kansas, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, Journey, Foreigner and Foghat.

"Middle of the road" pop rockers like Billy Joel and Elton John were also core artists. While most of the Stevie Wonder/Billy Preston/Chicago-styled music was considered too pop by the late 1970s, a few upbeat pop-sounding classics like "Good Lovin'" by The Young Rascals and "Shout" by The Isley Brothers were still in the station's music library and frequently played.

In the second half of the 1970s heavy metal artists like Black Sabbath increased in airplay on the station. Some bands, such as AC/DC, were played for the first time.

During this era WAAF helped promote the careers of Van Halen and Rush by giving them heavy airplay. The station underwent yet another ownership change, having been purchased in 1978 by the Park City Group, owned by Dick Ferguson. [3]

WAAF's slogan in this time period was "WAAF, The Rock N' Roll Air Force", and the station had a giraffe mascot with the hook the station used: "The WAAF GirAAF" who was a hired as a college intern by the name of Bob Goodell.

"Crank It Up!" and "Non Stop Rock!" era 1981-1989[edit]

WAAF went through several more ownership and management changes in the 1980s, but excluding one brief format shift, the station had a very consistent and commercially viable rock format for most of the decade.

During this period, the station came to rely on playing an increasingly large amount of older music to meet advertisers' demographic demands. The 1980s was a more conservative time and the height of the Yuppie subculture. WAAF wanted to branch out to this large baby boomer audience located in the nearby Boston market, while not alienating its core Worcester and central Massachusetts listeners who tended to be younger and working class. They did this through the heavy use of dayparting, playing mostly older music and lighter artists during the day and saving airplay for most harder music for evenings after 7 p.m. when younger listeners were more dominant.

As a result, for most of the 1980s, WAAF was a broad-based album rock station. The range included relatively light pop/rock artists such as Huey Lewis and the News and Phil Collins, played more during the morning and afternoon hours. Hard rock and heavy metal artists like Iron Maiden, Ratt, ZZ Top, Slade, Def Leppard and Guns N' Roses were heard more towards the late afternoon and were played more heavily at night.

It was during this time in 1982 that The Rolling Stones played a warmup show for a group of WAAF listeners at a Worcester nightclub that sported a Union Jack logo called Sir Morgans Cove. WAAF connected with the band while they rehearsed at Long View Farms in North Brookfield and gave away all the tickets for the free show. Ian Stewart of the Stones drove around Worcester with WAAF GM Steve Marx and personally handed out all the tickets. The band played under the name "The Cockroaches".

However, about two-thirds of the station's core artists and style of music for most of the 1980s was from the late 1960s to 1970s, what was then coming to be labelled classic rock.

The station's two popular slogans from the autumn of 1981 through the summer of 1989 were "Crank It Up!" (1981–1985) and "Non Stop Rock!" (1985–1989). The station also adopted its long-time, and very recognizable, "paint splash" style logo during this era in the autumn of 1981.

The "Rock of the 80s" spring 1983[edit]

For a brief period of time in the spring of 1983, WAAF shifted its format to having an alternative rock slant. During this time WAAF called itself "The Rock of the 80s" and was consulted by radio programmer Rick Carroll. Mr. Carroll introduced the format on KROQ-FM in Los Angeles in 1978 and by 1983 was having much success with it. WAAF was one of many stations he consulted with the format. Core artists during this brief period included Boy George and Culture Club, A Flock of Seagulls, The Human League, Talk Talk, Duran Duran, and Spandau Ballet. WAAF also mixed in some pop music during this period, most notably two of Michael Jackson's hit singles from his Thriller album, "Billie Jean" and "Beat It". This was WAAF's first attempt at getting a larger audience in Boston. (The station's ratings were already up in that market due to the success of the Bob and Zip morning radio show.) The experiment failed as the station's ratings took a deep drop in its home market of Worcester and failed to impact the Boston market. ("Alternative" station WFNX signed on in Boston in the spring of 1983, as did the short-lived but extremely popular from 1983–1985, Top 40 hits powerhouse Hitradio WHTT.) WAAF quickly switched back to its broad-based Album Rock format that summer.

"Untamed Radio" 1989-1991[edit]

After many years with a broad-based rock format WAAF changed directions in October 1989. WAAF dropped many acts from the 1960s and 70s (though they continued to play a few such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd). They began only playing harder songs by core artists while increasing the amount of current music being played. They became a "Rock 40" station playing only rock and heavy metal (mostly metal in the more pop-oriented glam metal genre) but in a manner similar to Top 40 stations. WAAF's new slogan between late 1989 and 1991 was "Untamed Radio". The station during this period was inspired by Los Angeles radio station KQLZ, "Pirate Radio 100.3 FM". (WAAF aired the live and nationally syndicated KQLZ-produced show "Pirate Radio U.S.A." on Saturday nights from November 1989 through October 1993, when the show ceased production several months after the Los Angeles station changed its format.)

In November 1989, then-Promotions Coordinator and weeknight overnight announcer Greg Hill joined Ruby Cheeks as a morning drive DJ.

"Alternative" lean 1992-1995[edit]

In early 1992 heavy metal and hard rock rapidly lost ground to the growing popularity of various "Alternative" subcultures and the music associated with them. In trying to keep up with the times, WAAF began adding more music acts popular in the alternative music genre to its playlist rotation.

Alternative artists, including The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Beck and Belly, received ample airplay. Such college radio acts as Sugar and King Missile were also added. WAAF was one of the stations to launch the career of Alanis Morissette in the summer of 1995, by playing the first two singles from her Jagged Little Pill album, "You Oughta Know" and "Hand in My Pocket".

Though WAAF included more "Alternative" acts in their programming during this era, they still played many hard rock and metal bands other stations during that time would not play. These included harder heavy metal bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Pist.On and Prong, as well as progressive rock act Dream Theater.

With this music mix, WAAF had evolved to one of the pioneers of the active rock format.

During this time WAAF's slogan was "The Only Station in Boston That Really Rocks". The "In Boston" part of the slogan had to be dropped after several years due to complaints, and eventually a cease and desist order, filed by rival WBCN. For many years prior, WBCN used the slogan "The Rock of Boston" and claimed ownership for the combined use of the words "Boston" and "Rock" in any company slogan. WAAF, to avoid a legal battle, at first started to insert the names of various New England cities and towns the station could be heard in instead of just exclusively saying "Boston". (Examples included "The Only Station in Manchester That Really Rocks", citing the New Hampshire city, or "The Only Station in Wellesley That Really Rocks", recognizing the popular Boston suburb.)

By the mid-1990s the station had shortened the slogan to simply "The Only Station That Really Rocks".

"Real Rock" 1996-2005[edit]

From the beginning of 1995 till the summer of 1999 radio rival WBCN switched to a broad alternative music format, putting them more in competition with Boston's WFNX. With two stations fighting for the same audience, WAAF decided to reembrace hard rock and heavy metal as its main music focus.

In early 1996, WAAF began playing only harder guitar-based alternative rock acts (such as Bush (Extreme) and Stone Temple Pilots) and became instrumental in helping several local Massachusetts metal musical acts achieve success, including Godsmack, Staind, Powerman 5000 and Shadows Fall. WAAF also helped many national nu metal acts to prominence from the mid-1990s through mid-2000s. These acts include such heavyweights as Korn, the Deftones, Disturbed, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park.

By the summer of 1999 WBCN's alternative format started to lean more towards Active Rock, once again putting them in direct competition for many of the same musical acts played on WAAF.

WAAF's two slogans during these years were "The Only Station That Really Rocks" (1992–2002) and "If It Rocks...It's 107.3 WAAF" (2002–2005).

"Everything That Rocks" 2005-present[edit]

In the autumn of 2005, WAAF adjusted its format again to include a wider variety of music that fits under the umbrella title of "rock". Using the new slogan "Everything That Rocks" WAAF continued to play the hard rock, modern rock and metal acts that it was known for (such as Mudvayne, System of a Down, Nickelback, and Rage Against the Machine) as well as acts new to the WAAF playlist (such as Wolfmother, Hinder, Flyleaf and Avenged Sevenfold). The station also began to mix back in more long-time alternative music acts (such as Weezer and U2), and classic rock acts (such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Yes) that had not been played on the station in many years.

In addition, WAAF added many new current alternative and rock acts that it had not been playing. These acts included minimalist blues-rock duo The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and virtual band the Gorillaz. Many artists influenced by such alternative music subgenres as power pop and pop punk were also placed on the station's playlist, including The Killers, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and AFI.

In January 2007 the station, while keeping the same wider format of rock music styles played, updated its slogan to "The Widest Range of Rock on the Radio!".

In the summer of 2010 WAAF tweaked its slogan one more time. As it had become the only major-marketed commercial Active Rock station in Boston upon the departure of former rival WBCN, WAAF was now "Boston's Rock Station".

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