|City||New York City|
|Broadcast area||New York metropolitan area|
|Frequency||1600 kHz (Also on HD Radio via WKXW-FM-HD2)|
|First air date||August 26, 1926|
|Power||25,000 watts (daytime)|
5,000 watts (nighttime)
|Callsign meaning||W Woodside Radio Laboratory|
|Owner||Nimisha Shukla and Jeetendra Shukla |
(NJ Broadcasting, LLC)
WWRL (1600 kHz, "Radio Zindagi") is a commercial AM radio station licensed to New York City. Broadcasting from a transmitter site in Secaucus, New Jersey, WWRL airs an Indian and South Asian radio format and is owned by Nimisha and Jeetendra Shukla through licensee NJ Broadcasting, LLC.
Founded in 1926, WWRL originally had a multi-lingual format serving the various ethnic communities of New York City. The station took on a mostly Spanish identity in the 1950s, then became primarily oriented towards African Americans living in New York City in the mid-1960s, under the direction of News Director, Dick London, who invited community leaders to voice their concerns publicly on air, as the station became advocates for legislative change. The music and news advocacy was an integral part of the Black American community. WWRL played R&B music from 1964 to 1982 before changing to gospel music and religious programming from 1982 to 1997.
After a brief return to R&B in the late 1990s, WWRL gradually de-emphasized music in favor of more talk radio programming. In 2006, WWRL replaced WLIB as the flagship station for the Air America Radio network and retained a progressive talk radio format for seven years.
From 2014 to 2016, WWRL had a regional Mexican music format before changing to the current Indian programming.
Early history (1926–1963)
Founded by radio enthusiast William Reuman, doing business as Woodside Radio Laboratory, WWRL began broadcasting at midnight on August 26, 1926 from a studio and transmitter located in his home at 41-30 58th Street in Woodside, Queens, New York on a frequency of 1160 kHz.:188 The station later shared the 1120 kHz frequency with four other AM stations. In its first year of operation, WWRL broadcast live musical performances, usually from Reuman's friends and neighbors. Among them were Astoria singer Ethel Zimmerman, who would later achieve stardom as Ethel Merman.:188
In 1927, the nascent Federal Radio Commission ordered the station to move to 1500 Hz, then the highest AM frequency. Reuman had also begun selling airtime to local merchants. Reuman incorporated as the Long Island Broadcasting Corporation in 1929.:188 With the slogan "The Voice of Queens County," WWRL began to broadcast programs in Italian, German, French, Polish, Hungarian, Slovak, and Czech, as well as English.:188
Following implementation of the 1941 North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement the station again changed its frequency, first to 1490 kHz on April 29 that year, then within the year to the 1600 kHz, where the station remains to this day. In 1951 the station's city of license changed from Woodside to New York City. Most programs on the station were oriented towards Hispanic and black listeners, and Greek, Syrian, Irish, Ukrainian, Russian, and Scandinavian shows also joined the schedule. By decade's end, WWRL had a 24-hour broadcast day primarily in Spanish. Leading black disc jockeys joined the station, including Tommy Smalls (known as "Dr. Jive") and Hal Jackson.:188–190
R&B format (1964–1982)
Egmont Sonderling bought WWRL from the retiring Reuman in January 1964 and changed its format to R&B.:190 WWRL was "the premier radio station serving New York's Black community" at the time, wrote Dan Charnas.:9–10 Billboard magazine wrote in May 1964 that WWRL and black radio stations offered "specific information, personal identification[,] and entertainment not provided by other type stations."
DJ's for WWRL in the 1960s included Frankie Crocker and Jocko Henderson, whose "on-air shtick...was as important as the music they played.":10 The station was known as "The Big RL" in the 1960s and "Super 16" in the 1970s.
WWRL's first year in its R&B format included a three-hour gospel music show in the evenings. Billboard wrote in May 1964 that WWRL and other black radio stations "are monitored as a guide to which r.&b. records could be popular with white audiences...[and] are exerting a great influence on the music played on contemporary and pop-contemporary formatted stations."
Beginning in May 1966, WWRL instituted an "integrated music programming policy" that added rock and pop hits in addition to R&B to the playlist. By late 1967, however, WWRL began playing more blues tracks and those from lesser-known performers like Johnnie Taylor and Wilson Pickett, to distinguish itself from mainstream pop stations that had begun playing R&B. A 1971 profile of WWRL by Billboard found that WWRL played "three oldies an hour from one of the largest vaults of soul music in the nation."
The Federal Communications Commission reprimanded Sonderling Broadcasting in May 1971 for allowing the Reverend James Lofton Jr. to use WWRL facilities to solicit money in exchange for tips for a numbers game.
On June 5, 1972, WWRL simulcast with top-40 station WMCA from 8 to 10 p.m. for a special call-in program, Black and White, owing to WMCA focusing on a general audience in contrast to WWRL's primarily black audience.
In 1979, Sonderling Broadcasting merged with Viacom. WWRL carried sports talk programming from Enterprise Radio Network briefly in 1981, beginning on January 1.:190 In an era when sports programming on radio was limited to live play-by-play, news briefs, and a select few call-in shows, Enterprise was described as an "abortive attempt to launch the all-sports format" and shut down before year's end. By the spring of 1981, WWRL went back to playing music.
Religious station (1982–1997)
In 1982, Viacom donated WWRL to the United Negro College Fund, which immediately sold the station to National Black Network subsidiary Unity Broadcasting. On August 14, 1982, Unity changed WWRL to a Christian format.:190 Replacing the contemporary R&B were gospel and reggae music, and worship services from local churches were broadcast live on evenings and weekends.:190 By that time, increasing competition from FM stations like WBLS decreased the appeal of AM music stations, to the point that even the once-dominant WABC also ended its popular music format in 1982.
Beginning in 1985 with around 70 members, the station also sponsored a choir called the WWRL Community Chorale, which grew to nearly 100 members by 1996. The Community Chorale toured 26 cities in Germany in December 1996.
WWRL also broadcast rallies and meetings held by the Reverend Al Sharpton. Among these rallies included a controversial one on September 9, 1995, in which Sharpton claimed that Jewish building owner Fred Harari wanted to evict a record store so that a "white interloper" could "expand his business on 125th Street." Following that comment, Harari's business, a clothing store named Freddy's Fashion Mart, was destroyed in an arson, leading to eight deaths. The New York Times later said this comment "was later widely blamed for fomenting racial tension." The Freddy's Fashion Mart controversy was just one of several instances of anti-Semitism said to be broadcast on WWRL.
The FCC approved WWRL's request to increase its power from 5 kW to 25 kW in the fall of 1996. Subsequently, to resolve issues of co-channel interference, WWRL bought and later shut down three nearby stations on the 1600 or 1590 frequencies: WERA 1590 in Plainfield, New Jersey, WLNG 1600 in Sag Harbor, New York, and WQQW 1590 in Waterbury, Connecticut. WWRL used the slogan "The Spirit of New York" by this time.
From R&B oldies to urban talk (1997–2006)
In April 1997, WWRL reduced gospel programming to Sundays, a move that drew criticism from former program director, the Reverend Paul Stephens. On April 16, WWRL switched to an R&B oldies format nicknamed "100% Pure Soul" and playing music from the 1960s and 1970s, in a nod to what its vice president of programming called the station's "golden age."
To distinguish itself from FM R&B stations WBIX and WRKS, starting in the summer of 1999, WWRL devoted Saturdays to playing Caribbean music, and added R&B from the 1950s and earlier to its playlist. Additionally, WWRL added brokered talk shows to the weekday lineup that year.
In 2001, WWRL was sold to Access.1 Communications Corporation, an African-American owned and operated radio broadcasting company. By then, WWRL began playing more Caribbean music during the week beyond Saturdays. In 2002, WWRL added a morning drive time show co-hosted by Peter Noel and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. The station also broadcast New York Liberty basketball games. By the beginning of 2003, WWRL had talk shows for most of the week, with music only broadcast on weekends, specifically Caribbean on Saturdays and gospel on Sundays.
Rabbi Boteach resigned in June 2003 shortly after his co-host Noel did the same; Boteach alleged that station management changed his morning show's format from "harmonious to adversarial." WWRL subsequently added local shows hosted by Karen Hunter, Steve Malzberg, and Armstrong Williams among others, in addition to nationally syndicated shows from Larry Elder and Alan Colmes.
Progressive talk station (2006–2014)
In August 2006, WWRL became the flagship station for Air America Radio, a politically liberal talk radio network that had previously broadcast on WLIB. Beginning on October 29, 2007, Mark Riley and New York television personality Richard Bey co-hosted the WWRL morning show. Bey resigned in March 2008. New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis became the morning host beginning in mid-July 2008.
In January 2010, after Air America shut down, WWRL brought back Mark Riley as morning host and added syndicated liberal hosts such as Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann, Stephanie Miller, Randi Rhodes, and Al Sharpton.
On December 13, 2013, WWRL announced it would change format to Spanish programming and cited low advertising revenue as a reason.
Ethnic formats (2014–present)
On February 1, 2016, WWRL changed its format to Indian and South Asian talk and music as part of the Radio Zindagi network. Ten days later, Access.1 Communications sold WWRL to NJ Broadcasting, LLC for $7 million. WWRL also added an HD Radio simulcast on WKXW-FM-HD2 for listeners in central and southern New Jersey.
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