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December 24, 2020

A Year Long Celebration of 70 Years on the Air: 1480 WDAS AM and 105.3 WDAS FM Philadelphia

Here is a collection of interviews and airchecks that celebrate the 70 years of WDAS radio in Philadelphia. Lorraine Ballard Morrill, iHeartRadio Philadelphia's community affairs director interviewed a number of current and former personalities at the station. Our fondest memories of the station is the above aircheck of WDAS FM's Tony Brown and his late night program "The Extra Sensory Connection." On the AM side was the legendary Georgie Woods in another aircheck below. He was a popular disc jockey in the 50's, 60's, and 70's; but our memories of him are as a talk show host.

We were also fortunate to capture an aircheck with a cassette tape recorder of the legendary "Jocko" on an Alumni Day broadcast in the 80's. He syndicated his shows to Black radio stations across the country via reel-to-reel tape in the 50's and 60's. Jocko would do his shows in Philadelphia on WDAS and WHAT radio and then would travel by train to New York City to do his show on WADO or WOV. His son, Doug Henderson, Jr. would also become a popular afternoon host on "The FM Band."

More on WDAS is available at WDASHistory.org, a website curated by Wynne Alexander, the former news director at the station. She tells a riveting story of the time Malcolm X visited the station for an interview just months before his assassination. She began working at WDAS in her late teens. Her grandfather, Max Leon, was the original owner of the station and her father, Bob Klein was the general manager. The station was purchased in 1950 and sold in 1979 to the Black owned Unity Broadcasting. Klein began programming a variety of music shows geared to African Americans in 1951. WDAS-FM launched in 1959.

There's a legendary story of how WDAS-FM became a young hip Black Music station. It was an underground rock music station led by the owner's son Steve Leon. It came under fire by the FCC in 1971 for playing rock songs that promoted drug use. He would announce street prices for a bag of weed, among other rants on the air. He was suspended several times. He was a wild boy in the midst of the hippie era. Long story short, brother-in-law and GM Klein eventually grew tired, fired Leon and the entire staff. The next day WDAS FM started to program progressive Black oriented album cuts of R&B and Soul music. And the rest is history.

1480 WDAS AM is now known as "The Gambler" and programs local sports talk shows that focus on sports gambling and FOX Sports featuring The Herd with Colin Cowherd, and The Odd Couple with Rob Parker and Chris Broussard. 

The station's enduring legacy is rooted in serving the Black community especially during the Civil Rights movement of the 50's and 60's. It didn't miss a beat and as AM radio was being fazed out in the 70's in favor of the stereo sound of FM; WDAS-FM made a commitment to appealing to a younger hip audience. They were unmatched in their popularity until a rival appeared in the 80's. That station was Power 99 FM (WUSL). By far the most popular hosts were Carter & Sanborn in the 90's.

This aircheck was near the end of their run on Power 99 when they welcomed Wendy Williams as a co-host. Wendy was not too long after made the lead host on a new morning show called "The Dream Team" with Quincy Harris (Q Deezy), Colby Colb, and Dee Lee (How You Doing?). But Carter & Sanborn made a triumphant return to the airwaves on WDAS-FM in 2004 replacing Tom Joyner, who was pulled by Radio One and placed on their own station WRNB. Their ratings were better than The TJMS. They stayed on WDAS for a little over a year until Clear Channel brought in Steve Harvey. In 2010, they did a week of guest hosting in the afternoons for a vacationing Michael Baisden. We heard Baisden at the time was NOT HAPPY (really not happy) that 'DAS did not air his "Best of.." shows. They were also an important part of the legacy of WDAS. Today both WDAS and Power 99 are owned by iHeartRadio.

News programming was also an integral part of what made WDAS connect to the community. However as radio evolved, news department were cut by corporate owners even though Black radio was the only place to hear important news stories about what was happening in and affected the Black community. One of those news anchors and reporters was the late E. Steven Collins. He became a towering figure at WDAS in the 80's and 90's. He became a talk show host like his mentor Georgie Woods. In his later years he moved over to the Radio One stations WRNB and WPHI. He became a regular guest on MSNBC.

Other than WDIA in Memphis, no other Black radio station in the country has had as long a legacy while also maintaining its ratings for 70 years with African American listeners as WDAS.

Here are Lorraine Ballard Morrill's interviews.

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