After 30 Years, It's All-news To Us

Posted: September 20, 1995

The song was "On a Wonderful Day Like Today." The disc jockey was Wee Willie Webber. The year was 1965. And the world was changing.

KYW-AM took a giant step into the future when it left traditional radio behind, playing that record as its musical swan song, and switched to an all- news, all-the-time format. It happened 30 years ago tomorrow - Sept. 21, 1965.

The station will celebrate with a staff reception tomorrow night. Listeners will be treated to a rebroadcast of the opening minutes of its conversion to all-news radio tomorrow at noon.

And no one at KYW is looking back with regret.

"We never had second thoughts about going to all-news," said Roy Shapiro, KYW vice president and general manager, who was part of the Group W management team that pioneered the all-news format. "Westinghouse broadcasting was known for its news and public service commitment. One reason why we went all-news was because of that commitment."

In addition to its news-business-sports-weather, KYW is known for its live coverage of events ranging from the moon landing to the MOVE shootout to Frank Rizzo's funeral. Shapiro decides when to interrupt the usual order for live coverage - and when to hold course. KYW opted not to broadcast gavel-to-gavel coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial, although it is being carried by Group W stations in Chicago and San Francisco.

Shapiro doesn't claim he and the other Group W gurus divined America would become a land of media junkies. But he acknowledges that today the all-news format has never been more popular.

"We are well positioned for as far as I can see," he said. "If you look back to 1965, lifestyles didn't favor all-news-all-the-time. But in the lifestyle of today, everything is fast, quick, give-it-to-me-now. Our format is exactly that. We preceded today's lifestyle, but we are matched perfectly."

For the past 20 years, KYW has been the top-rated station in the Philadelphia market and is the nation's leading all-news station. However, in the early '70s, KYW was challenged head on by WCAU-AM (1210), now sports talker WGMP-AM.

WCAU-AM, which was owned by CBS, was a fixture in Philadelphia radio, but its attempt at all-news failed to stop the KYW juggernaut. By the end of the decade, WCAU-AM was losing money. After floundering through the '80s, it was transformed into WOGL-AM in 1990 with its news-talk format abandoned for oldies music. (In March '94, the station switched its call letters to WGMP and its format to sports talk.)

Shapiro doesn't expect another radio rival to surface.

"It took KYW until '76 before this station had its first profitable year," he said. "Eleven years without showing a profit. In today's business world, (management) would never accept that."

KYW's biggest challenge today comes from technology and TV. Local TV news programming has expanded greatly, while broadcast and cable network coverage continues to grow. However, this hasn't translated to a news glut.

"There is no indication from the listener or viewer that there's too much news product being offered," Shapiro said. "The ratings are not down. They're increasing."

According to KYW lore, several listeners called in to the station in late September 1965 asking when they were going to hear some music.

"After the news" was the reply.

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