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WPEN
950espn.jpg
City of license Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Broadcast area Greater Philadelphia (Delaware Valley)
Branding 950 ESPN
Slogan 950 ESPN Philadelphia
Frequency 950 kHz (also on HD Radio)
First air date 1929
Format Sports Talk
Power 43,000 watts (day)
21,000 watts (night)
Class B
Facility ID 25095
Callsign meaning William PENn Broadcasting (original owner)
Affiliations ESPN Radio
Owner Greater Media
Webcast Listen Live
Website http://www.950espn.com/

WPEN is an AM radio station broadcast on 950 kHz. The station is licensed to Philadelphia and serves that market. WPEN is owned and operated by Greater Media and offers a Sports Talk format. The station is known as "950 ESPN"

Contents

History

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The Early Years

WPEN 950 AM went on the air in 1929. They were locally owned and an independent radio station carrying a general entertainment format of radio comedies, dramas, talk and variety shows, news, and sports. Most of its programming was reruns of old network radio shows. Gradually popular music shows became a large paart of WPEN by the 1940s. In the 1950s the entertainment radio shows were moving to television. Music and news were becoming the prime use for radio. WPEN evolved into a popular music format full time in the early 1950s. The music at that time consisted of artists like Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Mills Brothers, Tommy Dorsey, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Pat Boone, Tony Bennett, and many others. At this time a show called the 950 Club began as well.

In the early 1950's WPEN became one of the pioneers of late night live audience talk radio. Steve Allison, formerly of Boston, was host of a five or six nights a week radio show from 11:3OPM-2:00AM. This show was broadcast from the "Ranch Room" restaurant on the station's ground floor building on Walnut Street between 22nd and 23rd streets. WPEN was one of the first broadcasters in the country to use a live 7 second delay tape system. In addition to live guests, Steve Allison took telephone calls from listeners. Teddy Reinhart was the producer. Allison had guests such as Eddie Fisher, Billy Eckstein and numerous local politicians at the Ranch Room. Many evenings Allison showed up for work in a tuxedo.

Before the Steve Allison show, radio personality Art Raymond ("The Man in the Black Sombrero") hosted a live Latin music dance program from the Ranch Room. Years later Raymond hosted Jewish music programs featuring Klezmer music on radio stations in New York City, Philadelphia and Florida.

In the late 1950s rock and roll began to dominate the chart. WPEN opted though to remain a non-rock station but played some of the softer songs by artists like The Platters, Elvis Presley, Everly Brothers, Brenda Lee, and others. By the mid 1960s WPEN was also playing softer songs by The Beatles, The Association, The 5th Dimension, Tom Jones, The Mamas & the Papas, Righteous Brothers, and others. In the early 1970s artists like The Carpenters, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, James Taylor, and others became core artists. Still all along artists like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole as well as Big Bands were heard on WPEN. The station was a news intensive MOR format. Also, during the 1960s, an evening interview show hosted by Frank Ford was broadcast on weekdays. It was held in a converted night club near 22rd and Walnut Streets, so the public was allowed to sit in on all broadcasts.

Around 1967 WPEN became an affiliate of the NBC Radio Network. Around 1969 the station left NBC, and management decided to seriously challenge WIP, Philadelphia's dominant MOR music station. Some WIP personalities were lured to WPEN, and an extensive promotional campaign was launched. However, listeners did not respond in large numbers and the station went into a gradual decline. By about 1973 the station's financial condition was so poor that it began signing off at midnight to save money, and ownership began to actively market the operation to potential buyers.

Greater Media Takes Over

At the end of 1974 WPEN was sold to Greater Media, along with co-owned WPEN-FM (now known as WMGK). When the deal closed in January 1975 Greater Media immediately took the stations off the air for some badly needed engineering upgrades. In the spring WPEN returned to the air as "95PEN" with an oldies format under program director Julian Breen and later, Peter Mokover. Mike St. John made his Philly debut at this time along with Geoff Fox, Paul Cassidy, Loren Owens, Mike Landry, Rick Harris and Bobby "Dashboard" Dark. Legend Joe Niagara soon joined the station with an afternoon drive show. The revived station originally played rock and roll hits from about 1955 to 1963, but newer music was added to the playlist over time; by the late '70s the music mix was really closer to Adult Contemporary than oldies. Ratings were never spectacular, and WPEN opted to change formats in 1979.

In 1979, WPEN dumped the Oldies based format and became Nostalgia, featuring big bands hits and adult standards. The station became known as 950 WPEN "The Station Of The Stars". The station featured adult standards of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s along with some big bands of the 1930s and 1940s. The station also mixed in some softer rock hits of the 1950s through the 1970s known as "baby boomer pop" by some. The airstaff from the oldies format remained. Over the years, many other legends came to WPEN, like Ken Garland, Bill Webber, Dick Clayton, Bill Wright, Sr, Tom Moran, Andy Hopkins, Kim Martin, Joe Grady and Ed Hurst returned to host a new version of the 950 Club on weekday afternoons. Ed Hurst would later revive the Steel Pier Show for weekend afternoons. The station was an original concept of Julian Breen, and later programmed by Peter Mokover, Joe Taylor, Dean Tyler, Ed Martin, Charlie Mills and Bob Craig.

The station also had an emphasis on news and information. The format was adjusted at various times. In the 1980s WPEN played more soft rock during the day and more big bands in the evening hours. But the Sinatra type music was always the focus of the station. WPEN for many years was the top rated radio station of its type anywhere.

In the late 1990s WPEN began airing some paid programming during the day on weekends. Ratings were still decent but demographics were making it difficult to sell advertising. The weekend paid programming would be used to raise revenue for the station to be able to be profitable. While the station did not ever strictly play standards and featured some soft rock mixed in during much of the day, they changed focus in 2001. At that point WPEN cut back on big bands and added more 50's and 60's rock and roll to the playlist. While there was no hard rock, there were a decent amount of pop/rock oldies one would not expect to find on an adult standards station. In 2003, WPEN became the radio home of Jerry Blavat. He would host a 50's and 60's rock and roll oldies show playing a lot of rock and roll cuts WPEN still normally did not play at that point. Still even in 2003 WPEN was still focused on the standards vocalists. WPEN had been also mixing in contemporary standards artists like Michael Buble, Nora Jones, Harry Connick Jr., and others since the mid 1990s.

In late 2001 WPEN agreed to become the flagship radio station of the Philadelphia Phillies for the 2002 through 2004 seasons. This led to increased attention for the station, but not all of it was favorable. Many listeners in outlying suburbs complained that they could not pick up the games, which had previously been on the stronger signal of WPHT (the weak signal also was a favorite of pundits and jokesters, one of which quipped that WPEN stands for "We Practically Emit Nothing"). Although Greater Media had plans to improve WPEN's signal, they could not be implemented during the term of the contract. The Phillies returned to WPHT for the 2005 season.

Back to Golden Oldies

On September 1, 2004, due to declining advertising, WPEN dropped Adult Standards abruptly in favor of an oldies format, playing only music from 1954-1965. Some of the airstaff remained. Jim Nettleton and Christy Springfield came over from WOGL later that year. WOGL had moved away from pre-1964 oldies, and Greater Media sought to win away listeners who preferred music of that era. Artists featured on WPEN included Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Billy Stewart, Bill Haley, Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson, Billy & The Essentials, Marvelettes, Everly Brothers, Jerry Butler, Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Vee, and others.

Unfortunately, ratings declined even more. The station also continued its paid programming during the day on Saturdays and Sundays. There were plans to end these infomercials and specialty talk shows once advertising grew but this never happened. By November 2004 WPEN began to add more late 1960s music by the Beatles, Four Tops, The 5th Dimension, Young Rascals, The Hollies, along with many one hit wonders. The station also added a lot of '60s Philadelphia-based soul. The station's long-awaited signal upgrade partially became reality in 2005, as its nighttime power was increased from 5,000 to 21,000 watts and the Montgomery County towers of daytimer WWDB became WPEN's new nighttime transmitter site. The station began to gain some ratings, but the growth was not fast enough.

Sports Talk Comes To 950 AM

In August 2005 WPEN announced that they would be ending the oldies format in favor of sports talk. Station manager Bob DeBlois said, "...Although we made great progress with Oldies, we feel a true Sports Talk station like Sports Talk 950 would be the perfect fit to satisfy the Philly sports fan's incredible appetite for great sports." The change became effective on October 3, 2005.

In early 2007 WPEN was able to increase its daytime power from 5,000 to 25,000 watts. Previously nondirectional during daylight hours, it switched to directional operation, using the three towers it had previously used for nighttime broadcasting at its longtime transmitter site in the Overbrook Park section of Philadelphia. In June, 2008, WPEN was granted a construction permit for a second daytime power increase, this time to 43,000 watts.

On March 2, 2007 a blogger, Internet Gnome Diamond Joe, reported the possibility that the station could change their slogan to "Sports Radio 950", after discovering the registrations of the domains mysportsradio950.com and sportsradio950online.com. On March 12th 2007, WPEN started calling itself "Sports Radio 950" or "Philly's Sports Radio 950". On April 1, 2008, WPEN became the new home of ESPN Radio in Philadelphia, replacing the former WPHY (now WCHR 920 AM in Trenton, New Jersey which dropped the ESPN Radio format January 7th of that year), with the new tagline being "950 ESPN Philadelphia" and carries ESPN Radio programming including Major League Baseball with the State Farm Home Run Derby, the All-Star Game and World Series (the latter two coming over from WPHT), the NBA, the Bowl Championship Series and Mike and Mike in the Morning (simulcast with ESPN2). Their current on- air lineup also includes Dan Schwartzman, Harry Mayes and Mike Missanelli. DeBlois pointed out on the official announcement of ESPN Radio adding WPEN to the lineup three months after the demise of WPHY that "when you have the opportunity to partner with the biggest name in sports, ESPN, you don't pass it up."

WPEN is also the home of Westwood One's NFL Sunday Night and Monday night football broadcasts, the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four as well as Villanova Wildcats football and men's basketball, select University of Pennsylvania men's basketball games, and served as the flagship station for the Arena Football League Philadelphia Soul until the league's dissolving in 2009.

97.5 The Fanatic

On October 9, 2009, WPEN's sports format began to be heard on WPEN-FM (formerly WNUW) under the identity of "97.5 The Fanatic." At present most but not all of the two stations' programming is simulcast, with the FM station being promoted as the primary frequency. During the 2009 Major League Baseball playoffs, the NLCS was broadcast on the 97.5FM frequency while 950AM carried a live broadcast of the "DeSean Jackson Show". Some play-by-play broadcasts of college football and college basketball are also being aired only on the AM.

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