Best known for its alternative rock format, ALT 92.3 is one of the top picks for New-Yorkers in search of non-mainstream rock music. Branded as ALT 92.3 in 2017, this radio stations’ history can be traced as far back as 70 years ago. It’s music format, name, and programmes style has changed numerous times over the decades.
ALT 92.3 is a radio station licensed to New York, NY and transmitted from the Empire State Building. The station broadcasts Alternative format and is owned by Entercom. ALT 92.3 has roughly 1.7 million listeners, which is a huge number considering the revamped station has only been live for 3 years.
When ALT 92.3 first went on the air at the end of 1948 it played a myriad of genres. Then known as WMCA-FM, the stations’ unique mixture of ethnic, classical and background music is what attracted people to this station. WMCA-FM had a very unique programming style but it was not deemed successful enough by its co-owner, New York state senator Nathan Straus Jr. This led to Straus selling the station to WHOM radio two years after the station first went on the air. The station was renamed WHOM-FM but it still operated in much the same way until the 1970s. This was when WHOM-FM adopted a Spanish-language easy listening setup.
In the early 1970s, WHOM and WHOM-FM were both sold to SJR Communications. The WHOM-FM was renamed again to WKTU. The format of the station was altered to feature Adult Contemporary programming and was marketed as a “soft rock” music radio station. By the mid-70s the 92.3 became known as “Mellow 92”. The station played current AC hits that were in the Top 40 and a combination of hits from the ’60s. Artists that got regular airplay included Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Barry Manilow, and many more. Examples of older music played on shows were softer Beatles songs, Mamas and Papas, Spanky and, Fifth Dimension.
The station tried to avoid playing hard rock or up-tempo pop and R&B songs as they wanted to be purely known for their mellow sound. To firmly position themselves as being the key station for “mellow rock”, WKTU dropped harsher sounding rock music and R&B altogether. They replaced this with Album-oriented rock music. They also stopped including artists featured on the Top 40.
In 1978 the format of the radio station was adapted yet again. David Rapaport, WKTU’s station executive was impressed by New York’s disco scene after visiting Studio 54 discothèque. This inspired him to start a disco- based station as there was a gap in the market for one. Rapaport purchased over 200 disco records and abruptly changed WKTU into a radio station that played disco music around the clock. Disco 92 launched on July 24th in 1978 and followed a top-40 format. To appeal to the 18−30 age demographic, radio personalities such as Kenn Hayes, Dave Mallow, and Trip Reeb were brought in on. By the late 70s, WKTU played an important role in the disco scene in New York.
Realising the stations’ success, Infinity Broadcasting acquired WKTU from SJR Communications In 1981. WKTU stayed among the top ten New York radio stations until 1983. However, new competition from WHTZ and WPLJ led to a decline in the show’s rating. As both these radio stations had CHR format, WKTU realised it needed to change to keep up with competitors. The station added in new programmes and hosts such as Dan Ingram and Jo Maeder, “The Madame”, from Miami’s Y-100. This did little to boost ratings
After airing the legendry Live Aid concert on July 13th, 1985, WKTU switched back to an album-oriented rock format and became known as “K-Rock”. The call name of 92.3 was launched to WXRK and added new radio personalities who better suited the music genre. Jimmy Fink (WPLJ) and Howard Stern (WNBC) were the first personalities to be signed under the new call name. The format of WXRK is probably the closest to how present-day ALT 92.3 is formatted.
By the mid-1990s modern rock rose in popularity and 92.3 faced stiff competition again. WHTZ had begun playing many modern rock hits despite primarily being a CHR radio station. In 1996 WXRK 92.3 switched to an alternative rock format – no station at this time had this format full time. Led by Stern, the new format of the show first aired on January 5th, 1996. After this change, many of WXRK’s classic rock DJ’s including Jimmy Fink, Marc Coppola, and Tony Pigg left.
Even though the station had a streamlined variety of music, WXRK 92.3 dropped the active rock variant of music as it made it hard for K-Rock to be categorized as an alternative station. In 2006 92.3 changed its format yet again as they were losing their target audience. Now the station adapted mainstream rock programming, heavily relying on classic music from artists including Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses. This strategy really improved ratings but some listeners who tuned in for the alternative music were angered about the changes. After being acquired by CBS, the format of the station and the call letters changed numerous times over a 10-year span. The stations’ luck in terms of ratings remained stationary.
Now called WNOW-FM, 92.3 relaunched itself as 92.3 AMP Radio in 2014. The first song on 92.3 AMP was “Summer” by Calvin Harris. Along with the relaunch came a new branding strategy. The stations call letters were changed to WBMP to align with the “AMP” branding. This rebrand led to a significant increase in ratings.
After CBS Radio merged with Entercom in 2017, WBMP reverted back to its alternative sound programming (hence its name Alt 92.3). The next year the station changed its official call letters to WNYL but it uses the moniker ALT 92.3. With the new motto “New York’s new alternative”, the station successfully positioned itself as the go-to station for alternative music. “My Hero” by the Foo Fighters was the first song to be played on ALT 92.3. This marked the return of a genre that listeners hadn’t heard on the channel for more than 5 years. Although ALT 92.3 is relatively new, it is doing well ratings-wise and has built a steady listenership in its third full year. ALT 93.2 has roughly 1.7 million listeners per week. Like other radio stations owned by CBS, ALT 92.3 broadcasts out of CBS’s 345 Hudson Street, New York Broadcasting studios.
“Bringing alternative back to New York was a huge deal,” says Susan Larkin, Entercom’s market manager and president for the NY area. In a recent interview with the New York times, ALT 93.2 says that their alternative rock sound is crucial to help them stand out against competitors, however, they do play a few hits to attract more of their target audience of 25-43-year olds. In this same interview, ALT 92.3 said they are also focused on building a local community through their live events; such as a special performance by Twenty One Pilots.
One of the most listened to hosts on Alt 92.3 is Christine Malovetz, who has the weekly midday slot. Malovetz is also an assistant program director of ALT 92.3 alongside Mike Kaplan. Other hosts and radio personalities for ALT 92.3 include; Kevan Kenney, Jai, Cane Peterson, Lara Dua-Swartz or Lars and Ashley Hollier.
Despite only being around for three years, it is amazing how WNYL. ALT 92.3 has managed to grow its listenership to over 1.5 million people weekly. Even if the frequency already existed, the channel has changed it’s formatting style entirely since the 90s. ALT 92.3 provides an outlet that combines some unknown and hidden gems with the timely and classic rock tracks. ALT 92.3 is also great for rock artists in the alternative rock scene in New York and surrounding areas. You could even hear your track played on the radio station! ALT 92.3 focuses on building local communities through the rock events they put on. This is again another great way for aspiring artists to network, gain inspiration from, and maybe even perform!