United States of America, New York City
New York's Greatest Hits
For the last 45 years, WCBS 880 (sometimes called WCBS NewsRadio) has frequented the AM dial in New York with news, hot topics, weather updates and critical information. The station, located in Manhattan, can be heard throughout the entire eastern northern America region. It’s now one of the go-to stations for news coverage. WCBS NewsRadio 880 didn’t always have the format it’s famous for today. Some may even say the news radio station has had a troubled past with establishing it’s unique identity. A history often plagued with conflicts and controversies.
Even before commercial radio was a thing, WCBS 880 was on the air. The station can be traced back to 1924 when Alfred H. Grebe started WAHG at 9:20 AM. WAHG was a trailing a station in New York. It soon became one of the first commercial radio stations to broadcast from remote locations. It’s programming included news, sport and event coverage such as horse races and yachting events. Alfred Grebe changed the station’s call sign to WABC after two years (for his Atlantic Broadcasting Company) after finalising a business deal with a few competitors. The studio was moved to West 57th Street.
In 1928, General Order 40 relocated the station’s frequency to 970, and the station became an occasional partner of the Columbia Broadcasting System – they were looking for an around the clock radio presence in the New York area. After a short period broadcasting CBS programming a couple of times during the week, CBS president William S. Paley bought WABC and it became an affiliate of CBS. After the purchase, the station moved to the 860 frequency. Shortly after, they increased its transmitting power from 5,000 to its present output of 50,000 watts. The station also moved its studios to CBS’s Madison Avenue headquarters. Still functioning as WABC, the stations’ line-up now included a unique mix of local programming, ethnic content and music shows from CBS’s national coverage. The growing interest in CBS’s news programming influenced WABC to turn more to the national news programming.
In 1941, WABC moved to the radio frequency it currently broadcasts on, 880. The station changed its letters to WCBS on November 2, 1946. This was to align more closely with its parent network, the Columbia Broadcasting System or CBS.
Over the next two decades, WCBS (not to be confused with WCBS FM) created a series of radio soap operas, topical and political talk shows. This was held in the afternoon. As well as this they had an all-night, easy listening adult contemporary music show called Music ’til Dawn hosted by Bob Hall. This was sponsored by American Airlines. Guests and hosts for early WCBS shows included author Emily Kimbrough, Arthur Godfrey, and future CBS News CEO Bill Leonard.
WCBS 880 had received many criticisms from early on and was the centre of a few controversies. The earliest controversy arose in the 1950s, when one of their daytime hosts, John Henry Faulk, became a part of an anti-blacklisting wing. This led to Faulk and WCBS coming under fire with the anti-Communist group Aware, Inc. Faulk retaliated by suing Aware. To add to the controversy, rumours began to emerge that CBS and one of their leading broadcasters, Edward R. Murrow, paid Faulk excessive amounts to obtain the notable trial lawyer Louis Nizer.
Faulk ultimately won the case in 1963, however, he was fired from WCBS. Ultimately, the trail lead to a decline in ratings and listeners to his show. In 1975, a movie titled Fear on Trial was released, depicting the events of Faulk and his troubled time at WCBS.
By the late 60s, WCBS 880 had adopted a middle of the road (MOR) music and talk show format (however actual talking was kept to the minimum). Lee Jordan, Jack Sterling and Bill Randle were just a few of the personalities featured in the show. WCBS 880 playlist was a compilation of softer songs by rock-and-roll artists. The ratings for the show were normal compared to other radio stations, however, WCBS secured a foothold in regional news coverage (WOR and WNEW’s strengths) boosted by its position as CBS’s leading radio station.
Concerned with low ratings in the late the 60, CBS chairman William S. Paley embarked on a path that would lead to the introduction of a news radio setup, “Newsradio 88”. This revised format for WCBS first broadcasted on August 28, 1967, but on WCBS FM instead. A small plane destroyed WCBS’s AM antenna when it crashed on the day of the launch. The shows original anchors and presenters included Ed Bradley, Robert Vaughn, Pat Summerall and Charles Osgood.
A few radio stations inflicted WCBS’s now all-news format. That station layout was directly driven by the switch of WINS to a similar format in the early ’60s. WCBS has also taken inspiration from WBBM in Illinois, KNX in Los Angeles, WEEI in Boston and WCAU in Philadelphia.
During the midday and overnight, WCBS NewsRadio 880 maintained a middle of the road programming format but aired news coverage during drive periods. In 1970 WCBS cancelled the American Airlines-sponsored Music Till Dawn and in came an all-new format of news radio, Newsradio 88. By the late 70s, WCBS 880 became a news powerhouse, leading it to become an all-news radio station.
At the time WINS (now a major close competitor in the all-news radio arena), received higher ratings, however, WCBS ranked better in the suburbs because of its clearer, non-directional signal. WCBSs traffic reports also included more areas in Long Island and Westchester County. Compared to WINS, WCBS also has less rigid formatting and occasionally includes analysis pieces and in-depth interviews.
The year 2000 saw WCBS change its location to the CBS Broadcast Centre at 524 West 57th Street, however, their stay was short-lived. WCBS changes locations yet again in 2011. They now occupy a floor on 345 Hudson Street Broadcast Centre.
CBS agreed to join CBS Radio with Entercom on the 2nd February 2017. At the time Entercom was one of the biggest radio broadcasters in the states. CBS shareholders retained the majority of stakes after the merge. Following the merge, Entercom decided to separate both WCBS 880 and WCBS FM 101.1 from WCBS- TV.
WCBS now can also be listened to online. WCBS Newsradio 880 Live, however, is unavailable outside the US (many streaming services allow international listeners access to 880 live).
Despite the decline in radio listenership over the last 20 years, WCBS has still managed to keep an audience. This consists of mainly consisting of 35-60- year old professionals. A key uniqueness of WCBS is its ability to pair its traffic and weather reports together to give updates every ten minutes. They use the strapline “Traffic and Weather Together” to boost this. The two key members of WCBS who are behind the shows traction are chief meteorologist, Craig Allen and traffic reporter, Tom Kaminski. Both of whom have been with the station since the 80s.
WCBS NewsRadio 880 has been the radio flagship coverage station for the New York Yankees baseball team for three periods so far (the team used to own CBS Inc). WCBSs sister station WFAN now owns the right to the team coverage, although WCBS is still WFAN’s essential overflow medium. For short periods WCBS has also carried New York Giants football games and Brooklyn Nets games to avoid conflicts with opposition team fans. The New York Islanders moved their flagship station to WCBS in 2016 for that year’s playoffs, with WFAN broadcasting a selection of games when possible.
WCBS also broadcasted all of CBS’s radio sports coverage until WFAN took over 1987. WCBS covered most professional sports games in the area i.e. the Major League Baseball and the National Football League and occasionally served as the flagship station for St. John’s University basketball games. Key anchors and presenters include Spencer Ross, Barry Landers, Bill Daughtry and Bill Schweizer.
As WCBS Newsradio 880 only includes news and important updates, many artists and music lovers may not see the appeal in the radio station. However listening to this station does provide a few benefits, especially for those in the New York area. It’s always great to stay well informed about what is going on in certain areas, and if you are planning on visiting the state for a tour or you simply just want to see what the City that Never Sleeps has to offer, tune into WCBS 880 to be in the know about everything that is going on in the region.