|City||New York, New York|
|Broadcast area||New York metropolitan area|
|Slogan||#1 For Hip Hop|
|First air date||1948 (as WNNJ at 103.5)|
1949 (97.1, as WNBC-FM)
|HAAT||408 meters (1,339 ft)|
|Call sign meaning||W Q HoT|
|Former call signs|
|Owner||Mediaco Holding, Inc. |
(Emmis License Corporation of New York)
|Sister stations||WBLS, WEPN-FM (leased to ESPN Radio, WLIB|
WQHT (97.1 FM, "Hot 97") is a commercial radio station in New York City. Owned by Mediaco Holding and operated by Emmis Communications under a shared services agreement, it broadcasts an urban contemporary format.
The history of the 97.1 frequency goes back to 1949, when NBC experimental station W2XWG came on the air in 1940 on 42.6 MHz. That station became W51NY when it moved to 45.1 MHz. On September 22, 1944, W51NY began commercial operations as WEAF-FM. After several frequency and call letters changes, WNBC-FM was established at 97.1 by 1949. It usually simulcast WNBC's AM programming. In 1954, it changed its call letters to WRCA-FM (reflecting NBC's then-parent company, RCA), but reverted to WNBC-FM in 1960.
WNBC-FM played classical music in the 1950s; it later switched to pop music. It ran network programming for some time, such as the NBC Monitor weekend series. By the 1970s, it was playing a pop-rock format. Beginning on June 4, 1973, it experimented with a fully automated programming scheme with local inserts known as "The Rock Pile"--a forerunner of today's DJ-free adult hits format with a wide diversity of pop, rock and R&B that proved to be 30 years ahead of its time--but technical glitches were frequent and listenership dropped. For a brief period starting in late 1974, the station attempted a fully automated beautiful music format for a younger demographic, called "The Love of New York".
NBC Radio then launched the NBC "News and Information Service", a network service providing up to 50 minutes an hour of news programming to local stations that wanted to adopt an all-news format without the high costs of producing large quantities of local news content. WNBC-FM's small audience was deemed expendable to allow the NIS to have a New York outlet. Thus, on June 18, 1975, the station became WNWS and branded itself "NewsCenter 97", an allusion to WNBC-TV's "NewsCenter 4" local newscasts. Ratings were low,[clarification needed] and the service did not attract enough stations to allow NBC to project that it could ever become profitable (at the network's peak, only 57 stations across the country carried NIS, most of them already NBC Radio News affiliates).
On January 1, 1977, NBC unceremoniously shut down NIS. This was the final story on "NewsCenter 97", as reported by Wayne Howell Chappelle (February 16, 1921 - July 8, 1993), known professionally as Wayne Howell:
"In a minute and 25 seconds, it'll be 1977 on the east coast. All news, all day, everyday. This is your News and Information Service. I'm Wayne Howell. Happy New Year!"
The station then went to a commercial break and at the stroke of midnight, 97.1 aired their legal ID and adopted an adult contemporary format with a rock lean (to compete against WKTU, ironically, the current call letters of WYNY on 103.5), under the moniker "Y-97". The first song on "Y-97" was "Tonight's the Night" by Rod Stewart. The call letters WNWS were still in use at the time, but shortly afterward, the station became known as WYNY.
Ratings were fair at best[clarification needed] and by the end of 1978, after toying briefly with an all-Beatles format, WYNY evolved to a MOR format featuring Frank Sinatra, The Carpenters, Elvis Presley, Barry Manilow, Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Elton John, Carly Simon, and Billy Joel among others. They were an easy listening station without all the elevator music heard on WRFM or WPAT-AM-FM. Ratings went up gradually.
By 1980, WYNY moved away from Frank Sinatra and the Lettermen though they continued running "Saturday with Sinatra" hosted by Sid Mark. Musically, they added Motown songs, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, Donna Summer, and soft hits by hard rockers.
By 1981, the station format was that of pop hits from 1964 to what was then current music, with an occasional pre-64 rock & roll song. Ratings went up from 1981 through 1983. By 1982, WYNY trimmed the '60s music slightly. Some of the air personalities included Dan Daniel, Bill St. James, Bruce Bradley, Randy Davis, Carol Mason, Mike McCann, Floyd Wright, Steve O'Brien, Bill Rock, Margaret Jones, Paulie, and Ed Baer. On Sunday evenings, the station aired a pioneering advice show, Sexually Speaking, which made its host, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a national celebrity. The station was also a pioneer of contemporary Christian music in the city, airing the weekly show Masterpeace, hosted by Steven Joseph. Sid Mark continued hosting "Saturday with Sinatra". On weekend evenings call-in talk shows, such as "Mouth Versus Ear" with Dick Summers, was an alternative to other stations mundane public service shows.
In 1983, rival stations WHTZ and WPLJ adopted a contemporary hit radio (CHR) format, attracting younger listeners. WYNY continued with its AC format. Then in January 1984, WLTW signed on, taking away older listeners. WYNY's ratings plummeted, and in 1986, the station was revamped with the music staying "Hot AC" but marketed as a "Z-100 for Yuppies". The station had new jingles and imaging, and became known as "The NEW 97.1 WYNY". The format, however, was that of the same pop hits from 1964 to the then-present. The station continued to rate low. NBC had problems with sister station WNBC as well. Then, in April 1987, a country music station, WHN, announced plans to go sports full-time on July 1, to become all-sports WFAN. In response, WYNY announced it would change to country music on July 1.
This format change was announced to the press in advance, but not over the air except on Saturday With Sinatra. At 12:01 a.m. July 1, WYNY ended its AC format with "Hello, Goodbye" by The Beatles and went country, playing "Think About Love" by Dolly Parton. The airstaff all remained, though some gradually left later in the year.
Dan Daniel (who had left WYNY in the mid-1980s and returned), Randy Davis, Carol Mason, Lisa Taylor, Floyd Wright, and others survived the format change and remained with WYNY's country unit long after it would leave 97.1 FM and move to 103.5, where it remained until its 1996 demise. (The WYNY call letters resurfaced on the suburban 107.1 frequency in late 1998 at a country station that had started up later in 1996; the format lasted until 2002. As of 2015, the WYNY call letters reside on a station in Milford, Pennsylvania.)
In 1987, Emmis agreed to buy NBC's New York radio stations, which gave Emmis superior signals for use by WFAN and WQHT. Emmis sold its 103.5 license and the rights to WYNY's intellectual property to Westwood One, and the WYNY call sign and format would move to that frequency while WQHT would shift to 97.1 in 1988.
In the fall of 1988, Emmis purchased WYNY from NBC, as well as the license of WNBC (AM), which would be shut down. On September 22, 1988, at 5:30 p.m., the stations swapped frequencies. WYNY was moved to 103.5 FM, while WQHT's rhythmic contemporary format moved to 97.1 FM and became "Hot 97." After the transition to Hot 97, Stephanie Miller and Howard Hoffman were brought in to do the morning show, J. Paul Emerson stayed on as newsman, with Daniel Ivankovich ("Reverend Doctor D") and brought in as producer.
The station started to lean towards top 40 by 1989 due to decreasing ratings. By 1990, the station started to play more house, freestyle, and rhythm and blues music and launched the Saturday Night House Party show.:320, 334 WQHT broadcast live from area night clubs such as The Tunnel, Roseland and Metrohouse from 2 am until 4 am Saturday into Sunday morning.
Towards the end of 1992 and early 1993, Hot 97 dropped to "dead last among New York's three pop stations.":336 In response, Emmis named Judy Ellis its General Manager (a position in which she served until 2003) and WQHT started to add more R&B and hip-hop product. The station started a gradual two-year change towards an Urban-oriented rhythmic top 40 format.:320, 334-336
A new generation of hot jocks began appearing on Hot 97. Dan Charnas recounted the perception of this move: "The trades ran stories on the new trend, typified by the Emmis stations, Hot 97 and Power 106: hiring street kids or entertainers with little or no radio experience at the expense of longtime professionals who had paid their dues.":347 Among the most famous was the addition of a new morning show hosted by Ed Lover and Doctor Dré of Yo! MTV Raps. With rising ratings and a focus on East Coast artists like the Wu-Tang Clan, Charnas credited Hot 97 as leading a comeback for East Coast hip hop.:347-348
In 1993, Funkmaster Flex joined Hot 97 and was host of the Friday Night Street Jam and weekly two-hour show where he mixed hip-hop live from the studio.
Other noteworthy personalities included the addition of Wendy Williams to afternoon drive (Williams used to be the overnight jock back on Hot 103 in 1988). Angie Martinez, a researcher on "New York Hot Tracks" in the late 1980s and who previously worked in the promotions department, was promoted to nights. A few years later, the two had a public falling out, resulting in Williams being fired from WQHT and Martinez assuming afternoon drive, where she remained until she was hired by WWPR-FM on June 19, 2014.
In 1995, Hot 97 again became New York's top station in the Arbitron ratings. While the station reported as a rhythmic CHR, the station was musically more of an urban contemporary format leaning toward hip hop though in some trades they reported as a rhythmic CHR.
In May 2007, R&R and BDS moved WQHT back to the Rhythmic Airplay panel[clarification needed] after a long tenure as an urban reporter;[clarification needed] however the station was always a rhythmic reporter per Mediabase.
In the fall of 2008, WQHT served as the home of the nationally syndicated Big Boy's Neighborhood, produced by ABC Radio and based at WQHT's sister station, KPWR Power 106 in Los Angeles. However, by July 2009, WQHT dropped the program and instead expanded their local morning show hosted by new morning jocks DJ Cipha Sounds and Peter Rosenberg.
On July 1, 2019, Emmis Communications announced that it would sell WQHT and sister station WBLS to the public company Mediaco Holding--an affiliate of Standard General--for $91.5 million and a $5 million promissory note. In addition, Emmis will take a 23.72% stake in the new company's common equity, and continue to manage the stations under shared services agreements. The sale was completed November 27, 2019.
On September 9, 2008, Emmis announced a programming partnership with WorldBand Media and to use WQHT's HD-3 signal to produce programming for the South Asian communities in three major cities including New York City. In June 2009, the service was removed from WQHT and placed on sister station WRKS's HD2.
As of 2014HumDesi Radio, a South Asian-focusing radio network., WQHT-HD2 airs
On January 17, 2005, Miss Jones provoked a controversy by airing a song entitled "USA for Indonesia" a month after approximately 167,000 people in Indonesia and 227,000 people worldwide were left dead or missing from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami which affected the Asia-Pacific and Somalia. The song, a parody sung to the 1985 tune "We Are the World", was criticized for overtly racist mocking of the Asian victims; the song lyrics contain the racially derogatory word "Chinamen," and calls the drowning victims "bitches." Some of the lyrics included the words "Go find your mommy. I just saw her float by, a tree went through her head. And now your children will be sold into child slavery."
Miss Info, a fellow on-air colleague of Korean descent, was outraged and spoke against the song on the station. She excluded herself from producing the song and said it was wrong for it to be played. Miss Info was insulted by other DJs on the air. Another jock on the show, Todd Lynn, muttered "I'm gonna start shooting Asians." Following angry protests from the public, Miss Jones, DJ Envy, and Tasha Hightower were suspended for two weeks while Todd Lynn and songwriter Rick Del Gado were fired. The station issued an apology on its website. Newsday, Sprint, McDonald's and Toyota all pulled their advertising from the station. The suspended employees' pay was diverted to charities helping victims of the tsunami.
On February 25, 2001, a shootout erupted between Lil' Kim and the entourages of Kim and rival rapper Foxy Brown in front of the offices of Hot 97 on Hudson Street, with an injury to one of Lil' Kim's bodyguards. It led to an investigation by the FBI and a trial which found Lil Kim guilty of perjury and sentenced to a year in prison for it in mid-2005. In February 2005, gunfire erupted in front of the same place between 50 Cent's entourage and the Game's entourage. The Game was quickly met by 50 Cent's crew after being notified he was at the front entrance of the building. A friend of 50 Cent pulled a gun out and shot at The Game and his entourage. A bullet hit a member of the Game's entourage in the leg. Both incidents also led to the nickname "Shot 97" by Wendy Williams.
Since its inception, WQHT has held "The Hot 97 Summer Jam" every June. The concert series, originally featuring Dance artists until its shift to Hip-Hop acts, has always run into controversy.
Wu Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck stated that the group faced a 10-year blacklist by Hot 97 after a fiasco involving their booking at the concert. In June 1997, the group was on tour with Rage Against the Machine in Europe in support of the Wu-Tang Forever album, but was also booked to perform at the Summer Jam. Deck stated that the station strong-armed the group in to flying back to the United States at their own cost to perform at the show for free, lest their relationship with the station be in jeopardy. As Hot 97 was one of the major stations that gave the group exposure during their early years, they felt it best to perform at the Summer Jam, not wanting to lose a major ally. Wu Tang member Ghostface Killah was so infuriated by this, that he shouted "Fuck Hot 97!" during the set, and got the crowd to repeatedly chant it. This led to what Deck says was a 10-year blacklist of Wu Tang from Hot 97, and even other New York radio stations, which affected their commercial reputation and music sales. The two sides would later make amends, and Wu Tang Clan performed a set at the 2013 Summer Jam.
Other notable controversies include a 2001 show in which Jay Z put embarrassing childhood photos of Mobb Deep's Prodigy "up on that Summer Jam screen". The 2002 concernt saw a bailout from headliner Nas after the station objected to him hanging an effigy of Jay Z from the stage during the height of their rivalry. Later beefs involving 50 Cent and Ja Rule, Eminem's feud with The Source, a 2006 show that had Busta Rhymes parading a series of rap legends onstage, and then-Hot 97 airstaffer Miss Jones dissing Mary J. Blige on air after the singer did not mention her name when she sent shout-outs to the Hot 97 DJs. The 2007 show saw Kanye West and Swizz Beatz engaging in a beat battle. The 2009 show saw Jay Z rapping "D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)" next to T-Pain (criticizing his use of the aforementioned technique on his songs).
The 2012 event made headlines when moments before Nicki Minaj was about to take to the stage, morning host Peter Rosenberg made a negative comment about her song "Starships", saying to the fans, "I see the real hip-hop heads sprinkled in here. I see them. I know there are some chicks here waiting to sing 'Starships' later--I'm not talking to y'all right now." That comment and the alleged sexual relationship between the self-proclaimed "Queen of rap" and the host Ebro Darden would prompt Lil Wayne to pull Minaj and the rest of the acts signed to Cash Money Records out of the event. Minaj later spoke to Funkmaster Flex about the incident. After that, she appeared on Rosenberg's show, with the host apologizing to her on air. She performed two songs with 2 Chainz at the following year's Summer Jam.
The 2014 event that took place on June 2 would be blasted in a comment five days later (on June 6) by Chuck D of Public Enemy, who accused the station of allowing artists who were performing there to use racial slurs and offensive language, calling it a "Sloppy Fiasco," adding that "If there was a festival and it was filled with anti-Semitic slurs... or racial slurs at anyone but black people, what do you think would happen? Why does there have to be such a double standard?" He also cites the lack of WQHT not allowing more up-and-coming artists to perform on stage. This was later addressed by Ebro Darden and Rosenberg on their morning show, responding to remarks that include the charge that Hot 97 is a "CORPlantation," but Darden, who admits that he agrees with Chuck D on addressing the issues, later pointed out by responding that "I think there's validity to what he's saying as to, 'I guess Hot 97 could be more local," and added "But people that listen to us when we research the songs don't vote those songs high enough to stay around. I have this debate and I put the onus back on the public to participate."
On June 7, 2015, more than 61 people were arrested and 10 New Jersey State Police troopers were injured after a fight over tickets and crowd capacity overshadows the 2015 Summer Jam event that was held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The sold-out event also caused confusion among the ticket goers who were denied entry, which added to the rioted melee. The following day (June 8), WQHT addressed the issue on its morning show and plans to refund the customers who could not get into the event, while the American Civil Liberties Union's New Jersey chapter called for the state Attorney General's office to investigate if any violations were reported. In the same year, Travis Scott blasted Hot 97 for not allowing him to use a screen at Summer Jam, and later incited a riot.
Although the Festival Village portion was cancelled due to weather for the 2016 event, Hot 97 confirmed their annual Summer Jam will continue "rain or shine".
The event and its influence, despite losing credibility, constant rivalry between artists and with the station itself, and declining audiences, continues to be a legacy for WQHT. As Funkmaster Flex puts it: "I think a radio station such as Hot 97 has a way of keeping to the pulse...And I think why it has survived so long is you know the radio station knows what artists are on the cusp or on the come up, and they always know the legends that people wanna see."
Top 3 U.S. markets to offer programming in HD for the South Asian ethnic community