Philadelphia Radio Archives
History of Philadelphia radio station 101.1 WBEB
On May 13, 1963, Dave Kurtz, then an engineer with Philco Electronics, turned on the master switch of WDVR-FM in the Barker building at 18 W. Chelten Ave. in Germantown and played “The Theme From The High and the Mighty.” Within four months, the station’s mix of “familiar music” such as Mantovani, Percy Faith, and Lawrence Welk made it the number one FM station in Philadelphia. At launch, Kurtz was joined by sales manager Jerry Lee and station manager/program director Marlin Taylor.
At this time, the world was dominated by AM radio. Few FM stations had ever shown a profit, nor were they able to compete with AM stations in ratings, advertising revenue, or recognition. Indeed few people had FM radios, or ever bothered to listen to FM. Most car radios, even in new cars, were equipped with “AM only” radios, and sales were slow for FM sets in general. AM was considered “real broadcasting” and FM was considered “hobby broadcasting.” With few listeners, and even fewer dollars, a small number of FM stations were beginning to experiment with recently approved stereo broadcasting. Their stereo schedules usually totaled no more than a few hours a week. WDVR started an industry trend by broadcasting in stereo 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This was not the only groundbreaking event undertaken by Kurtz and business partner Jerry Lee. In 1968, WDVR became the first FM station anywhere to gross $1 million a year. The station also created the first big money giveaway in radio ($101,000), and the first professional TV spot to promote radio.
In 1968, WDVR moved its studios to 10 Presidential Boulevard in Bala Cynwyd, then known as the Reynolds Aluminum Building. The transmitter had moved earlier from the roof of the Barker Building to a tower in Roxborough. In 1969, United Artists offered $3.3 million for the station. Although this was a staggering amount of money at the time for a single FM station, the offer was turned down.
WEAZ Eazy 101 Philadelphia
On September 15, 1980, started using the name EAZY 101, and changed call letters to WEAZ shortly thereafter. The first song on EAZY 101 was “Nice ‘n’ Easy” by Frank Sinatra. The station’s TV promotions featured spokesman Patrick O’Neal telling viewers: “Other station’s call letters begin with a ‘W’. Ours begins with an ‘E’. E-A-Z-Y.” (Note that the station’s call letters did actually begin with a ‘W’, despite what O’Neal said on TV) When easy listening rival WWSH (106.1) switched to Top 40 in 1982, EAZY 101 was the only remaining Philadelphia beautiful music station. During the mid and late 80s, it was often tied for first place in the Arbitron ratings. As the 80s progressed, WEAZ added more vocals per hour, usually from the orginal artists. However, the station was still unmistakably formatted as beautiful music, with instrumental versions of new and old music.
WEAZ Radio Giveaway
Around 1985, WEAZ began offering free radios to local businesses through a letter writing campaign. The radios were permanently tuned to 101.1 FM and had no external knob for changing the frequency. These were high quality table units in a rosewood cabinet weighing almost 13 pounds and featuring a six inch speaker. An optional matching speaker-only attachment was also available. According to owner Jerry Lee, they gave away 50,000 radios worth $1.7 million.1 As a result of this promotion, 101 FM in Philadelphia likely had the highest percentage of daytime listening of any station in the country for almost 20 years. Some of these radios are still in operation today and are routinely seen in medical office waiting rooms throughout the Delaware Valley. A label on the radio reads “L&K Sales” which refers to the station owners at the time, Lee and Kurtz. At one point, rival station Kiss 100 offered a kit containing a small plastic screwdriver and instructions for re-tuning the radio to the nearby Kiss 100 frequency of 100.3 FM. The station met with protest from Eazy 101 over this offering, and very few radios are known to have had their frequency altered. Because the radios did not use a quartz crystal-controlled tuning system, they were very prone to becoming slightly de-tuned over time, resulting in many being discarded by the late 1990s due to audible interference.
In 1987, Jerry Lee arranged an industry study of American listening habits and determined that “People who grew up after the advent of Rock ‘n Roll basically do not like instrumental music.”2 So on February 6, 1988, WEAZ dropped the easy listening format and started on the road towards adult-contemporary (AC). The station was extremely popular at the time of the switch, and was inundated for days with angry, distraught callers. The new TV spokesman was Robert Urich, and the station’s name was shortened to EZ-101. Initially, the new format was programmed with a satellite-delivered music service but airstaff returned by the following year.
By the early 90s, WEAZ had evolved from a very light AC station to a very mainstream AC station, yet it was still called EZ-101. All of that changed on April 25, 1993, when WEAZ broke its final ties with the old easy listening image and became B101.1, “More music with less talk.” The call letters were changed to WBEB and Robert Urich was dropped from the TV ads in favor of anonymous, attractive thirtysomethings. The last song played on EZ-101 was “Easy” by the Commodores. The first song on B101 was “Some Guys Have All The Luck” by Rod Stewart.
The station’s morning show received more focus under the B101 name. After the name change, EZ 101 morning man Bob Bateman was dismissed and Don Dawson took over the slot. The following year, Chris McCoy and Joan Jones (“Chris and JJ”) became a popular morning team. Joan Jones was replaced by Tiffany Hill in the late 1990s. In 2007, Chris was let go and Samantha Layne joined Hill. The following year, Michael Chew replaced Layne.
In the early 2000s, WBEB began playing an all-Christmas music format begining around mid-November and lasting through Christmas.
On December 10, 2013, WBEB announced they would be rebranding as “More FM” to distance itself further from its lighter rock roots. The announcers and format would stay the same. The name change took place on December 26, 2013.
101.1 was well known throughout the radio industry for being the last major market station in the country that was independently owned. Unlike every other commercial FM station in town, it was not owned by a conglomerate or media company as part of a cluster of co-owned stations. The original owner, Dave Kurtz, granted business partner Jerry Lee up to 49% ownership in the station in the 1970s based on Lee meeting certain annual revenue and profit targets. Lee was a visionary when it came to marketing radio, helping advertisers succeed, and spending heavily on research.
In 2005, when Dave Kurtz died, Lee bought the remaining 51% ownership from Kurtz’s widow. However, at that time the station had a very high valuation (approximately $180 million) and by many estimates, he overpaid. By 2015, with loans coming due, lenders took control of the station, although Jerry Lee remained chairman of the board.
End of an Era
On July 19, 2018 Entercom (owner of all the former CBS radio stations) announced that it was purchasing MoreFM for $57.5 million, thus ending the station’s reign as the last Philadelphia independent and any association with Jerry Lee. On September 9, 2018, Entercom took over operation of WBEB in advance of closing on the sale through a time brokerage agreement. On November 8, Entercom changed the name of the station back to B101.1, noting how heavily marketed and well known the name had been in the past.
- (1), (2) The Pulse of Radio magazine, 3/2/1992
- Interview with Dave Kurtz, 1993
- Rich Franklin
- WEAZ aircheck, 4/25/1993
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