No, I didn’t forget. I just didn’t think many would care! (Apparently a number of you do, or I wouldn’t be writing this!) This past December 26 marked 20 years since WSHH-FM (99.7) shed the instrumental covers for an all-vocal easy listening format. If I recall correctly, the change happened around Noon that day as the station, coming off of it’s first live broadcast for Make-A-Wish and the traditional 36-hour Christmas Music run, still played some of the instrumentals that morning with Jack Bogut. The station also shed the Sinatra, Bennett and other crooner tunes it played opting to focus on Neil Diamond, The Carpenters and other still mellow vocal artists. The station has gradually, and graciously morphed into a soft rock station and now you’d be hard-pressed to find The Carpenters on there on a regular basis.
The format change led to the creation of WEZE-FM which formed in early 1990 on 104.7. The station had recently been purchased by Salem Broadcasting who opted not to continue with WNRJ “Energy 104”. Within a few short months it lured a number of Wish employees – including station manager Joe Fenn who resumed his position at WEZE and went back to doing the morning show. Leah Klocko left the evenings at Wish for afternoon drive on WEZE. Ed Price, who had done a shift at WJAS moved over and started working evenings with his dulcet tones, unfortunately passing away suddenly about a year later. Disgruntled Wish listeners flocked to 104.7 and were satisfied for almost two years. During that time they went after Wish with liners like “Your WISH for Easy Listening is on WEZE-FM – Easy 104.7” and even copied the 36 hour Christmas run. And, perhaps the biggest change of all, the station moved from its New Kensington home to Parkway Center in Greentree. In late fall of 1991, WEZE listeners started to hear something unusual. All of a sudden WLTJ was advertising its station on WEZE and no one could really figure out why. But soon the papers let the word out that WEZE would soon change to WORD-FM with a religious format thus bringing the end of Beautiful Music on the Pittsburgh airwaves. WORD-FM eventually moved over to its sister signal on 101.5 and remains in Parkway Center to this day. 104.7 was shed to another company where it became WXRB “The Rebel” and a country format followed by an alternative format with WNRQ, Smooth Jazz and later Jammin’ Oldies with WJJJ and, in 2004 with the most successful format (now 6 years old) on the signal since WYDD days – FM Talk as WPGB.
But Wish is still with us. As I mentioned, it has gradually changed with the times over the last 20 years and is one of two stations in town that goes all-Christmas every year. It’s worth noting that up until a few years ago, the 36- hour Christmas run still included a lot of the instrumental renditions of Christmas favorites which had once been mixed in to the format in the old days. It is also worth noting that Wish is the only local commercial station which still plays some Christmas music between Christmas and the New Year.
If you miss beautiful music on your radio, there are still some places to receive it. For cable subscribers who have the option of “Music Choice” on their boxes, Phil Stout (who was one of the main programmers for Shulke Radio Productions – a beautiful music supplier for stations including Wish) programs the Easy Listening channel. Marlin Taylor (considered by many to be the “father” of the beautiful music format) is the programmer for Sirius/XM’s “Escape”. Much of the custom music – recorded specifically for these formats mainly by artists from the UK – is becoming available for purchase mainly through sites like Rhapsody.com. And for you real beautiful music afficionados, you can join the Yahoo! Group – Beautiful Instrumentals and Vocals run by Jim Masters.
The format may not work for Commercial FM stations anymore, but it’s not completely dead.
Happy New Year 2010!