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New Orleans Radio History
by Alex Cosper

see also American Radio History


New Orleans is one of the original launching grounds for blues music. Some historians even flat out call New Orleans the birthplace of the blues - which spread up and down the Mississippi River and to Southern cities such as Memphis and Atlanta. New Orleans had been an early capital of the Louisiana Territory (which consisted of much of the South and Midwest) prior to joining the United States. In those days it was controlled by the French, who built the historic French Quarter. Sadly, this city of legends was devastated in August 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.

WWL (870), the oldest radio station in New Orleans, continues to be the leading AM news station in town, as well as being number one overall in the market. As a result of Katrina, the Entercom station temporarily moved its studios to Baton Rouge and became the flagship outlet of shared programming for several Entercom and Clear Channel radio stations who briefly teamed together to form the "United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans." Depending on the weather conditions, WWL's 50kw signal can be heard in over 40 states.

Early New Orleans radio stations dating back to the twenties, the earliest days of radio, included these stations and owners:

WAAB (Valdemar Jenses)
WAAC (Tulane University)
WBAM (I.B. Rennysen)
WCAG (Daily States Publishing Co.)
WGV (Interstate Electric Co.)
WWL (Loyola University)

By the 1940s after an FCC reallocation of dial positions that affected the entire nation, the New Orleans AM radio dial emerged as follows: WWL (850), WJBW (1230), WDSU (1280), WSMB (1350), WNOE (1450).

One of the most adventurous stations in New Orleans history was WZRH (106.1/The Zephyr), an independent station owned by Howe Broadcasting in the nineties that played alternative music. The station had a wide playlist but was unable to compete with challenger KKND (The End), which signed on in 1995. The End went on to become the definitive alternative station in town while The Zephyr sold to Guaranty and flipped formats.

The most successful AM station that survived FM's takeover of radio audiences became Keymarket's news/talk WWL (870), a top five station in the nineties. The top music station of the era was urban contemporary WQUE (93.3), owned by Clear Channel. Other leading stations included REP Southeast's country combo WNOE (1060 AM and 101.1 FM), Snowden's urban adult contemporary leader WYLD (98.5) and top 40 champion WEZB (97.1), which flipped to talk in October 1995. The change opened the door for independent adult contemporary station KHOM (104.1) to flip to the only contemporary hits station in town for awhile. By 1996 Clear Channel had taken over KHOM as it continued to advance from the bottom of the ratings to market challenger.

Although many rock bands have come from New Orleans, the rock format seemed to fizzle in the market from the nineties on. WRNO (99.5) became the lone rocker in February 1994, only to flip to oldies a year later. Within a few years it went from being an independent to corporate station, first to EZ Communications then to Sinclair as the format flipped again - to classic rock. WCKW (92.3), owned by 222 Corp, emerged as a competitor in the mid-nineties.

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