For yet more proof that nothing lasts forever in radio, the venerable 92.3 FM — once known as "Disco 92," then "K-Rock" (Howard Stern's terrestrial radio base for 20 years) and more recently "Alt 92.3" — will no longer program music. As of Thursday morning at 9, the 57-year-old all-news station WINS/1010 AM will begin simulcasting on that frequency. The station's name will change from WNYL to WINS-FM.
The move also comes nearly 10 years to the day (Nov. 1, 2012) after WFAN took over the FM slot of WRXP/101.9. Both stations were then controlled by CBS Radio, now part of Philadelphia-based radio giant Audacy, which owns both 1010 and its news radio sister station WCBS/880 AM.
The musical end of 92.3 FM wraps a long and particularly colorful part of New York radio history. The station was a groundbreaking monster during the disco era, then morphed into another monster with Stern and its classic rock format (with many former WNEW-FM jocks). After Stern left in late 2005 for Sirius XM (he began his uncensored show on the satellite radio broadcaster in early 2006), the hosting duo of Gregg "Opie" Hughes and Anthony Cumia, aka "Opie and Anthony," arrived (briefly). In recent years, the station embraced alternative rock, albeit fitfully. An "Alt 92.3" morning staple — host Cane Peterson — was also fired last year (long story, but his vaccination status had something to do with that). Before his forced exit, Peterson then told listeners the flip with 1010 WINS was imminent.
Not quite, but close enough. "Why now? That question has been bandied about for many years, but one of the major issues is that we're still governed by FCC cap rules," said Chris Oliviero, president of Audacy New York, referring to a federal limit on how many stations any company can own in any one city. "Any time we wanted to add something to FM, we had to take something away." (Audacy owns six New York-based stations.)
"We had to make a choice [and] news and sports is what we do really well."
The move is expected to be a boon for 1010, much as it was for WFAN a decade ago. Audacy's bet is that younger listeners will come upon 1010 — audiences who might not even know what an "AM" radio station is. Moreover, the FM simulcast should dramatically extend 1010's reach throughout the tristate area: 1010's signal has traditionally been weaker than 880's, which this move should remedy.
Thursday's switch is also timed to coincide with a long-planned newsroom merger between 1010 and 880. Ben Mevorach, Audacy's vice president of New York News, said in an interview that both stations will retain their separate identities, but that the merger "removes the redundancy of coverage" and frees reporters up at each station to cover different stories. Mevorach added that there will be no layoffs but "actually the opposite: This is an all-out assault on becoming the dominant [radio] news leader here."
Michael Harrison — the veteran radio host, onetime WLIR program director, and publisher of Talkers Magazine — said in a phone interview that "as natives of the 20th century, you and I still think there's a difference between AM and FM but to natives of the 21st century, these are irrelevant facts. The flip doesn't mean anything other than Audacy is doing the best it can to keep up with the times."
Does Harrison — one of the fathers of modern music radio, after all — lament the end of Alt 92.3?
"It's sad to see it go on a certain level, but radio gave up ownership of music years ago," he said. "It's been a slow fade and this is another one of the lights going out. It doesn't indicate anything beyond that."