Why WMCA Dropped Top40
By Allan Sniffen
A lot of things happened all at once to damage WMCA as a top 40 station.
First, they played with a successful format too quickly. As soon as the ratings took a relatively minor dip, the station overreacted by abandoning the very thing that made it popular... the "Good Guy" concept. It was more than a slogan. It was an attitude. WMCA was never the "slickest" station in New York but it was the friendliest. Listen to Harry Harrison or Ed Baer today. They still do that kind of radio. Removing that "less then perfect but one of you" attitude was a huge mistake.
Second, FM was having an impact. WMCA was damaged much quicker from FM than WABC because it was a city based radio station. When WOR shifted to the Drake Top 40 format, it pulled listeners from the city. At that time, FM radios in the suburbs had a hard time picking up the city stations but in the city itself, the signal was terrific.. and stereo! Since WMCA 's audience was mostly from the city, the competition from FM hurt it.
Third, the Straus family was more interested in owning a radio station with influence. Barry Gray stayed at WMCA throughout its years as a music station for that reason. The idea that the station could take a more "serious" approach to programming was an agreeable philisophical switch for the owners of the station and they embraced it.
Fourth, WABC did become a stronger competitor as a result of dropping much of its network commitments in 1968. No more "Breakfast Club" or one hour newsblocks at 6PM. And, when WABC did news, it did it in an uptempo youth oriented way. Overall, WMCA seemed more sluggish by comparison. (BUT: it shouldn't have overreacted to it as I commented above).
Fifth, radio was moving more and more toward "more music, less talk". WMCA was never that kind of radio station. Listen to the airchecks on the WMCA site. Unfortunately, the consultants were right... the audience responded to hammering home more and more music at the expense of personalities like Jack Spector, Gary Stevens, Dan Daniel, Ed Baer, Dean Anthony (and the rest). This was not just a phenomenon that WMCA faced.... top 40 radio programming in general faced it. Listen to a WABC aircheck from 1964 compared to 1975. The approach changed significantly.
And, finally, sixth... WMCA was 5,000 watts. WABC was 50,000. That is bound to have an effect. The same thing happened in the eighties. WABC's shift to topical talk in the early 80's and once again damaged WMCA (which was doing the format first). The bigger signal gives you a huge advantage.
In retrospect, most of WMCA"s problems were a result of technology and the more music top 40 approach. It was quite sad. No one today would argue that WMCA could have survived into the '80's. But it could have survived well into the '70's had it just kept doing what it had done so well in the '60's. Be "The Good Guys"! It hastened its own demise by fooling with that forumla.