The station, first known as WMCA-FM, went on the air on December 25, 1948. It was co-owned with WMCA radio (570 AM) by former New York state senator Nathan Straus. FM radio was not a successful venture for Straus, and he sought to either sell it or close the station down altogether.
In late 1950 Straus sold the station to the owners of WHOM radio (1480 AM, now WZRC), and WHOM-FM appeared on February 26, 1951, featuring a variety of formats, including ethnic, background music, classical, Spanish, and easy listening. By the early 1970s WHOM-FM had a Spanish language easy listening format.
Mellow 92/Disco 92
Following the sale of the WHOM stations to SJR Communications, the FM station became WKTU, taking on an adult contemporary format that ran from June 5, 1975. At that point WKTU was positioned as a "soft rock" station and called "Mellow 92". Ratings were relatively low. The station held on to the format in spite of low ratings until 1978. That June, when a station executive, David Rapaport, (father of actor Michael Rapaport), visited New York's Studio 54 discothèque on half a dozen occasions, he was very impressed with the crowds there. He then got the idea that a disco-based station was needed, as several FM-based Top 40 stations were leaning disco in other markets. As a result, David Rapaport purchased 200 disco records and brought them into the station. Keeping the same airstaff, adding Paco from their Spanish-language AM station WHOM, and with no notice, the station abruptly flipped to a disco-based rhythmic top 40 format with the tagline "Disco 92" at 6 p.m. July 24, 1978. That fall, the station rose from "Worst to First", unseating WABC in the 18−30 age demographic. Air personalities of this era included Kenn Hayes, Randy Place, Paul Robinson, Trip Reeb, Mary Thomas, Dave Mallow and Joe Guarisco. During the height of the disco craze, WKTU was the station to follow in New York.
Initially, WKTU played mostly dance/disco and a few rhythm-friendly pop and rock songs (such as "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones for example), but by 1979, the station began to add more R&B music as well as rhythm friendly new wave rock. By then, WKTU was still regarded as a disco station, but could be more accurately described as rhythmic contemporary hit radio. Since that term was not yet used, the station had been classified as urban contemporary. During this period, disc jockeys such as Paco, G. Keith Alexander, Rosko, J.D. Holiday (Paul Zarcone), Dale Reeves, Bob Bottone, Jim Harlan, Carlos DeJesus, Joe Causi, Guy Broady, Jay Thomas, Freddie Colon, Don Geronimo, Al Bandiero and Diane Pryor graced the airwaves, as the station continued to be at or near the top into the 1980s. Paco later went to jail for drug dealing, which is curious considering he had a successful career in radio and didn't need the money that the illicit profession of drug dealing provided.
In 1981, SJR Communications sold WKTU to Infinity (which later merged with CBS Radio, the station's current owners). Also that year, WKTU added more dance-based new wave to the format. WKTU remained among the top ten New York City radio stations through 1983. Shortly thereafter, WKTU received new competition from WHTZ ("Z-100") and WPLJ, both of which adapted a CHR format. The station maintained respectable but declining ratings, thanks to the new competition.
By mid-1984, WKTU went to a CHR format as well, but the ratings continued to decline. That fall, the station added legendary WABC host Dan Ingram to afternoons, and Jo Maeder, "The Madame", from Miami's Y-100, joined Jay Thomas in the morning and did her own midday show, but the station continued to struggle in the ratings. To make matters worse, then-named WAPP also went CHR that fall.
So strong was the memory of the late-1970s WKTU that despite all the subsequent on-air changes, the general public still regarded it as a disco station. Even though WAPP moved back to playing mostly rock music in the form of a rock-based CHR in June 1985, giving WKTU one less competitor, the station management thought a more drastic change was needed. Since New York City only had one full-time rock station with WNEW-FM, there was an opportunity.
On July 13, 1985 at midnight, the same day WKTU aired the historic Live Aid concert, the station switched to an album-oriented rock format, adopted the nickname of "K-Rock", and changed their call letters to WXRK. (The WKTU call letters later reappeared on New York City's 103.5 FM with a dance pop format in 1996).
Initially, the format at WXRK was similar to the pre-1983 WPLJ, as the air personalities left the station gradually in the next several months (exceptions were Maria Malito and Jo Maeder, who became known as "The Rock and Roll Madame"). Jimmy Fink from WPLJ was one of the first new radio personalities to be hired. After being fired from WNBC that October, Howard Stern signed on to do afternoons, and initially combined music with talk, but in February 1986, Stern took over the morning slot. His morning show became the highest-rated in the market, dethroning Don Imus, who previously had the highest-rated morning show for several years on WNBC. Later that year Stern's show became syndicated, with WXRK as its flagship station.
By 1987, Stern stopped playing music on his show altogether, while the station changed to a classic rock format that same year. The airstaff became full of veteran refugees from other New York rock stations, including Dave Herman, Pete Fornatale, Meg Griffin, Vin Scelsa, and Alison Steele from WNEW-FM and Jimmy Fink, Tony Pigg, Marc Coppola, and John Zacherle from WPLJ. In 1993, The Greaseman's syndicated show was put in the nighttime slot, bookending Stern with an act that was often quite controversial.
By the mid-1990s, modern rock had become popular. In mid-1993, in New York City radio, WHTZ began to play a lot of modern rock despite primarily being a CHR station. Late in 1993, Classical music station WNCN switched formats and became WAXQ ("Q 104.3"), with a mix of hard and modern rock. Moreover, WNEW-FM switched to a modern rock format in the summer of 1995, and later evolved to first an adult-based modern rock format by the end of that year, and then a more eclectic adult rock mix by 1996. Nevertheless, by the beginning of 1996, there was no full-time modern rock station in New York City.
To fill the void, WXRK switched to a modern rock format on January 5, 1996 right after Stern's show. To kick off the new format, which he enthusiastically endorsed as a better fit for his audience, Stern stayed on the air until 1:06 pm that day playing music. The first song Stern played was Marilyn Manson's cover of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)". Most of the classic rock DJs including Jimmy Fink, Tony Pigg and Marc Coppola disappeared from the station with this change, as did The Greaseman. By August 1997, the station added music that suited an active rock station, and it continued this format of a hybrid active rock/alternative for several years.
By 2003, with a new program director, the station dropped the active rock variant of music. No matter what the format, the longtime problem for the station was that while Stern always had very high ratings, the rest of the station did not fare as well. Moreover, it was hard to classify K-Rock an alternative station (considering classic rock acts like Led Zeppelin being played), while it was hard to label them active rock due to the inclusion of some, but not all, alternative artists.
Concerned about Stern's move to Sirius Satellite Radio at the beginning of 2006, and acknowledging that its target audience was looking elsewhere for modern rock music, WXRK made another format adjustment on April 4, 2005 to a mainstream rock format, which relied heavily on classic hard rock from artists such as Guns N' Roses, Metallica, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana, while playing new music from such established artists as System of a Down, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day and Weezer. At this time, New York City was one of the few large cities in the United States without an alternative rock station. To prevent any backlash from fans of modern rock, an Internet-only radio station called "K-Rock2" was launched at the same time as the format adjustment. The strategy did not work, as ratings did not improve much.
As a result of the imminent departure of Howard Stern, an announcement was made on October 25, 2005 that the station would adopt a talk format on January 3, 2006.
At 10 AM on Friday, December 16, after the last Howard Stern broadcast, K-Rock began a 20-minute stunt with a melange of audio sound bites, music and program line-up announcements. At 10:20, K-Rock DJ Julie Slater announced "Welcome to Free FM", and went into music.
The WXRK call letters were replaced by WFNY-FM (standing for "Free New York") on January 1, 2006, with the official "Free FM" launch two days later at 6 AM. The station, which was one of several CBS Radio stations around the nation branded as "Free FM", featured David Lee Roth as its morning show host. Other talk shows aired throughout the day, while an active rock music format continued to be played on the weekends, called "Free Rock Weekends."
Simultaneously, the WXRK call sign moved to the former WXTM in Cleveland, also owned by CBS Radio, and coincidentally at the same 92.3 frequency, and was rebranded as 92.3 K-Rock.
The station's ratings plummeted since the change to an all-talk format. As the replacement for Howard Stern, Roth lost nearly three-quarters of Howard Stern's previous audience, dropping a 7.9 share to a 1.8. Among the core audience − 18−34 year-old men − the numbers fell from 13.8 to 1.3. Overall station ratings went from 3.2 in Summer/Fall of 2005 to 2.7 in Winter of 2006, and later to a 2.0, leaving it in 20th place in the New York market.
On April 25, 2006, Chris Booker, host of "The Booker Show", announced that he was broadcasting his last show on Free FM. He soon moved over the morning show at Q102 in Philadelphia. The abrupt end of his show, which had evolved on afternoon drive before the format switch, led the station to revert to "Free Rock" music at nights.
The following day, on April 26, 2006, Opie and Anthony replaced David Lee Roth in morning drive on Free FM, while simulcasting on XM Satellite Radio. The show aired from 6-9 am on both terrestrial and satellite radio, then continued on XM exclusively to 11 am.
By spring 2007, Opie and Anthony managed to slightly improve WFNY-FM's ratings to a 1.4. However, this performance left the radio station ranked #22 of 25 in the NY market.
Weekends continued to use the "Free Rock Weekend" format, which included hour-long "Freecasts" in which a single listener chose the (approximately 15) songs played during the hour. The listener also acted as guest DJ over the phone during the time.
The station was also used as a secondary broadcaster of sister station WFAN, serving as a secondary outlet for NFL football games, New Jersey Devils hockey games and New Jersey Nets basketball games when there was a conflict with another game on WFAN.
After Jim Cramer's Real Money went off the air on in December 2006, WFNY-FM was left with just 4 talk shows (one from syndication). As a result, the station attempted to revamp its lineup with the addition of several new talk shows, the first of which occurred on December 20, 2006. Ron & Fez, who also have a show on XM radio, signed an agreement to broadcast a 92.3 Free FM-exclusive radio show from 6pm to 9pm. Ron and Fez had previously been employed by CBS at WNEW-FM (now WWFS) shortly after that station switched to FM Talk in 1999.
Additional new shows soon followed. On December 28, 2006, John and Jeff started being broadcast from syndication out of sister station 97.1 Free FM in Los Angeles. They broadcast live 2−6 am. On January 2, 2007, Larry Wachs, who was half of The Regular Guys morning show on WKLS-FM in Atlanta, began hosting the 10pm to midnight slot on the station for 2 weeks. That same day, Nick DiPaolo became host of the 12pm to 3pm time slot. He had done some preview shows the previous week. Beginning January 3, Loveline with Dr. Drew Pinsky & Stryker aired Late Nights, tape delayed, from 12am to 2am.
Danni was Free FM's Music Director and was still a Free Rock jock. She has been heard doing DJ shifts on Fresh 102.7 as well. Free Rock Weekends aired 6am Saturday-12am Sunday, and 6am Sunday-2am Monday. Game Show Radio ran 12-2am on Sundays, while infomercials ran 2am-6am Sunday.
Free FM was using guest hosts for the 10pm to 12am time slot. March 2, 2007 was the last day for the Penn Jillette show on Free FM and CBS Radio stations. The following Monday, WFNY-FM expanded the guest host time slot by an hour, making it 9pm to 12am.
In April 2007, during an interview with a local band "A Brief Smile" on The Dog House, the hosts JV and Elvis directed numerous homophobic insults at the band’s bassist. The hosts referred to the bassist as "Fag Number 1" and asked, "How many badges of honor do you have in your colon?" and kicked him out of the studio. After playing a song by the band the hosts also called the bass part "a little faggy." The bass player returned to the studio, stated he was bisexual and that he found their use of the word "faggot" offensive. Gay rights groups such as GLAAD criticized the show as being homophobic for their remarks.
JV and Elvis were later suspended on April 30 over a six-minute prank phone call peppered with ethnic and sexual slurs to a Chinese restaurant, only after numerous Chinese American advocacy groups complained to CBS demanding the hosts be fired.
Beginning on May 7, Free-FM started using guest hosts 9 am to 12 pm to replace The Dog House. On May 12, 2007, AP News reported that CBS Radio spokeswoman Karen Mateo said, "The Dog House with JV and Elvis will no longer be broadcast [on Free-FM]." CBS fired the co-hosts JV and Elvis, as well as the producer of The Dog House after numerous complaints received from various civil rights groups.
On May 15, 2007, XM Satellite Radio suspended the Opie and Anthony Show for 30 days because of comments made by a homeless man about raping Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush made on an uncensored May 9 broadcast. Their suspension was effective immediately. During this time, CBS Radio kept the show on from 6 to 9am. However, it was not simulcast on XM.
Re-launch for WXRK (2007-2009)
At 9 AM on May 24, 2007, after the Opie and Anthony show, an eight-hour countdown began on the former "Free FM" website and a sound collage was broadcast for most of the day. The stunting came to an end at 4:57 PM with an apology from general manager Tom Chiusano, who apologized to listeners for taking K-Rock away. Minutes later, at 5 PM, the station returned to the air as K-Rock, playing an alternative rock format (per Mediabase reports) with a playlist focused on rock from the 1990s and 2000s, along with heavy classic rock. The first song on the resurrected K-Rock was "All Apologies" by Nirvana, while the first host on air was Gregg "Opie" Hughes of Opie and Anthony.
The station reverted to its previous call letters, WXRK, on May 31, 2007. The previous WXRK (92.3 K-Rock in Cleveland Heights, also owned by CBS Radio) received the callsign WKRI, which is now WKRK-FM.
Initially, the station had no on-air staff, although on Mondays it featured a Hostile Takeover show where guest(s) sat in as the jock. The station also had contests which begun after Opie and Anthony.
On February 8, 2008, it was announced that program director Tracy Cloherty was among the many non-programming staffers that was let go by CBS Radio, in an attempt to "more effectively monetize the aggregate number of listeners who hear us on the radio and the Internet." The advent of WRXP caused[according to whom?] WXRK to morph to active rock at that time.
In December 2008, as a result of another change in the station's management, K-Rock made an adjustment to the format focusing more on classic hard rock and playing even less current rock songs. With the format adjustment, Paul Turner, who was the voice of the Howard Stern Show and K-Rock when it was a classic rock station in the 1990s, returned as voice of the station's promos.
As a result of the format shift, on December 16, 2008, FMQB announced that afternoon jock Ian Camfield had left K-Rock to go back to XFM. K-Rock vet Chris Booker took his place, airing in afternoon drive from 2−7 pm.
92.3 Now FM (2009-2014)
At 5PM on March 11, 2009, WXRK changed to a Contemporary Hit Radio format known as "92.3 Now FM". The last song played on K-Rock was "Right Now" by Van Halen. It was followed with the sound of a ticking clock, an announcement that K-Rock was moving to 92.3 HD2, and a montage of bumpers from stations such as WNBC, WABC, WMCA, WXLO, WQHT, and WHTZ, with a promotion saying in the following minutes, "it will be now". An introductory montage was then played, followed by the launch of "Now" with the commitment to play "10,000 songs in a row, with zero minutes of commercials", beginning with "Boom Boom Pow" by The Black Eyed Peas. It has been speculated in online forums and trade journals that CBS Radio will continue to unfold or tweak towards similar Top 40 radio stations in other major markets in the coming months leaning towards younger listeners. The station ended the "10,000 Songs in a Row" promotion in early April 2009.
As of August 2009, WFAN started moving the conflicts of New York Giants games to WCBS-FM.
On November 8, 2012, a full 3 1/2 years after Now's debut, the station changed call letters to WNOW-FM to match their moniker.This was made possible by a format and call-letter change at the former WNOW-FM in Gaffney, South Carolina.
Tic Tak stunt
On December 17, 2010, WXRK afternoon host Mark "Tic Tak" Allen pulled an on-air tirade in which he dissed the music director (while he was in West Virginia, on vacation) and went against playing the usual Top 40 songs, including "slamming" Katy Perry singles, by declaring that "I'm playing what I want... this is my Christmas present to you" and started mixing in certain songs that do not fit WXRK's current format. Allen was hoping that station management would fire him, but from the comments from message boards like Radio-Info, this "event" was either staged or a poor ratings ploy to attract more listeners, since Allen has been known to pull stunts at other stations that he had worked at in the past.
Howard Stern returns
On January 17, 2012, Howard Stern made a live appearance on 92.3 WXRK for the first time in over six years. Stern was a guest on the Nick Cannon morning show, via telephone, where as Cannon was equally a guest on Stern's Sirius Satellite show.
As a result of damage suffered to 1010 WINS' transmitter during Hurricane Sandy, WINS-AM was being broadcast on 92.3. Although its transmitters were restored, WINS' transmitters were on low power for at least a day, the simulcast ended on October 31, 2012 at 10 am when its transmitter went back to full power.
In May 2014, morning show host Ty Bentli claimed to have been flashed by a woman on the subway. A woman called the station and brought up the phrase "Whip em Out Wednesday," a formerly well-known promotion by WNEW's morning hosts, Opie and Anthony. After the station tweeted mention of this with a hashtag, the Opie & Anthony fans (also known as "The Pests" or "Knuckleheads" for their unflappable trolling of celebrities and radio personalities who are mentioned on Opie & Anthony's podcasts and Sirius radio show) continuously berated Bentli, his co-host and the station in general. Bentli and several other members of the station were fired by CBS radio soon after. (He joined WRQX in Washington, DC shortly after his CBS contract expired).
92.3 AMP Radio (2014-present)
Since the station's flip in 2009, WXRK/WNOW has only held a 2 share as compared to WHTZ, which usually has a 7 share of the market. In addition, WXRK/WNOW has had a constant turnover of program directors and airstaff, including the sudden releasing of all the then-current airstaff (with the exception of midday host Niko and evening host Toro) on May 21, 2014, as rumors of a complete rehauling of 92.3's format abounded. The following day at 2 PM, after stunting by giving away $1,000 to callers every 9 minutes for 2 hours, WNOW-FM relaunched as 92.3 AMP Radio, launching with commercial-free weekends until Labor Day weekend. The final song on "Now" was "Lose Yourself" by Eminem, while the first song on "AMP" was "Summer" by Calvin Harris. On June 23, 2014, WNOW-FM changed its call letters to WBMP to match the "AMP" branding (unlike Los Angeles sister KAMP-FM, the WAMP call letters are held by an American Family Radio religious talk radio station in Jackson, Tennessee which was unlikely to give them to a commercial operation). Concurrently, the WNOW-FM call letters were transferred to WNOU in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Current weekday AMP airstaff includes "Shoboy in the Morning" with Shoboy and Nina (5:30a-10a), Niko (10a-3p), Astra (3p-7p), Toro (7p-11p)
"K-Rock2" and HD radio operations
As part of the K-Rock format change on April 4, 2005 from alternative rock to mainstream rock, K-Rock2, a new Internet-only radio station, was created. Throughout the Free FM period and during the resurrection of K-Rock, K-Rock2 continued to stream on krock2.com. Following the main channel's format change to Now FM on March 11, 2009, the HD2 channel became known simply as K-Rock, but retained the alternative rock format. The HD2 channel is still K-Rock and can be found at krockradio.com. K-Rock HD2at one point had a full-time air staff, including a local music show but now runs completely automated.
Starting shortly after 2 a.m. on October 6, 2008, the K-Rock2 audio stream was added to WXRK-HD2. A few minutes earlier, a simulcast of sister station WFAN was added to WXRK HD3. 92.3 HD3 was initially using the delayed audio feed from wfan.com complete with internet only commercials and not the over the air broadcast feed used by WFAN on 660 AM. After a day or so, WXRK HD3 switched to the over the air feed of WFAN, but still had a time delay of over a minute. The HD3 was dropped altogether when WFAN began simulcasting on 101.9 FM on November 2, 2012.