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- a historical perspective from 1978 -

December, 1998 - In perfect cadence to the disco strains of Chic on December PM drive time, jock B.K. Kirkland expertly weaves in an afternoon traffic report on the roadways:

Five-seventeen at WBLS with... famous last words... courtesy of Chic and I Want Your Love.

Right now you're going to find bumper to bumper delays on the lower roadways of the 59th bridge... the upper deck will save you some there... and is much better than the mid-town tunnel as well, which is extra heavy and slow out to Queens right now. The upper deck of the George Washington Bridge is tight inbound... use the lower level for a better time... you'll find some extra delays eastbound on the Cross-Bronx Expressway... all lanes are open now, however... FDR drive showing delays from the twenties through the sixty-first street exit... from that point it's stop and go to the Triborough Bridge.... and mass transit basically on schedule.

"Hear It!"
Experience 30 unedited minutes of  WBLS-FM from  afternoon drive in December 1978, with jock B. K. Kirland and news anchor Hank Williams.

The mission at WBLS, a disco and R&B powerhouse in 1978, is to keep the beat moving. The station historically programs to a predominantly African-American audience, but it has also begun to pick up some of  New York's disco listeners, and programs that way. And it pays off: The late 1970s obsession with disco has given WBLS a serious boost in its ratings (though not yet besting the number one station in New York, Disco 92 WKTU.) So from the station's East Side Manhattan studios, radio jock B. K. Kirkland keeps to the beat even when delivering mundane content like weather and traffic.  

And likewise with news:  Like a few other stations such as WXLO, WBLS focuses on total programming that attempts to blend news, weather, and traffic into a seamless hour of listening.

Though WBLS has a news staff of respectable size (two reporters, two editors, and three writers), compared with more traditional stations such as WNEW or WNBC the station takes a modest approach to news.

WBLS reporter Mark Reilly says most of the stations reporters "come off the street" -- most have not gone to a journalism school and many have not worked at other stations. WBLS is the only station in this documentary to pre-record some of its news, though it does this only on WBLS-FM and not on sister station WLIB (AM).

Many of the news interludes at the station focus on light human-interest fare:

It was a bad day.  {Taped Announcer Intro: 'And now Insight... here's Hank Williams...'}

The membership of the Cauliflower Alley club in southern california consists of former heavyweight boxers, wrestlers, movie stunt men, and other tough guys who sponsor a boxing program for troubled youngsters.  All the big tough guys were standing around at their Christmas party at the Golden Gate hotel in Burbank yesterday, when three men described as lightweights came in, unplugged their Christmas tree and walked out with it. Nobody made a move to stop them because everybody thought they were hotel employees moving the tree to another room.  They moved it out into the parking lot and into a waiting vehicle, and then they fled.

In its newscasts, the station stresses news from Africa and the Caribbean. The station subscribes to UPI Audio, Pacifica and National Black Network audio feeds (though Reilly says NBN isn't used much) and is the only station in the city to use the Reuters Canada-Carribbean ("Cana-carribbean") wire.

A WBLS ad from the New York Subway System IRT line, circa 1978.

- 30 -

See Also:

WBLS Datasheet - Station stats on staffing, wires, cart machines, and much more!

Visit more stations - Back to the home page to visit more stations' news departments.

WBLS-FM Elsewhere on the Internet:

WBLS-FM  - Today's WBLS, still a powerhouse!

About this report
This research documentary is Copyright 1979, 2003  Martin Hardee - All Rights Reserved. (read more...) Material may be quoted or excerpted for non-profit research purposes without additional special permission. For additional information email martin @ hardee.net.