The newscasts, aimed at a young adult audience, had a conversational, high-energy style developed by co-founders Vice President & News Director Dave Cooke, and Vice President of Programming Jo Interrante.
It initially fed newscasts at :50 and :00, and offered sportscasts, music, and public affairs programming. RKO was very popular from the start, signing up hundreds of affiliates coast to coast.
The original network became known as RKO 1 when RKO 2 debuted on September 1, 1981. RKO 2 fed newscasts at :20 and :30 and was aimed at an older audience.
The network was home to three groundbreaking long-form programs. "NightTime America with Bob Dearborn" was the first live, daily, satellite-delivered music show in radio history. Dearborn produced and hosted the five-hour adult contemporary show from January 9, 1981 until 1984. January 9, 1981 was also the premier of "America Overnight," a six-hour interview/call-in show hosted by Eric Tracey in Los Angeles and Ed Busch from Dallas. It was the first national talk show delivered by satellite. It also marked the first time a network offered simultaneous overnight programs. Dick Bartley created, produced and hosted the first live national oldies radio show, “Solid Gold Saturday Night.”
The network also aired the last interview with Beatle John Lennon, conducted just hours before his death on December 8, 1980, by Dave Sholin, a San Francisco radio producer who put together specials for RKO.
The RKO Radio Networks were headquartered at 1440 Broadway in New York City, also the home of co-owned WOR-AM. The offices were also the former headquarters of the Mutual Broadcasting System when RKO General owned Mutual.
After an advertising billing scandal involving RKO's television stations came to light, the RKO Radio Networks were sold in 1985 to the United Stations Radio Networks. United Stations was merged with Transtar Radio Networks to form Unistar Radio Networks in 1987. Unistar was absorbed by Westwood One in 1994.
Cooke and Interrante had exceptional ears for air talent and assembled a cadre of young broadcasters from stations across the country to staff the fledging operation. Among RKO Radio Network alumni are: