WBTJ is a Mainstream Urban formatted broadcast radio station licensed to Richmond, Virginia, serving the Richmond/Petersburg area. WBTJ is owned and operated by Clear Channel Communications.
During this station's life, it has been marked by several unrelated incidents of controversy, and a plethora of call letter, owners and format changes over the years.
106.5 started broadcasting in the 1950s as WLEE-FM, simulcasting the sister WLEE-AM's successful Top 40 format. This was an "assigned frequency' during a period that the FCC was assigning FM frequencies to AM stations to promote use of the then little used FM band.
Shortly thereafter, WLEE-AM did not see the need for an FM sister station, and donated the FM frequency to Union Theological Seminary. In 1957 using the 106.5 frequency donated by WLEE, and the former studio and tower of WRNL (located on Wilkerson Road), who had moved to a new location, the seminary signed on WRFK with a non-commercial classical and fine arts format. WRFK-FM operated until 1988.
The call letters were the initials of the force behind the Seminarys efforts to start a radio station, Robert Fitzsgerald Kirtpatrick. He operated the audio visual department operating a tape duplication service and sending tapes recorded at the Seminary all over the country. The station, in the late 50's and early 60's, had a very limited operating schedule. Signing on at aprox. 4 PM and off again about midnight most every operational day, with the exception of broadcasting some church services at other times. The staff consisted of mostly volunteers who signed up to operate the station for normaly one night a week. It was a good way for high school age folks to get experience in radio at the time, and many did. Kirtpatrick lived across the street from the campus and kept good tabs on "his baby" WRFK. The early studios were in the basement of one of the large campus buildings facing Chamberlayne Ave. During the early years engineering services were "traded out" with an engineer who lived at the transmitter site in the old WRNL studios. Later, when they became involved with PBS and had a paid staff, those Wilkerson Road studios were occupied by the station it self.
The seminary discovered that their charter did not allow them to operate a radio station and decided to sell the station. A deal was made with the local Federated Arts Council to buy the station and preserve the format, but a larger offer came from from a commercial radio operator shortly thereafter and the seminary decided to go with the larger offer. This caused controversy which resulted in several stories appearing in the local papers about the possible loss of the Fine Arts format. Thought the efforts of the public support groups and some interested businessmen and congressmen who wanted the format preserved, Commonwealth Public Broadcasting, owners of local Public TV stations WCVE-TV & WCVW, were granted a noncommercial FM license WCVE-FM, originally at 101.1.
In March, 1988, WRFK signed off and WCVE-FM temporarily signed on at 101.1, bringing most of the old WRFK staff, music library and most of their programming to the station.
106.5 was sold by the Seminary to Daytona Broadcasting. Daytona moved the station's transmitter from a 300' tower to a much taller 1200' tower near Powhatan County. In August of the same year, 106.5 signed back on as a standard commercial station WVMX, Mix 106.5, with a Rock 40 format. By 1989, seeing competition from WRVQ
, and WRXL
the station flipped formats to Heavy metal and became "MX106.5". This lasted a month, and the station went to an Oldies format as WVGO ("Virginia's Golden Oldies").
In 1991, Daytona sold the station to Benchmark Communications, with local partners John Crowley & Guy Spiller. WVGO was flipped to an AAA rock format, staffed mostly by former employees of crosstown Heritage rocker WRXL, which was looked upon by the former staffers as too commercial and restrictive. During its short life, the WVGO staff included Nick Perry, Jim Hatcher, Tara Hunter, Dal Hunter, Steve Forrest, Paul Shugrue, Dave Weaver, Mike Hsu, Meg Brulatour, Kevin Matthews, Mad Dog and others. At first, the format was a free form type format more akin to a college station with jocks being allowed freedom on the air and to bring in their own records. The station was also home to Page Wilson's "Out Of The Blue Revue" and the late Eric E Stanley's "Bee Bop Boogie and Blues" show. Local partner Guy Spiller also hosted a Jazz show on Sunday morning.
Over the next year the station evolved into an AAA format. WVGO's general ratings slipped while it maintained its AAA format. In late 1994,a new competitor signed on, 104.7 WBZU. The Buzz, doing a straight ahead hard core alternative modern rock format making no bones about the fact that they had WVGO in their sites. As a reaction, Benchmark brought in a new Program Director who dumped all the specialty programming and the format unofficially slid into a more alternative format 24/7.
Another move was to bring in the syndicated Howard Stern
morning show started October 1994
. The Stern show did not garner the expected high ratings, only reaching 10th place overall. The Stern show also generated local controversy (primarily from local grocer Ukrops
), causing WVGO to lose advertising. A complaint to the FCC about a Stern bit eventually brought Benchmark an FCC fine. In spring 1995, Benchmark sold WVGO-FM and sister Classic rock WLEE-FM (this station had previously been oldies WDCK, and is now Classic Rock WKLR, and had no relation to the original WLEE AM or FM) to the owners of WBZU. ABS Communications, owned by local music & radio entrepreneur Kenny Brown, who cancelled Howard Stern due to poor ratings and on the same day shut down WVGO and moved WBZU to that frequency (moving the WVGO calls to the now vacated 104.7 frequency and flipping it to oldies. That station is now owned by Radio One and is Gospel WPZZ).
A sore point in the cancellation of Stern was that ABS, who was later merged with SFX, who later merged with Capstar, despite efforts to get out of it, was legally locked into the Stern syndication contract, which meant in mid 1997, Capstar had to pay a contactually required 250 Thousand Dollar installment payment of the original 500 hundred thousand dollar, five year Stern contract, even though they were not actually carrying the show anymore. The first installment had already been paid by former owners Benchmark in 1994. The original Stern/WVGO contract finally expired in 1999.
In 1998, ABS was merged with SFX Broadcasting. In September 1998, new management decided to dump the alternative format, citing low revenues. They stunted with 24 hours of construction sound effects loop and later stunted as Soft Rock "Sunny 106.5"
. A few days later, they switched to oldies as "Cool 106.5"
in September 1998
and changed its call letters to WRCL
in October 1998. WRCL's owners SFX went through a series of mergers, first as Capstar, then AMFM. In the fall of 2000, AMFM merged with Clear Channel who assumed ownership of the station.
On June 11, 2001, the station flipped to Mainstream Urban
as 106.5 The Beat and changed call to WBTJ. (This was the second time that "The Beat" had been used as a radio logo in Richmond, as "Dancing Oldies" WBBT, and just a few weeks before; that station flipped formats to 80's and 90's as "Star 1073")
Since late 2005, WBTJ has been at the center of controversy. The controversy is due the station management's decision to change from Doug Banks Morning Show
to Star & Bucwild Morning Show
. In May 2006, under Clear Channel's orders, Star was fired from sister station WWPR-FM
where the syndicated show was based from for making threats against the child of rival DJ Envy of WQHT
, and also endangering the welfare of Envy's wife, who in turn filed charges against Star. He would be arrested later for this, and ordered to stay away from Envy and his family. Star's show would be replaced by Big Tigger
and Egypt for a week, until that would be replaced with Big Boy
's Neighborhood based out of Los Angeles hip hop station KPWR
. The station later brought back The Doug Banks Show in the morning, only to recently be replaced by Steve Harvey
Its studio is located at the Clear Channel complex on Basie Road in Richmond's West End neighborhood. Its transmitter is located on the Motorola
tower in Western Chesterfield County
, where it shares tower space with WBBT
, and formerly WVRN
. The transmitter tower had originally been on Wilkinson Rd in Henrico County.