WNBC-FM played classical music in the 1950s; it later switched to pop music. It ran network programming for some time, such as the NBC Monitor weekend series. By the 1970s it was playing a pop/rock format. Beginning on June 4, 1973, it experimented with a fully-automated programming scheme with local inserts known as "The Rock Pile", but technical glitches were frequent and listenership dropped. For a brief period starting in late 1974, the station attempted a fully-automated beautiful music format for a younger demographic, called "The Love of New York".
NBC Radio then came up with the notion of the NBC News and Information Service (NIS), an unusual attempt to place an all-news format on the FM band. Thus on June 18, 1975, the station became WNWS and branded itself "NewsCenter 97," an allusion to WNBC-TV's "NewsCenter 4" local newscasts. This failed miserably and on January 1, 1977, 97.1 dropped "all news" and adopted an "Adult Contemporary" (AC) format with a rock lean (to compete against WKTU), under the moniker "Y-97". The call letters WNWS were still in use at the time but shortly afterward the station became known as WYNY.
By 1980, WYNY moved away from Frank Sinatra and The Lettermen though they continued running "Saturday with Sinatra" hosted by Sid Mark. Musically they added Motown songs, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers, Donna Summer, and soft hits by hard rockers.
By 1981, the station format was that of pop hits from 1964 to what was then current music, with an occasional pre-64 rock & roll song. Ratings went up from 1981 through 1983. By 1982, WYNY trimmed the '60s music slightly. Some of the air personalities included Dan Daniel, Bill St. James, Bruce Bradley, Randy Davis, Carol Mason, Mike McCann, Floyd Wright, Steve O'Brien, Bill Rock, and Ed Baer. On Sunday evenings, the station aired a pioneering advice show, Sexually Speaking, which made its host, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a national celebrity. The station was also a pioneer of Contemporary Christian Music in the city, airing the weekly show Masterpeace, hosted by Steven Joseph. Sid Mark continued hosting a Frank Sinatra show.
In 1983, rival stations Z-100 and WPLJ adopted a "Contemporary Hit Radio" (CHR) format, attracting younger listeners. WYNY continued with its AC format. Then in January 1984, Lite FM 106.7 WLTW signed on, taking away older listeners. WYNY ratings plummeted, and in 1986 the station was revamped with the music staying "Hot AC" but marketed as a "Z-100 for Yuppies". The station had new jingles and imaging, and became known as "The NEW 97.1 WYNY". The format, however, was that of the same pop hits from 1964 to the then-present. The station continued to rate low. NBC had problems with sister station WNBC as well. Then in April 1987, a country music station, WHN, announced plans to go sports full-time on July 1, to become all-sports WFAN. In response, WYNY announced it would change to country music on July 1.
This format change was announced to the press in advance but not over the air except on Saturday With Sinatra. At 12:01 a.m. July 1, WYNY ended its AC format with "Hello, Goodbye" by The Beatles and went country, playing "Think About Love" by Dolly Parton. The airstaff all remained, though some gradually left later in the year.
Dan Daniel (who had left WYNY in the mid-1980s and returned), Randy Davis, Carol Mason, Lisa Taylor, Floyd Wright, and others survived the format change and remained with WYNY's country unit long after it would leave 97.1 FM and move to 103.5, where it remained until its 1996 demise. The WYNY call letters resurfaced on the suburban 107.1 frequency in late 1998 at a country station that had started up later in 1996; the format lasted until 2002. As of 2006, the WYNY call letters reside on a station in Gainesville, Florida.
In 1987 Emmis agreed to buy NBC radio stations giving them 97.1, 103.5, 660, and 1050. Emmis opted to sell AM 1050 to SBS and then it would be sold to a Jewish group and become WEVD. They would keep 660 AM and shut down ratings troubled WNBC and move the WFAN intellectual unit to 66 AM.
On FM Emmis sold 103.5 FM to Westwood One and the Intellectual Country 97 WYNY unit would move there. Emmis kept 97.1 and moved Hot 103.5's Intellectual WQHT unit there.
After the original 92.3 WKTU signed off the air in 1985, New Yorkers demanded a Dance music station. Indianapolis-based Emmis Broadcasting purchased WAPP-FM and transformed it to Hot 103 in 1986. It played a variety of R&B, Pop music, Hip-Hop, Freestyle, House and Rock recordings. Hot 103 was the first radio station to play Latin Hip-Hop (Freestyle) regularly. The station played hits by Freestyle singer Shannon known for her hits "Let the Music Play" and "Give Me Tonight". It also broke ground for new artists such as Judy Torres, TKA, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Exposé, Safire, Debbie Deb, The Cover Girls, and George Lamond, among others. These artists were played in the same rotation as Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, George Michael, The Bangles, Belinda Carlisle, Jody Watley, etc.
One special thing about Hot 103 is the fact that they played 12-inch singles usually heard in clubs around New York. Urban Contemporary stations WBLS and WRKS were playing long versions of the records played as well.
The station was in the Top 5 in the ratings from 1986 to 1988. Hot 103's major competitors, WHTZ, WPLJ as well as WBLS and WRKS, responded by adding more Dance music to their playlists. In the fall of 1988, Emmis purchased 97.1 WYNY from NBC. That same day the stations did a frequency swap with Hot 103 moving to 97.1 and WYNY to 103.5. Hence, Hot 103 became known as Hot 97 and continued with the dance/freestyle format and featured full-length versions of the records played.
From Summer 1993 to Spring 1994, the station gradually abandoned its Dance music format and became New York's new Urban Contemporary (rap) station, putting it in battle with WRKS-FM ("Kiss FM"), which responded by adding more mix shows and moved Wendy Williams to the morning drive time. Though Kiss FM remained number-one in the ratings, Summit Communications Group still included it when selling seven of its radio stations in order to concentrate on technology and Internet services. Emmis discussed purchasing the station from Summit, but needed federal approval to own two FM stations in the same market. In December 1994 the purchase was approved and Kiss FM's format was changed to Urban Adult Contemporary (Urban AC).
In 1995, Hot 97 again became New York's top station in the Arbitron ratings. Hot 97 was the only radio station in New York for hip-hop until mid-1997 when WBLS reintroduced it on its playlists. In March 2002, Clear Channel Communications launched WWPR-FM (Power 105.1 FM) to challenge Hot 97, and went to number-five in the ratings. In the fall of 2005 Power 105.1 edged slightly ahead of Hot 97 for the first time ever during the same period of time as the Tsunami song parody. Most recently the station resurged back to the top of the ratings.
In May 2007, R&R and BDS moved WQHT back to the Rhythmic Airplay panel after a long tenure as an Urban reporter. More recently, Hot 97 has begun to play more late 90's and early 2000s throwbacks. While the majority of the songs played on the station are current Hip-Hop and R & B Hits, classic hits by legendary artists such as the Notorious B.I.G and Tupac have begun to receive more airplay.
On September 9, 2008, Emmis announced a programming partnership with WorldBand Media and will be using WQHT's HD-3 signal to produce programming for the South Asian communities in 3 major cities including New York City. The said content will be available in Mid-October.
Miss Info, a fellow on-air colleague of Korean descent, was outraged and spoke against the song on the station. She excluded herself from producing the song and said it was wrong for it to be played. Miss Info immediately found herself subjected to a four-minute, on-air lambasting from the other DJs. Miss Jones accused Miss Info of always distancing herself from the antics of the others, and of acting superior because she is Asian. Another jock on the show named Todd Lynn muttered "I'm gonna start shooting Asians."
Following angry protests from the Asian-American community, bloggers, and networking sites, and other New Yorkers, Miss Jones, DJ Envy (whose wife, ironically, is half Black and half Asian), and Tasha Hightower were suspended while Todd Lynn and Rick Del Gado (the writer of the song) were fired. The station issued an apology on its website. Both Sprint and McDonald's pulled their advertising from the station. The suspended employees' pay was diverted to charities helping victims of the tsunami. Miss Jones has since been reinstated.
Other controversies have included Hot 97 on broadcasts in which women slapped each other on the air for money and prizes (This was called Slapfest and was the brainchild of DJ Miss Info), three shootings, and two false bomb threats. In 2004, as a result of continued indecency complaints, Hot 97's corporate owner Emmis Communications, signed a consent decree with the FCC and paid the US government $300,000.
On May 2, 2006, the company that owns the building that houses Hot 97 filed a lawsuit demanding the station's eviction. The lawsuit came after the shooting of rapper Gravy a week earlier, and amid concerns by the New York City District Council of Carpenters about the safety of those in the building's neighborhood.
In a May 3, 2006 broadcast, Torain mentioned DJ Envy's wife and two children and threatened to find and sexually abuse Casey's 4-year old daughter. Torain said he would pay $500 to any listener who told him where the girl attended school. Torain, who is black, also used racial and sexual epithets about DJ Envy's wife, Gia Casey, who is part Asian.
After protests by the New York City Council, detectives from the New York City Police Department's Hate Crimes Unit charged Torain with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and required him to surrender his target pistol license and 9-millimeter handgun. The charges were later dropped.
On February 1, 2007 50 Cent appeared as a guest on Hot 97 of Angie Martinez. While talking about his upcoming album and other artists Angie informed 50 that were people on the line calling in to talk to 50. One of these people was Styles P. After the Styles P conversation ended mostly peacefully Angie informed 50 that more people were calling in. The next person who came onto the air was Cam'Ron. The conversation started out peacefully but soon escalated into argument as 50 claimed that Koch Records was a 'graveyard'. After some incipient tension, the conversation precipitously changed into an argument about how many record sales from their respective artists Lloyd Banks and Jim Jones. Cam'Ron ridiculed Banks for selling only 300,000 records on a major label when Jones sold as much while having a lesser fan base and being on an independent label. Martinez later had to cut Cam'Ron off from the conversation due to his frequent use of profanity.