Located at 560 on the AM dial, WFIL is immediately adjacent to New York City's WMCA (at 570), and the two stations have similar histories: both were Top 40 stations in the 1960s, both underwent a format evolution as AM radio faded as a music medium, and both have a Christian/religious format today. WFIL and WMCA are both 5,000 watt radio stations, but each one puts less than 5kW of power in the specific direction of the other, because they are located next to each other on the dial, and are not allowed, by the FCC, to interfere with each other. Both stations also maintained Call For Action telephone help lines, being among the first radio stations in the United States to do so. The telephone number of WFIL's Call For Action line was GReenwood 7-5312.
WFIL was purchased in 1947 by Walter Annenberg's Triangle Publications, Inc. which also owned The Philadelphia Inquirer. By then WFIL was an affiliate of the newly-named ABC Radio Network. WFIL's sister stations under Triangle Publications ownership were WFIL-FM and WFIL-TV in Philadelphia; WNHC AM-FM-TV in New Haven, Connecticut; KFRE AM-FM-TV in Fresno, California; WFBG AM-FM-TV in Altoona, Pennsylvania; WNBF AM-FM-TV in Binghamton, New York; and WLYH-TV in Lancaster/Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Triangle Publications sold WFIL AM-FM-TV to Capital Cities Broadcasting in 1971 with the radio stations spun-off to new owners, WFIL to LIN Broadcasting and WFIL-FM to Richer Communications which changed the call letters to WIOQ. WFIL-TV took on the new call letters of WPVI-TV.
Shortly after Clark's emergence on the national stage, he became a major figure in the early days of Rock and Roll as "Bandstand" proved pivotal in helping promote the major stars of the era.
Starting on September 18, 1966, WFIL began playing "Top 40" rock and roll. It quickly became the most successful non-RKO "Boss Radio" formatted station, known locally as "The Pop Explosion". The original line up of air personalities, or "Boss Jocks" were scheduled as follows:
6am -10am : Chuck Browning
10am - 2pm : Jay Cook
2pm - 6pm : Jim Nettleton
6pm - 10pm : George Michael
10pm - 2am : Long John Wade
2am - 6am: Dave Parks
Weekends : Frank Kingston Smith
WFIL personalities heard in later years of the Top 40 era included Dr. Don Rose, Jim O'Brien, Dan Donovan, J. J. Jeffrey,Dick Heatherton, Tom Dooley,"Tiny" Tom Tyler, Mitch "K.C." Hill, "Big" Ron O'brien, Kris Chandler, Geoff Richards, Joel Denver, Brother Love (Alan Smith), and Banana Joe Montione.
The format evolved into an adult contemporary sound in the fall of 1977. At some point after that, the WFIL studios were relocated to Domino Lane in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia; they moved into the building of FM station WUSL, which WFIL owner LIN Broadcasting had acquired in late 1976. Growing competition from FM stations in this period did serious damage to WFIL's ratings. In September of 1981 country music was tried, but this failed to reverse the downward trend. The station switched to an "oldies" format in September of 1983, called "The Boss is Back", with a new line up of "Boss Jocks", playing the hits of 1955 through 1973. This format lasted until April 8, 1987, when new owner WEAZ Inc. discontinued locally originated music programming in favor of Transtar's "Oldies Channel," a satellite-delivered service. The end of live programming was marked by a production piece consisting of a portion of the song American City Suite by Terry Cashman and Tommy West interspersed with old WFIL airchecks.
In November 1987 FM stations WOGL and WIOQ both adopted oldies formats and quickly won the majority of the potential oldies audience. The Oldies Channel format continued with minimal success and listenership until 1989, when WFIL quietly began simulcasting sister station Easy 101.1 WEAZ (which had a soft adult contemporary format by then). Soon thereafter, the FM became WEAZ-FM so that WFIL could become WEAZ. In September 1991, the AM launched a mostly automated beautiful music format known as "Wish", a play on the old WWSH station which had a similar format in Philadelphia back in the 1970s. Then on May 26, 1993, WEAZ became WBEB while WEAZ-FM became WBEB-FM.
The AM station was sold for $4 million in October of 1993 to Salem Communications (which had almost bought the station three years earlier for $6.5 million but backed out of the deal at the last minute) and on November 1, 1993, the station was renamed WPHY, with a religious format focusing on Christian talk and teaching. WBEB-FM then became WBEB and to this day, continues on with its adult contemporary format.
The Christian teaching and talk format is still in use today. When a TV station in South Carolina that had been using the WFIL call letters dropped them, Salem immediately moved to reclaim the famous call sign. The call letters officially reverted to WFIL on September 6, 1994.
In its rock-and-roll heyday, the station was known colloquially as "Famous 56" and employed the slogan "Rockin' In The Cradle of Liberty." Its 5000-watt transmitter enabled its signal to be heard as far away at times as Staten Island, the southernmost borough of New York City. During its top 40 years, WFIL also consistently showed strongly in the ratings books in nearby Wilmington, Delaware, where it has an excellent signal. In addition, WFIL was a popular listening choice in Reading and Allentown, both in Pennsylvania.
Today, WFIL is locally co-owned with Salem's WNTP (990 AM). WNTP is the former WIBG. WIBG was WFIL's main rock 'n roll rival in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The studios, offices and transmitters of both stations are located at the former WIBG complex on Ridge Pike in Whitemarsh Township, Pennsylvania.