(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Radio station WHN in New
York City will always occupy a special place in radio history as well as in a lot of listeners’ hearts and memories. For me,
when I moved from Austin to New York in 1974, I was leaving a lot of spiritual anchors behind. Some were music and cultural
venues such as the Armadillo World Headquarters and the Broken Spoke. And great barbecue and fabulous Mexican food. There
was also the scintillating progressive radio station KOKE-FM.
KOKE-FM was a totally free-form, anarchist country music
radio station. Lots of live shows and interviews, much music from Willie,
Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard, David
Allan Coe, Greezy Wheels, Michael Martin Murphy and the
But when I got to Manhattan, I was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly active country music community and a
real audience for the music, both in Manhattan and its boroughs and also in Long Island and New Jersey. People are pretty
much alike, after all, all over this country. Why wouldn’t a blue collar worker in Queens enjoy Merle
Haggard just as much as one would in Houston?
And just around the corner from my apartment, I discovered a country
music-friendly Irish bar named O’Lunney’s. The owner, Hugh O’Lunney, and I became friends, and I was pleased to occasionally
suggest a country booking for him or even help make it happen.
I also found the wonderful Lone Star Cafe down in Greenwich
Village, with Texas artist Bob Wade’s marvelous huge, 40-foot iguana sculpture on the roof and the Café’s motto, “Too
much ain’t enough.” That all proved to be true. And rock clubs such as Max’s Kansas City welcomed the likes of Waylon Jennings,
and the Bottom Line was a regular home for country and bluegrass artists. Country music proved to be a hardy survivor in a
hard asphalt and concrete jungle.
And, in Manhattan, as a last piece of the puzzle, I found a great AM country music
radio station. WHN had been around as a pioneering New York City radio home for decades and had been through many format changes
over the years.
After a decision was made in 1973 to take the station country, WHN floundered a bit and went through
three program directors in as many years. Finally, they turned to a 20-something PD from Pittsburgh. Ed Salamon had propelled
Pittsburgh’s WEEP to the top. His secret? Listener call-out and research. The station’s listeners responded favorably, just
as they were to do for WHN in New York.
Salamon has just published a memoir of his years at the station, WHN: When
New York City Went Country, which is an informative, entertaining history of the station and its personalities, such as
Lee Arnold and Jessie Scott.
WHN was successful but not successful enough. The problem wasn’t a lack of listeners.
It was the attitude of advertising time buyers, who were lukewarm or even hostile to country music. In 1987, the station was
flipped to sports talk WFAN, which became even more popular. For a time, WYNY went country and became the most listened-to
country station in America until it gave up the ghost in 1996. Again, ad sales were the villain.
Then, earlier this
year country returned to New York City, in the form of Nash-FM 94.7. (The official call sign is WRXP-FM.)
Welcome back to New York City, country radio.