On April 24, 98.7 Kiss FM’s Twitter was still asking people to join them for the annual AIDS Walk New York on May 20, with a link to their page to sign up for participation. Kiss FM was still a functioning station for Black music in New York City, as it had been for several decades.
It would all end just a few days later.
Last Thursday, Emmis Communications, which owns Kiss FM, announced that the company had leased the 98.7 FM frequency to ESPN. ESPN would move its ESPN New York station to 98.7 FM from its 1050 AM dial, and 1050 AM will become ESPN Deportes, their Spanish-speaking station. YMF Media, the owner of 107.5 WBLS, bought the Kiss brand and plans on adding some Kiss radio personalities and programming to their station.
“I extend my gratitude and deepest thanks to many special people who created the memories and sense of community that Kiss FM delivered for 30 years,” said Emmis New York SVP and General Manager Alexandra Cameron. “Emmis will be forever grateful. We are so very glad that a part of Kiss will remain remembered through WBLS programming as they welcome beloved personalities like Shalia [Scott] and Lenny Green.”
Fatiyn Muhammad, executive producer of Al Sharpton’s “Hour of Power” and “Open Line” on Kiss FM, spoke with the AmNews about the Kiss legacy and how it ties in to WBLS.
“One of the things is that we play similar music,” said Muhammad as he sat in the AmNews’ offices wearing a 98.7 Kiss FM jacket. “We’ve had known disc jockeys who’ve worked for both stations. And we’ve dealt with issues that affected our community. We are servers of the community and we serve the same community. How you go about serving that community is, of course, through the shows you put on and the people who are involved in those programs.”
Over the past decade, new technologies have shifted the power of radio toward news and oldies-oriented stations. In 2007, the radio ratings service Arbitron changed the way it counted ratings by incorporating a new system called the Portable People Meter–or PPMs, as they were known in the industry. Arbitron said the system is more accurate in measuring ratings by precisely tracking radio signals. It also started the downfall of Kiss.
Under the old way of measuring ratings, Kiss and WBLS were at the top of the heap in the coveted 25- to 54-year-old market that advertisers catered to. Post PPM, they were falling between fifth and 10th on the ratings list or out of the top 10 completely.
“Not only did the host of our talk shows feel that this was somehow going to hurt Black or urban radio stations,” said Muhammad, “Arbitron felt that through the diary [the previous way they listed listenership] that its ratings were ‘elevated.’ They said the PPM was gonna give you a more accurate reading and now the advertisers can look at how many people are really listening to you. The problem I had with that is, do you distribute the PPMs according to the demographics of your city?
“They wanted to roll this out so fast, but we said slow it down,” continued Muhammad. “It got to the point where New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook held hearings about PPMs. Arbitron said they’d look at the issue, at least they said they did, but at the end of the day, we’re still hurting.” Arbitron settled lawsuits in New York and California over PPMs and said that they evaluated their methods but still stood by its ratings.
Michael Baisden, who had a syndicated show on Kiss FM, wasn’t shuffled over to WBLS. In response, Baisden has started an online petition to get his show on the air at 107.5. Baisden released a statement to accompany the petition.
“After I received the devastating news on Thursday that 98.7 Kiss FM in New York was taking my show off and going to an all-sports format, I thought to myself: Who is going to sound the alarm in New York when the next Jena 6 happens-or Trayvon Martin-or presidential election?” said Baisden in a statement. “And who’s going to promote mentoring to save our children and talk about domestic violence and child molestation? When you come up with a radio personality’s name who can be trusted to consistently and passionately address these issues on mainstream FM radio, please let me know.
“I don’t know about you, but I think we’re going down a dangerous path as African-Americans, and as Americans in general, when we allow our voices to be silenced on FM radio while personalities like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others continue to spew racist, divisive and sexist language over hundreds of radio stations across the country,” said Baisden.
Deon Levingston of WBLS told the AmNews that the station plans on incorporating the community-oriented programming that Kiss FM provided. Levingston also said that while Baisden is a beloved personality, he wants his station to have a more local feel.
“My goal is to create a stronger New York-based station with a stronger New York voice,” said Levingston. “That’s nothing against Michael Baisden, but we want to create a show in New York. I wish Michael nothing but the best.”
I think what we have to do is, we have to take the best of Kiss and incorporate it into WBLS, and we’ve already done that on the air with some of the personalities,” continued Levingston. “[with the show] ‘Open Line,’ we hope to incorporate[it] and we have to take some of the community service things and do those as well. Kiss had 30 years of serving the community. We realize that we can’t take one station and be the voice that two stations were, but we can take one station and make it a stronger voice.”
The final song Kiss FM played on Sunday night was Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out.” When the clock struck midnight on Monday morning and the station switched to ESPN, Diddy’s “Hello Good Morning” came on the air, followed by the voice of sports journalist and TV personality Stephen A. Smith. At midnight, Kiss FM’s Twitter page also switched to the WBLS logo.
And just like that, it was over.