The Day The Disco Died – July 13, 1985

While the beginning of Disco 92 WKTU is this month, as it all started on July 24, 1978, the END also happebed in July… July 13, 1985.. .23 years ago today. That is when it all came to a close. When WKTU left the air, and KROCK was born.

WKTU at the time was just a shadow of what it was during it’s heyday. But a large shadow it was, still garnishing a 5 plus share of the audience in New York, something that any station in NY today would be thrilled to have.

But back then, it just meant the station wasn’t in the 8, 9 and 11 shares it once enjoyed. The station changed over the years. When the word “disco” became taboo, the station became just 92 KTU with the slogan “The Hot One” and “Where Every Second Sizzles.” While it still leaned dance, it later became a Top 40 radio station, albeit dance leaning, but also extremely unfocused. This was at a time when New York was host to 3 other Top 4 stations. Was there really room for 4? Obviously not.

KTU was the 1st to go. In its final days, the WKTU call letters were not use don the air, I would assume because the change to NEW call letters was near. The station was only known as the generic name of “92 FM.”

Someone I went to college with was the board operator for Dan Ingram, who KTU brought on board a few months earlier in a vein attempt to save the dying station. Dan didn’t fit in at all. WKTU was a music machine like most FM stations were. Dan was a personality. And with Dan’s wit, you could hear his frustration on the air. (In one of his first breaks he says, mighty sarcastic sounding… “They sure play a lot of music here on WKTU…”) Since Dan never ran his own controls, after being at WABC for years, he was the only one with a board operator. This person told me, and I remember the call, that the station was to change format at midnight. It was July 12th, and the next day was the amazing two continent Live Aid event that had been promoted to be broasdcast live on WKTU. I didn’t think they would flip woth this event coming. But it was apparent they were going to.

Dan’s last break (as well as his last break as well on the Dan Ingram Satellite Survey, a weekly countdown show NOW deleivered by satellite, which failed) said “I’m going on vacation for a few weeks.” In reality, it was just his last show. That was it. It was hardly a pinnacle for him. No need for the tearful closing show that WABC offfered when he left there.

After hearing this, I knew it was over. I got my radio and tape recorder ready for midnight to change this format flip. At the time, it didn’t seem like a real big deal.

When radio strations changed bacl then, it wasn’t with some big hoopla or stunting. It usually took place late in the day or night, to no big fanfare, which has become the norm today.

Rosko, who I have spoken about several times here, was on the air for his last show. Runor has it that he was KEPT on board with the new format, BUT he COULD NOT say his name. Rosko was a rock jock from back in the day on WNEW. The new format was a rock format. Why this was told to Rosko (if it was) remains a mystery to me. However, Rosko had too much dignity to put up with that.

It was about 11:30 PM and Rosko stopped the music. He went into talking about change and the radio stration. I wish I had an aircheck of it all. I do have one of the ONLY remaining audio clips of part of it however. As I was ready to tape the format change, when I heard Rosko talking I immediately went to my cassette recorder and started recording what he said and the last half hour of station station.

In his speech, he insiuated the station was changing for “racial” reasons. It WAS going from a more ethnically rich dance and urban slanted format to a rock format. However, after being in the business for many years, I realize that everything is a business decision. Things don’t happen for reasons of pure racial merits.

In his speech, Rosko mentions Infinity Broadcasting (CBS Radio) who bought WKTU, and the changes that insued thereafter. He spoke of Mel Karmizan, former president of CBS radio, now CEO of Sirius XM Radio. He made a very passionate speech.

I never heard anything like this on the radio prior to this. As I said earlier, I have seen changes like this before, and like most things, it is based not upon black, white, or brown, but upon green. Moves are made to make the station the most profitable ti can be. Personallty, I do not believe the station’s change to a rock format was based on someone’s “racial” agenda. But I will say, the emotion put forth by Rosko in this closing speech on July 12, 1985 at about 11:30 PM was strong. Even as I listen to the audio to properly transcribe the above, which I have listened to many times over the past 23 years, I can’t help feeling the emotion of what was going on at that radio station.. Once the most successful radio station in the country.. .now ready to change to a totally opposite direction.

There have been timed I have tried to picture what must have been going on at the station at this time. A format change less than a half hour away. I have been in those situations, and there is usually a lot of last minute preparations, especially in the early days before compouters. There is an electricity and excitment in the air, at the birth of something new. When a new radio station comes on, it has a totally clean slate. No baggage, no predisposed notions of what it is. Gerber makes baby food. Gerber sells life insuramce. If someone says “what does gerber do” you will say baby food, no matter how many life insurance commercials they try to use to inform you. Things take on an identity that can not be reformed easily later. With a clean slate, you can only do one thing wrong. Screw it up from the start.

So, getting back to the last half hour of Disco 92, before the call letters land in Atlantic City and are brought back to New York to much fanfare in the mid 90s, as I said, Rosko plays Expose’s song “Pojnt Of No Return.”

The next song is Evelyn King’s “Love Comes Down.” There is no ID into the song.

I would assume Rosko is being escorted out of the building at 655 Madison Avenue at this point. he is probably alone and going down the fancy mirrored elevators to the lobby, by himself, in the New York midweek night.

Then a “New York’s best varity of music” production piece plays.. into “Rasberry Beret” by Prince.

After the piece, you hear Rosko say “92 FM. New York’s Best Variety Of Music.” I would think this was recorded, as I couldn’t see him being allowed back on the air live after his speech.

Then the next song starts “When The Rain Begins To Fall” by Pia Zodora and Jermaine Jackson.

Then there is a quick 92 FM production piece

Then the next song starts “Who’s Holding Donna Now” by DeBarge.

Then the next song starts “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” by The Commodores.

Finally a voice is heard… It is Jim Harlan. After being an air personality, Jim stays on as a production person for the New rock format.

He Says the following…; ” 92 FM… at 11:35… Jim Harlan in for a good friend… Rosko”.. and then reads a promo announcement for the next days Live Aid show.

Weather Rosko was right or wrong, I always felt that jim Harlan had a lot of class to at least honor him by that small statement. “In for a good friend… Rosko.” Today, he would have also been escorted out for mentioning the name of someone who said something so bad on the air. But weather everyone was busy readying themselves for the rock format coming in 25 minutes., or it didn’t matter at the time, Jim was able to pay that last respect to one of WKTUs longest and honoed DJs. Jim Harlan has passed out since then. Jim, wheever you are.. you had class.

Before I go on with the final few minutes of WKTU, here is some quick closure about Rosko. CBS sued him for what he did on the air. He sued CBS back from limiting his performance ability. After all was said and done, it was settled out of court. This made decent news in the newspaper at the time as well. People cared. Rosko went to WBAI, a non commercial station in New York, and later became the voice of CBS sports, until his death.

Back to the final hours of Disco 92 WKTU.. or 92 FM at this point.

After the Live Aid live commerciall “now billed as a history making ROCK AND ROLL event by Jim” a short production piece played, followed by “Into The Groove” by Madonna.

Then Jim comes in again, and just says “92 FM” and plays “One Night In Bangkok” by Murray Head.

After the next song, another live LIVE AID announcement is said by Jim.., followed by more commercials (starting with one for Crazy Eddie, whose success incidentally was made with a big help from a very low spot rate deal with WKTU).

Aftet the commercials, a quick “92 FM” production piece into “I Can Dream About You” by Dan Hartman.

Then, it was the last break heard on WKTU for about 10 years until the call letters returned again.

As I said earlier, things back then were done in the middle of the night. No fan fare. No people saying goodbye. WKTU was the highest rated FM radio station in the country, yet it went otu with a wimper, not a bang.

This is a transcript of the last break, said by Jim Harlan:

“… I’m Jim Harlan, and I think I can speak for everybody who works here at WKTU in New York… and we want to thank you for your support over the years… And we’ve made a lot of history in this town.. and we’ve been a part of many people’s lives over the years… and we’re very happy about that… and we’re very proud of it too… .But there’s a new day dawning… and there’s a new radio station ready to about hit New York .. with a brand new weekend on it’s way… and ahh at midnight… you’re in for a surprise… (you hear mic feedback in the headphones of Jim…, I would think he has pushed back from the mic to contemplate for a second, which caused a shift in his headphones and feedback) and just for the staff and the management of WKTU…. Thank You”

Then “Let’s Stay Together” by Tina Turner starts. This is the last song heard on WKTU at 92.3 FM.

Then, Ironically, the first peice of production comes in for the new rock format.. voiced by none ofther than Jim Harlan… it says…

“92-3.. WXRK.. New York… K-ROCK”

Then the song “Long Live Rock” plays… It is a long song…

I remember being shock when this was playing and listen to it… I knew it was coming, but now the radio station I listened to as a teen into my 20s.. after WABC.. was gone. Every great song, every great memory, every great evet, the reason I got into radio… was all brought to you by WKTU. And now, it was gone. it is radio.. there are no pictures. Radio lives with us in the now. In the present. Without it in the present, it becomes a memory… a mile marker on the road of life.

The next day, I went to Live Aid with a friend. WKTU broadcasted the event, Oh I mean KRock… sorry that really was a typo.

Krock has been on the air 23 years today. That is over 4 times the legnth of the original WKTU. In that time, it has changed from Album Rock to Classic Rock to Active Rock. It went away for become talk as Free-FM, another radio failure.

But the impact WKTU had is everlasting. So much to the point when another radio station in New York on 103.5 signed on with the WKTU call letters, it became instratnly number one in EVERY major demographic, which is unheard of. Even to this day, I still feel that radio station gets SOME rating somnly becxause of it’s 30 year old call letters, WKTU.

What happened 23 years ago today? The largest and first 2 continent concert was held, where for the first time people in a stadium in England felt as close to the people in a stadium in Philadelphia as if they were right next to them. Madonna had her cernterfold in playboy. A train I was in going to Live Aid became stranded in the middle of New Jersey in unbearable heat. Phil Collins appeared in both Philly and Wmebly stadium at the SAME Live AId Show… becuase he wanted to…. And the highest rated radio station in New York left the airwaves…. Good and Bad it seems.. the only thing they have in common is that they leave indeible memories forever.

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8 Responses to “The Day The Disco Died – July 13, 1985”

  1. Carlo Says:

    Is this factual? I was listening to the station when it went off of the air. The last song played was Last Dance from Donna Summer.

  2. Victor Simonelli Says:

    Please put the recording online Mike. It would be so nice to hear.
    I can host the recording for you online if you would like.
    Send me e mail when you can please.

  3. VinylLives Says:

    Regarding Carlo’s comment…

    I too seem to remember that it was a weekday in the summer of the early to mid-80’s, when, while I was driving south on 63rd Drive in Forest Hills, Queens, heading towards Queens Blvd., I was listening to Paco on 92 KTU on my car stereo, when, just before his usual sign-off at 6pm (he did the 2-6pm slot), he made mention of something to the effect that (and I’m paraphrasing from memory) “he was going to sign-off with the same song that Disco92 had signed-on with in July 1978 ‘Last Dance’ by Donna Summer”. He went on to “thank his listeners for their years of support” and that was it! When “Last Dance” ended, I seem to remember that the stations new aircheck was played and the next song was nothing really memorable…some “pop” track that was DEFINATELY out of character for Disco92. I remember this SOOOOOOOO WELL because I was with my brother and remember mentioning to him how absolutely MAD I was that I was not at home near my tape recorder to record this event. I was also EXTREMELY depressed to see such an era come to an end. Is it possiblt that what Carlo and I remember is the earlier changover in format from Disco to CHR (i.e. Disco92 becoming 92 KTU) and what you refer to here in your blog is actually the later, more formal, changeover of the station (still as WKTU) to its new Rock format and new call WXRK (K-Rock)?

    Do you remember hearing Paco sign-off as I described above?

    Anyway, THANK YOU for the GREAT memories, photos and music clips! I too had the KTU-customized ending to Rapper’s Delight recorded on cassette, but over the years, seemed to have lost it and have never been able to find it…nor did I any longer remember the words. So thanks for that post alone! It’s the single BEST thing I’ve ever been able to find on the internet. No kidding!

    Thanks again!

  4. StillInTheGroove Says:

    Speaking of KTU-exclusive versions of the hits at the time, I remember around 1981 a special version of Mean Machine’s “Disco Dream” that had the refrain “Wepa! Wepa! 92 Wepa! Wepa! KTU”. I wish I had that taped:(

  5. StillInTheGroove Says:

    Here’s a KTU aircheck that I discovered a while back. Perfect, on-key blending between Vaughn Mason’s “Jammin Big Guitar” and Gino Soccio’s “Try It Out”. Plus Carlos DeJesus doing the voiceover in-between:

    http://airchexx.com/ram/2005/October/1985-wktu-end1.ram

  6. BrooklynMike Says:

    What I will never understand is how can a radio station that was loved by so many people, with such great ratings, so many listeners and that made such a MAJOR impact in the history of all music not only go off the air but be the 1st to go?? I’d say that there will never be another radio station like it but in 2015, with all new technology and changes, Radio is dead. It’s all about satellite radio and MP3 files.

  7. iplay pearldrums Says:

    I used to hear tapes of mixes on huge JVC radios in 81/82 while watching hockey games on ice on LI. Another station like WPLJ …..gone with the wind.

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