On Thursday Kiss-FM announced that after 30 years, it would stop broadcasting on 98.7 FM and join forces with WBLS, its longtime rival in the “adult urban contemporary” radio format in New York City. The stations will merge under the motto “One Family, One Station, Our Voice,” with several Kiss-FM personalities migrating to WBLS’s roster of hosts.
Although all the talk of “merging” and “coming together” sounds nice, here’s what’s really happening: Kiss-FM is dead. Parent company Emmis Communications, who also owns Hot 97 and 18 other stations around the country, sold leased Kiss-FM’s frequency to ESPN in a deal worth $96 million. Emmis executives say that the ratings show there simply isn’t room in the market anymore for two “adult urban” stations. As of Monday, there will be only one spot on the dial for fans of old-school soul and R&B slow jams: 107.5 WBLS.
In recent years, Kiss-FM was the kind of station that played O’Jays “For The Love of Money,” Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, and a new Beyoncé track, back to back. It was a mix of soul, funk, R&B and disco catered primarily to older Black listeners, and a welcome respite from canned pop playlists during a long commute. But Kiss-FM’s importance in radio history goes beyond today’s throwback programming. Once upon a time, it was the very first station in the US to give fringe genre known as hip-hop a chance on primetime radio, helping to change the flavor of American pop culture forever.
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