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WZLD ("Z-96"), 1303 State Street / 2334 Airport Boulevard: 1988   18 comments

Posted at 1:08 am in business,entertainment,historic

When I was in high school, a new radio station came to town, with a new concept: "Album Rock".

The station was WZLD (or "Z-96") and operated out of Cayce, first from a little storefront (apparently now vacant) to the left of a barber shop on State Street, and later from an odd looking building out on Airport Boulevard (at least I think that's where I remember seeing the sign).

I'll admit that the concept of "album rock" confused me a bit. I had only discovered rock music in 1976, and I was still a little iffy about all the definitions. For instance, I thought "acid rock" was the same thing as "heavy metal" since the only acid I had heard about was sulphuric, and I could imagine heavy metal dissolving stuff in the same way.

So, to make a full confession, I kind of took the promos about how "we play album cuts, not just singles" to heart and was deeply disappointed that they were not playing tracks from my then current favorite album, Billy Joel's "The Stranger". In fact, I went so far as to write them a deeply embarassing post card (in retrospect..) complaining that they were playing Van Morrison's "Wavelength" which was a Top-40 hit, and not "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant". I'm sure the DJs had a good laugh at it, and I've come to the point where I'm a huge Van Morrison fan nowdays (he can be very inconsistent in shows, but tore up the place in Atlanta last May..)

From what I've been able to gather from looking at old phonebooks down at the library, WZLD first showed up in the December 1974 Southern Bell phonebook. I don't think they were "album rock" at that time, or at least I didn't hear of them as such until later, but they were already at 1303 State Street, and already had their long-running phone numbers of 796-8896 business and 796-9996 for the contest line.

In the Janurary 1983 phonebook, their address changed to 2334 Airport Boulevard, and in the Jan 1984 phonebook, they took out their first yellow pages ad which rebranded them as "Number 1 Hit -- Kicker". Now, that phrase, "hit-kicker" is very similar to a non-radio-friendly phrase sometimes used to describe Country music, so I'm wondering if they underwent a change to a Country format at that time. I was still living in town at the time, but I don't think I was listening to them very much, and have no memory of it one way or another.

At any rate that catch phrase didn't last very long, and the yellow pages ad in the Feb 1985 phonebook described them as "Red Hot Radio 1". That also didn't last too long, and while the Feb 1988 phone book did not have a full ad, the tagline in their listing for that year was "All Hit".

They were not listed in the Jan 1989 phonebook and seem to have left the airwaves at that time.

Along the way, they did some memorable promos, with the most famous probably being the annual "Ramblin' Raft Race" on the Congaree. At this remove, sponsoring something like that seems as though it would be an insurance nightmare, but in those olden days, apparently encouraging tipsy people to navigate was OK..

Here's a few WZLD comments we've had here from time to time:


The one on Two Notch was indeed “The Zoom Flume”. I remember it well because they were a major sponsor at WZLD-FM where I worked. It’s heyday was the summer of 1979. We gave away free passes all the time. I think we tied it in with “The Ramblin’ Raft Race” on the Congaree River.

--Captain Dave


WZLD…. The ROCK… of the city.

The Ramblin’ Raft Race! I was going to BC when they had the first one of those (did they have more than one?).

I happened to be in study hall when a DJ and a guy from some raft rental company out of Atlanta came over looking for some kids to work for them. I signed up, and that was the hardest I think I’ve ever worked. We had to be there at 5:00am to blow up the rafts, rent them out, and then pack up and head down Old State to the pickup spot. Needless to say, the people getting out of the water didn’t resemble the folks we rented to at the put-in. I think we worked about 12 hours straight. Didn’t even get a lunch break!

Great times! (:

E.J.

UPDATE 2 July 2012 -- As mentioned in the comments, the A-frame looking building I have pictured above is not the Airport Boulevard location for WZLD. The correct building is next door, and I have finally gotten a picture of it:

p1070913_tn.jpg

Written by ted on February 22nd, 2011

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18 Responses to 'WZLD ("Z-96"), 1303 State Street / 2334 Airport Boulevard: 1988'

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  1. yeah, it was top 40 rocki in 1983. And the reason Hit-Kicker didn't last long was that 99% of the kids (me included( added an s to the front. Course, we had it blaring on our Jensen Tri-axels in our jacked up wide tired musclecars.

    tonkatoy

    22 Feb 11 at 7:41 am

  2. I'm not 100% sure, but that location also might have served the WTGH station after WZLD moved out. One of WZLD's slogans was "Almost Perfect" radio, which had a tv spot showing a swimsuit-clad young lady in slo-mo sauntering along the beach a la Bo Derek. . . then tripping at the end.
    One of WZLD's promotions back in the day was "Find the missing 'Z' in WZLD. Supposedly, there was an actual 'Z' somewhere. Someone did apparently find it, under a seat or bleachers somewhere, and the address was 300 [some street name]. I remember that one because one of the clues was "tricentennial."

    badger

    22 Feb 11 at 4:42 pm

  3. Yes, you are right. The Feb 1985 phone book page of stations that I xeroxed for the second ad above does list WTGH "The Gospel Highway" at 1303 State Street.

    ted

    22 Feb 11 at 5:12 pm

  4. It was WTGH on State Street until fairly recently. That store on the left side of that building has been numerous things since 1995: thrift store, cafe, diner... When it was a cafe, there was always a crowd of BC students, which prompted a police car to be there as well.

    tonkatoy

    23 Feb 11 at 7:37 am

  5. Astoundingly enough, there is a wikipedia entry for WZLD:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WLTY

    "96.7 FM signed on as WZLD on July 11, 1974 with a mixture of Top 40 and Oldies music. It became the number one rated station in its first book. However, in 1975, rival AM Top 40 WNOK countered the success of WZLD by flipping its sister FM to Top 40 as "Stereo 105". That move would stunt WZLD's growth in the marketplace and the format was changed to Album Rock as "Z-96" by 1977. The format was run live-assisted using Drake-Chenault's AOR format.

    In 1980, the station change back to Top 40 and both Z-96 and WNOK-FM went head to head for the next six years for the Columbia Top 40 radio audience. In February 1986, Z-96 made a dramatic format change from Top 40 to Adult Contemporary, but keeping the name. This move proved disastrous and by early 1987, the station changed back to Top 40. This time, however, the station found itself competing with not only WNOK, but with upstart WMMC (now WOMG) as well.

    In February 1988, WZLD became WYYS with the "Yes 97" moniker. The format remained Top 40, this time with a lean toward Dance music. The station makeover would eventually pay off as WMMC would become WPRH later in 1988 and would leave the Top 40 format altogether one year later. WNOK, however remained dominate in the Top 40 ratings and despite several attempts, could not be unseated.

    In August 1991, after a brief stunt as "Elvis Radio", the format was changed to Country as "Kicks 96" with the new call letters of WHKZ. This time, the station targeted longtime Country outlet WCOS-FM. Although it had some modest success at first, Kicks 96 was never able to beat WCOS in the ratings. The station was sold in 1994 to Benchmark Communications, which kept the Country format as a flanker to protect WCOS, but over time, the station's ratings had started to eroded.

    By 1998, Benchmark was sold to Capstar Broadcasting. Since there was no need for two country stations under the same ownership as well as declining ratings, the decision was made to change WHKZ to something else. Over Labor Day Weekend, 1998. WHKZ dropped the Country format for brief simulcasts of Capstar sister stations WCOS and WVOC. After the stunting, the format was changed to Adult Contemporary with the name "Lite 96.7" and the new call letters of WLTY.

    Despite the changes, Lite 96.7 never really took off in the Columbia market. After seven years of mediocre ratings against the dominant Adult Contemporary station, WTCB, the station flipped on August 16, 2005 to Variety Hits as "Steve FM" (rumored to be named for then-new University Of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, even though he is affiliated with WISW.). After a year, the station was able to finish in the Top 5 in the Arbitron ratings, something that has never been achieved in over a decade.

    The station is owned by Clear Channel Communications, which also owns Country WCOS-FM, CHR WNOK, Urban WXBT, News/Talk WVOC, and Sports/Talk WCOS in the Columbia radio market.

    IrmoJeff

    23 Feb 11 at 12:51 pm

  6. Huh. I never even suspected there was any connection with "Steve".

    ted

    23 Feb 11 at 12:57 pm

  7. I didn't either.

    tonkatoy

    24 Feb 11 at 7:29 am

  8. I remember the studio when it was on state st. It was an AM station earlier. Late 60's & 70's. My dad would take me with him EARLY on sunday mornings. He would preach for 30 mins. Can't remember the call sign.
    I do remember that at the end of the building in 1974 was Boones Ice Cream Parlor. First place I ever played Foosball! Ans some drink they had called bearcat juice!

    * dont think STEVE FM is spurrier. there are several steve fm's across the country. could be wrong ....

    BC Bobby

    2 Mar 11 at 12:47 am

  9. I remember this station coming on the air. For years Columbia was the only decent-sized city around this area that did not have a rock 'n roll station on FM, only 2 weak AM outlets. WZLD was the first. This station's initial format was programmed (pre-recorded song announcements from some outside service), with something of a Top 40 format, but leaning towards soft rock (similar to the current AC format). WNOK-FM adopted the exact same programmed format right after this. Eventually WNOK switched to live announcers and more straight-up Top 40. This station's format changes are documented in some of the previous posts.

    I went to BC High across the street and remember the building as well. Does seem like there had been an AM station previously, but I can't recall for sure. Maybe the then-country station WCAY at 620? This building is in Cayce, and those call letters are obviously based on that.

    Bobby G

    3 Mar 11 at 3:32 pm

  10. Further update to above comment: I found another web site that seems to confirm that country AM station WCAY was the original radio station in this building. It also indicated that WNOK-FM actually adopted a (somewhat soft) rock format before WZLD came on the air. WZLD was "less soft" and outrated it, then both stations gravitated to more mainstream Top 40 over time.

    Bobby G

    3 Mar 11 at 3:41 pm

  11. WCAY featured Friendly Ben which was a staple in our house back in the 60s & early 70s. Friendly Ben played country music & comedy. He also did some political commentary & helped found the Chitlin Strut.

    John R

    4 Mar 11 at 8:51 am

  12. I helped put WCAY on the air in July 1958 after moving back to the area after working for the station owner...Olin Tice...a longtime successful announcer for CBS in New York.
    We worked trogether in Dover, Delaware. I joined him after havng worked at stations in Richmond and Norfolk, VA.
    We had a very ecliectic WCAY formet as a daytime only station at 620 AM.
    My other jobs had been at WACA in Camden and WIS Columbia.
    Eventually working iat stations in San Anonio and Dallas, we came back to Columbia.
    I was working as an audio producer when Ben Dekle took an un-announced leave of absence and they were in need of someone to take over in his absence...but it became a fulll-time job as Progam Director
    and we created a "Top 40 Country NMusic" format that took us to No.2 in the market. Will Sullivan, the station manager, was insttrumental in bringing in the top country acts to the Township Auditorium and Carolina Coliseum to sell out crowds.
    Dekle did return and I decided to leave and return to WIS and later to WSCCQ in 1977.
    WCAY occupied the same building on Sate Street until Tice moved it to Airport Boulevard.
    Several other stations later occupied those locations. A Gospel Music station broadcast from State Street and WZLD took the site on Airport Blvd.

    Jim Seay
    now owner Jim Seay Productions
    and free lance sports play-by-play
    on Lexington's WLXM

    l

    jim seay

    24 Nov 11 at 9:24 am

  13. I helped put WCAY on the air in July 1958 after moving back to the area after working for the station owner...Olin Tice...a longtime successful announcer for CBS in New York.
    We worked together in Dover, Delaware. I joined him after havng worked at stations in Richmond and Norfolk, VA.
    We had a very ecliectic WCAY formet as a daytime only station at 620 AM.
    My other jobs had been at WACA in Camden and WIS Columbia.
    Eventually working iat stations in San Anonio and Dallas, we came back to Columbia.
    I was working as an audio producer when Ben Dekle took an un-announced leave of absence and they were in need of someone to take over in his absence...but it became a fulll-time job as Progam Director
    and we created a "Top 40 Country NMusic" format that took us to No.2 in the market. Will Sullivan, the station manager, was insttrumental in bringing in the top country acts to the Township Auditorium and Carolina Coliseum to sell out crowds.
    Dekle did return and I decided to leave and return to WIS and later to WSCCQ in 1977.
    WCAY occupied the same building on Sate Street until Tice moved it to Airport Boulevard.
    Several other stations later occupied those locations. A Gospel Music station broadcast from State Street and WZLD took the site on Airport Blvd.

    Jim Seay
    owner Jim Seay Productions
    and free lance sports play-by-play
    on Lexington's WLXM

    jim seay

    24 Nov 11 at 9:26 am

  14. One minor correction to point out: WZLD's Airport Blvd. location was in the building located behind the Sunbelt Properties (it's now offices for "The Steel Group").

    WZLD, as well as successors Top 40 WYYS and Country WHKZ, remained in that building on Airport Blvd until 1995 when WHKZ was acquired by rival Country outlet WCOS AM-FM and eventually moved into the WCOS complex at 2440 Millwood Ave (now occupied by Glory Communications group of stations).

    PS: Hi to Jim Seay!!! Greetings from a another former WSCQ alumni!!!

    Robyn

    Robyn Watts

    28 Nov 11 at 8:27 pm

  15. Thanks! -- I'll get a picture of the right building.

    ted

    29 Nov 11 at 1:35 am

  16. Yes it was the low brown brick/brown roof building with the fireplace chimney on Airport Blvd. The call letters for WCAY stood for We Care About You.

    Marty

    22 Feb 12 at 2:24 pm

  17. I had the pleasure of working at Z-96 #1 Hit Kicker at the Cayce and Airport Studios with The Mountain Man, Benji Norton, Chuck Finley,... and again with Doug Enlow, Charlie Jay, Ken Martin, Ronny Lane,... when it became Kicks 96 (WHKZ) Country. Great Times and Memories!

    Dan McCarthy

    7 Jul 13 at 10:26 am

  18. loved wzld. i was in middle school and really starting to get into music. id listen all afternoon shooting basketballs in the back yard. "roxanne roxanne"! first time i heard "we are the world" on the radio. they did a simulcast of this duran duran show. i rememebr andy taylor did a radio bumper calling the sation "w. zed. l. d." there was a british d.j. that did a british top 10 show one night a week. he played blue monday. changed my life. it was a big deal for me to meet these d.j.'s at the fair. id didnt last but a few years the way i remember. but those few years, at that time in my life, seem like forever. i wish i had a wzld bumper sticker!

    brett

    24 Feb 14 at 1:55 pm

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