Today in Radio History: Listen to the legendary WIBG’s final broadcast sign off
If you grew up during the glorious days of AM radio in Philly in the 50s and 60s, there were four AM radio stations that you probably listened to for music. For R&B and soul music, you could listen to the incredible WDAS and WHAT. For rock and pop, one option was Famous 56, WFIL. The other was “Wibbage,” WIBG, located at 990 on the AM dial.
These two pop radio behemoths ruled the airwaves during the Sixties. Both stations were very personality-driven, with larger-than-life DJs who played the Top 40 smash hits of the moment, and depending on your favorite boss jock, you were either glued to 560 or 990 AM.
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the final hour of WIBG, hosted by two of the greatest DJs ever – Hy Lit and Joe Niagara – who signed off for the last time on September 10, 1977.
According to the Philadelphia Radio Archives:
WIBG was founded in 1924 as a 25 watt religious station for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Elkins Park. (WIBG apparently stood for “I Believe In God”) Until the mid 1930s, the station only broadcast religious services on Sunday afternoons. When the church was forced to broadcast on a daily basis by the Federal Radio Commission, the owners decided to sell the station to an electrical construction company. The new owners immediately received permission to increase power to 100 watts, and new studios were built in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. In 1941, the FCC approved the station’s request to move to Philadelphia, and new studios at 1425 Walnut Street in Center City were constructed. Plate glass windows at street level allowed passersby to view the newsroom and celebrity interviews. In 1943, the station’s power was increased from 1,000 watts to 10,000 watts.
WIBG’s move to all-rock-and-roll happened in the late 50s, and until WFIL introduced their “pop explosion” Top 40 format in 1966, if you were a teenager in Philly, you listened to Wibbage. It was captivating. While WFIL’s DJs were the “Boss Jocks,” the WIBG DJs were the “Good Guys” – Joe “Rockin’ Bird” Niagara, Jerry Stevens, Bill Wright Sr., Frank X Feller, Dean Tyler, Allen Dean, and “Hysky O’Rooney McVoutie O’Zoot”…AKA Hy Lit.
XPN’s Helen Leicht has a personal connection to WIBG. Her uncle, Joseph T. Conway, was the General Manager of the station. Helen recalls:
I have so many fun and amazing memories of that time. My Uncle Joe gave me the opportunity to see The Beatles at JFK. We were too young so we had to go with my aunt and my mom. I also remember one day driving around with him when he was listening to WIBG, he got so angry about something one of the DJ’s said that he pulled over on the side of the road to use the pay phone to call the studio hotline…before cell phones.
I was and still am a big Beatles fan, and they were the only station that played them and they played and repeated the hits and the songs that I always wanted to hear. WIBBAGE ‘welcomed’ all the bands in the 60’s..but another memory I have was when The Monkees were booked for the Philly Convention Center and it was the first show where WIBG didn’t have their name on it – it was a show that was brought to Philly by WFIL. They had a great “Good Guys” softball team, and my favorite “good guy” was Bill Wright.
As Helen mentions about The Beatles, WIBG was the first station to present them in concert in Philadelphia at convention hall — read our history of that show here.
Below, listen to the final sign off moments of WIBG hosted by Hy Lit and Joe Niagara. From a production stand point it’s one of the greatest moments in radio history. For a trip down memory lane, check out WIBG’s Top 300 All-Time Records here.
(Editor’s Note: The original YouTube archive of WIBG’s final aircheck is no longer online, but you can mine some history with these videos.)