The sad end of an era came this week after New York’s KISS-FM (WRKS) and its rival WBLS announced they were merging. When New Yorkers turned on their radios this morning, KISS was officially gone, operating under WBLS’s frequency and letters, effectively ending a 30-year run for the station.
“WBLS and WRKS have been the voice of the tri-state black community for 30 years,” said Deon Levingston, general manager of WBLS, in a statement on KISS-FM’s website. “We plan to merge the best of both stations to create a stronger voice to deliver the best in R&B music while also super serving our community.”
Both in the city and across the country, the move came as a shock to many—even to employees who didn’t know about the deal until the Thursday before it happened. The stations were such iconic rivals in the city, it would be as if the Yankees merged with the Mets.
Both radio stations had been struggling as a result of the five-year-old portable people meter rating system—a small electronic device that tracks listeners—which many blame for the decline in ratings for black radio shows across the country. Kiss-FM and WBLS were once rated at the top of their 25-34 year-old demographic but after the new rating system, their ratings plunged and remained between sixth and eleventh place.
“They were both institutions here—both KISS and BLS—they’ve been around long enough to have that heritage status, so I don’t think anybody thought there would be a merger between the two,” Mark Riley, host of WWRL, stated to New York 1.
The merger will affect the programming by getting rid of two of KISS-FM’s syndicated shows, the Tom Joyner Show and the Michael Baisden show, and keeping the Steve Harvey Morning Show, which was broadcast on WBLS. Joyner feels like the move couldn’t have come at a worse time. “I am saddened that an important black voice is going silent in New York City, especially during this important election year,” Joyner said in a statement. “Although social media currently gets a lot of credit and rightfully so, nothing can replace the role black radio plays in empowering, informing and entertaining black people.”
ESPN Radio will take over KISS-FM’s frequency and it is unclear how many employees will be lost because of this deal.