Feder flashback: The birth of V103

Barry Mayo

Barry Mayo

Twenty-five years ago today, WVAZ FM 102.7 signed on with an urban adult-contemporary music format that had never been heard here before. “We will be a major player,” predicted founder Barry Mayo.

He was right.

Today V103 is the top-rated station in Chicago with a 6.2 percent share and an audience of more than 1.1 million. Revenue for the Clear Channel outlet exceeded $20.8 million in 2012. Among its stars are Steve Harvey, Doug Banks and Herb Kent.

Here is my Sun-Times column of Oct. 19, 1988 — one day after V103 debuted. (Posted with permission.)

WBMX disappears; new ‘V-103’ emerges

Chicago’s newest radio station burst on the scene Tuesday night with a format designed to attract black listeners between the ages of 25 and 54.

But if WVAZ-FM (102.7) president and general manager Barry A. Mayo figures correctly, the new “black adult-contemporary” station also will draw a considerable number of white listeners.

Using the on-air slogan “V-103,” the new station takes the place of WBMX, the urban-contemporary outlet bought by Mayo’s Broadcasting Partners Inc. for $27.5 million. The latest Arbitron audience ratings show WBMX ranking sevenths in the market with a 3.9 share.

In making the transition to WVAZ, Mayo fired most of WBMX’s air staff, including the morning team of “Doctor” Lawrence Gregory Jones and Shirley Clark, midday jock Mike Jeffries, afternoon jock Doc Kilgore and overnight jock Dennis Scott. Evening jock Wali Muhammad was retained to host a weekly jazz show. The jobs of news anchor Deborah Scott and sportscaster Kenny McReynolds also were spared.

Mayo and new program director Tony Kidd plan to unveil WVAZ’s complete air staff on Monday. Until then, the station will play only music and commercials without announcers.

A onetime program director of WGCI-FM (107.5), Mayo, 36, said he expects to compete for listeners not only with his former urban-contemporary station but also with such diverse outlets as adult-contemporary WCLR-FM (101.9), all-oldies WJMK-FM (104.3) and WFYR-FM (103.5) and new-age WNUA-FM (95.5).

“Unfortunately, this station has had a second-place mentality in this market for too long,” Mayo said of WBMX’s rivalry with WGCI, which now ranks second overall with a 7.7 share. “But that’s all going to change now. We will be a major player.”

Mayo described his new music format as an equal mixture of current hits by black artists, “recurrents” (or recent hits) and “dusties” (or oldies), along with “a slight touch of jazz.” Typical performers on the station will include Anita Baker, Freddie Jackson and Luther Vandross.

“Only a handful of markets around the country can sustain two black stations, and Chicago is one of them,” Mayo said. “We’re particularly optimistic because of the fervor and passion that black listeners have always had for ‘dusties.’ ”

The station first had filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for the call letters WVHD, which would have stood for “Variety, Hits and Dusties.” But late last week, Mayo decided to switch to WVAZ, “which really doesn’t stand for anything,” he said.

The station will launch a massive promotional campaign today, including a series of television commercials introducing listeners to the new “V-103.”

For more on the 25th anniversary, see: V103 celebrates 25 years at the top