From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In June 1981, the station was known on-air as "FM 99 WXLO making its move to 98.7". By the end of the month, the station's call letters changed to WRKS-FM (the meaning of which originally referred to its being an RKO Station) and the station was called "98.7 Kiss FM", as the station's transition to this new urban contemporary format was completed by that August. Early on, Kiss-FM played a great deal of R&B and dance music, and was rated top-five in the early 1980s, at one point moving from 22nd place to third. Notable Kiss FM Mixmasters at the time were Shep Pettibone and the Latin Rascals, who relied heavily on freestyle music. Longtime urban contemporary leader WBLS expressed concern over the new station, which represented its first competition in that format.
Around mid-1983, Kiss-FM approached Afrika Bambaataa about an underground rap music show. He liked the idea and appointed DJ Jazzy Jay, a fellow member of Zulu Nation. He then passed the gig on to his cousin, DJ Red Alert. In Fall 1983, Kiss FM became the first station in the United States to play rap regularly. Also in 1983, non-R&B dance music and disco were phased out, as the station played strictly music catering only to an African-American audience. WBLS responded by hiring Mr. Magic to conduct a weekend rap show, which helped WBLS reach number-three in the ratings that year, beating out Kiss FM.
By 1984, the station had promoted Barry Mayo as the first black general manager in the RKO radio chain. Kiss would incorporate rap artists such as Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, the Fat Boys, Newcleus, and LL Cool J into the same rotation as such established acts as Ashford & Simpson, Kool and the Gang, and Gladys Knight. In 1986, Emmis Broadcasting launched WQHT-FM, which had a huge emphasis on dance music. Kiss FM and rival WBLS then each added more dance music to their playlists again. In 1988, Mayo left to organize a new broadcasting company with Lee S. Simonson and Bill Pearson, and RKO appointed Charles Warfield (former general manager of WBLS) as the new general manager of Kiss FM. During his tenure, the station reached first place for six years.
RKO General owned three stations in New York that would be sold to different companies. In 1987, WOR-TV would be sold to MCA (and renamed WWOR-TV). On June 26, 1989, RKO sold Kiss FM to the Summit Communications Group of Atlanta. Around the same time as Kiss FM's sale, WOR was sold to Buckley Broadcasting. Several radio stations began to use the moniker "Kiss FM" name as well as the format. For years Kiss FM was number one on the Arbitron ratings due to its hip hop-influenced format. That same year, WBLS lured on-air personality Mike Love (formerly of the original Kiss Wake-Up Club) to their morning drive time. Kiss immediately formulated a new morning show featuring Ken Webb and Jeff Foxx along with then-unknown Wendy Williams. The show became a hit.
In 1994, WQHT-FM ("Hot 97") changed formats from dance music to strictly rap, thus competing directly with Kiss FM. The station responded by adding Mixmaster shows, producing remixes unheard on other urban stations and formulating a new morning show featuring Wendy Williams. Emmis Broadcasting, which owned Hot 97 agreed to purchase Kiss FM from Summit in December 1994, forming the market's first FM duopoly. Notable DJ's such as Wendy Williams (now on WBLS) and Red Alert (previously returned to Kiss and now heard on WWPR-FM) moved from Kiss FM to Hot 97, which continued with its new format; Kiss stopped playing rap and focused on an Urban Adult Contemporary (Urban AC) format using the slogan "Smooth R&B and Classic Soul".
In 1999, Kiss FM switched from a classic soul-music format to current R&B. That same year Frankie Crocker (formerly of rival station WBLS) was hired as an announcer and a weekend DJ. The station slowly began to reintroduce rap back on its playlists in 2000. When WWPR-FM was launched in March 2002 the station slightly switched back to classic soul. In 2003 Barry Mayo briefly returned as general manager for Kiss FM, Hot 97 and WQCD-FM.
As of 2007, Kiss focused on being an Adult Urban Contemporary radio station with a primary focus on AFRICAN-AMERICANS between the ages of 25 & 54, thus competing directly with WBLS. DJ RED ALERT and CHUCK CHILLOUT are now back on 98.7 KISS fm doing weekend mixshows.