Worst to First - Z 100 In New York and The Most Unique Advertising Strategy!


I watched a Documentary entitled "Worst to First" the other day describing the rise of radio station WHTZ - Z100 in New York in 1983. Program Director and radio personality Scott Shannon was hired to meet this tremendous challenge.


Growing up in the area, and being a radio person myself, I remember the day Z100 went on the air, I'll give you the details of this very interesting event. WABC, the am station that always lead the ratings switched to an all talk format in 1982. Disco was still very popular and personalities like Imus and Howard Stern dominated the New York Air waves. New York was missing a true top 40 station and Shannon was tasked to bring top 40 radio back to New York in a big way.


WVNJ, a beautiful music station at 100.3FM licensed to Newark, New Jersey was being sold. Malrite Communications bought it and hired Shannon to perform the programming miracle, bring Top 40 radio back to the New York Area. Studios were to be set up in the meadowlands located in Secaucus, New Jersey. Shannon wasn't your typical program director. He is edgy, super passionate about radio, and a bit quirky. He hired his chief engineer and explained that he expected the Z100 signal to jump out at the audience, thus given the name "the Flamethrower." After hiring the morning Zoo team the station was ready to hit the airwaves in August of 1982.


As I was lying in bed in Hoboken. NJ listening the WVNJ's "swan song at about 6:00am, The new Z100 burst on the air! It was a flamethrower! The signal jumped out of my clock radio with Top 40 music and amazing imaging! Shannon and the Morning Zoo team took New York by storm, but not right away.


A few months later the ratings came out and as Shannon pulled them off of an AP teletype machine, his face dropped.As he scanned the list he saw that Z100 was in last place, number 54. Stations in the Philadelphia and suburban markets ranked higher than Z100! Scott crumbled the paper up and put it in his pocket. When he was on the air that morning, he pulled out the crumbled piece of paper and began reading the ratings over the air. He stopped at number 21 and said "Z100 is in last place, we suck!" He then pleaded with his audience to help them make the station go from worst to first. He asked the audience to get the word out anyway they can. He pushed and pushed and pushed and the audience responded. Z100 posters, tee shirts, bumpers stickers were everywhere. There were sheets hung out of office windows displaying the words Z100 worst to first! Suddenly Z100 was everywhere!


The station relocated their transmitter site to the Empire State Building and promoted that they were "broadcasting from the top of the Empire State Building." Funny thing, most other New York Stations had their transmitters on the top of the Empire State Building but if you stress a certain fact, listeners will think that you're the only one doing it.


The next ratings list came out and low and behold, Z100 was in first place.They went from worst to first in one rating period! This was unheard of! Having the audience themselves spread the word and advertise the station was genius and Shannon achieved his goal. So if you're a Scott Shannon fan or not, you have to give him credit for his determination, boldness and unconventional way of pushing the limits. Scott Shannon is now heard mornings on CBS-FM 101.1 in New York.