While some radio hosts try to entice listeners by screaming their opinions, manufacturing controversy, and screaming some more, there are other broadcasters who have remained old-school.
Just like their iconic radio station.
It is a station whose sing-song jingle is forever locked in the brains of Baby Boomers who grew up in the Delaware Valley.
KYW… Newsradio… 1060.
Celebrating its 50th year as an all-news station, KYW is a Philadelphia institution, one that oozes with respect from its five decades of no-frills, dependable coverage. And while it has changed with the times by creating podcasts, analysis, and continual updates on its website—and giving us news flashes on Twitter and Facebook, and texting school closings to subscribers—KYW remains the regions go-to radio station for car travelers who need to know what’s going on in these news-frenzied times.
Or, as the station’s slogan proudly proclaims: Give us 22 minutes… and we’ll give you the world. KYW, the long-time king of the region’s AM stations, is Old Reliable, sort of like comfort food for the brain.
“We’ve always wanted to be right first than wrong first,” said Bill Roswell, who has been with KYW for nearly 35 of its 50 years. “Get it right first, and then put it on the radio.”
That type of philosophy has built a trust between the station and its listeners, contributing to the station’s longevity. KYW is the second-oldest all-news station in the nation, behind only WINS in New York, which started about six months earlier in 1965, supposedly switching from a rock-and-roll format because the station’s general manager didn’t want his kids listening to it.
“People have grown up with us,” said Roswell, KYW’s director of digital news and media.
Hadas Kuznits is one of those people. When she was a little girl living in Montgomery County, her parents would drive her to elementary school and the radio would usually be tuned to KYW. “I always heard the tick, tick, tick in the background,” she said, referring to the station’s trademark sound of a Teletype machine as the news was being read.
It planted a seed. Kuznits, who was born in Israel and has one of the more unique backgrounds on KYW’s staff, has been a news reporter at the station for 13 years, and she also does a weekly segment called “What’s Cooking on 1060,” which focuses on food-related events in the region.
Kuznits remembers listening to KYW as a youngster, but, for the most part, the station does not attract a young audience.
Roswell has first-hand experience.
“My daughters weren’t listening to KYW when they were teenagers, but when they got older and were driving to and from work, they’d put it on to listen to the traffic or find out about the weather,” he said.
Roswell said when people “reach an age of reason, where you’re getting a lot more responsibility in your life, you need to know what’s going on in the world and the region.”
That, he said, is when many of KYW’s listeners go to 1060 on their radio dial.
Spend time with members of KYW’s close-knit staff, led by Steve Butler, the director of news and programming, and you feel the genuine pride that permeates from the workers—for each other, and for their beloved station.
“It’s a great group to work with. Great management, and the staff here is like family,” said Roswell, known around the newsroom as Roz. “I’ve been honored to be here so long.”
“I love being a part of KYW Newsradio,” said sports anchor Matt Leon, who has been at the station since 2002. “You’re a part of something that truly is a part of the fabric of the city. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled out a microphone, people see the KYW on the flag, and start to sing the jingle. It is a whole lot of fun being part of a station that is so ingrained in the community.”
Veteran reporter Mike DeNardo had similar sentiments.
“This may sound corny, but I’m living a lifelong dream working at KYW Newsradio,” said DeNardo, who has been at the station since 1982. “I feel fortunate to be part of a team of journalists that is such a part of the daily routine of Philadelphians.”
DeNardo said the KYW call letters “mean something,” and that they “stand for a level of credibility and trust. When we call a newsmaker for an interview, they return our calls because they know we’ll represent them fairly—and that people will hear it. I’m proud to do my part to continue that tradition.”
Pat Loeb talked about the “adrenaline rush” of reporting a story as it is happening.
Loeb liked the “rush” so much that after leaving KYW in 1982 to launch a career as a national and foreign correspondent for public radio, she returned to the station in 2008.
She remembered what colleague Don Lancer had told her when she left the station 26 years earlier.
“He said to me, ‘I’m not saying good-bye to you. This place is like Grandmother’s house. Everybody comes back.’ ”
He was right.
KYW staffers enjoy turning stories over quickly, enjoy the fact that every work day brings something new.
Roswell has held jobs at KYW ranging from morning-drive editor, reporter, producer, and news director. In his current position, he supervises the audio that goes on KYW’s website.
“We want to make sure we have a digital presence in addition to what people hear on the radio,” he said. “We view the website as an extension of what we do on the radio.”
Roswell is among many KYW greats who have been inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame. The list includes Bill Campbell, Dick Covington, Lancer, Dr. Brian McDonagh, Roy Shapiro, Fred Walters, Jean Shepherd, and Ralph “Bud” Galow.
Over the years, Roswell has seen a great transformation in the way news is gathered. He remembers when reporters would carry clunky reel-to-reel tape recorders (and, later, cassette recorders) and microphones to cover an event, along with a two-way radio, and “a pocketful of dimes in case they needed to find a pay phone and give a report,” he said. “Now they use their iPhones and their Android phones.”
Smartphones, of course, can give people instant news, weather, sports, and almost anything imaginable. For that reason, news organizations—whether radio, TV or newspapers—are challenged to dig deeper and provide more information, or an interesting angle that makes its coverage unique.
“We realize that fewer people are listening to the radio,” said Roswell, whose station is the champion of the region’s AM ratings, but has had to contend with a relative newcomer to the airways—Sirius Radio, which specializes in various topics.
“But despite that, we still get a large chunk of the audience that follows us two, three, four times a day,” he said, dropping in another of the station’s slogans.
Roswell began working at KYW on Dec. 8, 1980, the day John Lennon was killed in New York City. The next day, when his bosses wanted a story with a local angle, Roswell told them he knew a former high school classmate who was playing Lennon in a national touring company production of Beatlemania. Roswell tracked him down, did a radio interview and put it on the air. “And so that was my introduction to KYW,” he said.
Kuznits was hired after stints at smaller radio stations in Illinois and Wisconsin. But her worldly experience also made her attractive.
Born in Israel, she and her family moved to the Delaware Valley two years later. While attending high school at Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy) in Bryn Mawr, she did a semester in Israel. After high school, she served in the Israeli Army for two years, and later was a tour guide in the Czech Republic.
Kuznits returned home at 20 and attended Temple University. At Temple, she studied broadcasting, telecommunications and mass media.
“When I was in the Army, I was an instructor for volunteers from abroad,” she said. “I would translate the news from Hebrew to English…. This was ’93 to ’95, when the peace prospects were really going strong…. Every day when I would read the news, it was like history was being made. Every news day was stuff that would be written in the history books. I was so fascinated by it. There were lots of stories to be told, and this is when I started thinking that I really liked news and wanted to get involved in it.”
After loading up on classes to accelerate the process and graduating from Temple, Kuznits knew her career path.
“I either wanted to do television somewhere, or I wanted to be in Philadelphia and do KYW radio,” she said in an excited tone. “When I was working in the Midwest, I told one of my friends, ‘If I come back to Philly, the only place I really want to work is KYW Newsradio. And she said, ‘Do you remember you saying that to me (when you were a young girl)?’ I grew up in the area. I know what [KYW] means. It’s crazy to me that it was such a part of my childhood, and now I’m a part of other people’s memories.”
Kuznits will turn 40 on Sept. 21. On that same date, KYW will turn 50.
“We share a birthday,” Kuznits said. “It’s pretty cool.”
During the year, CBS-owned KYW will be doing several segments commemorating its half-century as an all-news station.
“Fifty years is a long time. In radio, it’s a million lifetimes,” said Leon, the sports anchor. “So to have played a small part of a radio station celebrating a 50-year anniversary is incredibly humbling.”
“Few radio formats survive five years—let alone 50,” DeNardo said.
DeNardo said KYW’s longevity “speaks to the fact that day after day, year after year, we give our listeners what they need. Even in this age of minute-to-minute, Twitter-fueled news cycles, I like to think we rarely disappoint anyone.”
As for the station reaching a half-century milestone on Sept. 21, Roswell said, big plans could be in the works.
“We’ve invited Pope Francis to come to Philadelphia for our 50th anniversary,” he cracked, mindful the pope will visit in late September.
Will the station entice His Holiness to do a promo in which he sings KYW’s jingle?
“We can only wish,” Roswell said.