For KiKi Brown, WAMO 107.3’s afternoon DJ and Assistant Brand Manager, the urban radio station’s approaching 75th anniversary is more than a celebration: it's about legacy.
“No matter what changes — we changed addresses, we changed outfits — we’re still the same WAMO,” Brown tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “We’re still here. We’re consistent. We went away for a little bit, but we came back, and we came back stronger.”
Over the years, the Pittsburgh radio station has undergone numerous transitions, from shifting ownership — first the Black-owned Sheridan Broadcasting Corp., then Martz Communications Group, and now Audacy Pittsburgh — to different channels, hosts, and even names: WHOD, WAMO 106 Jamz, WAMO 100, and simply WAMO.
But through it all, the station has continued to function as a voice for both Black Pittsburghers and the local urban community.
“We are the only urban station, and have been the only urban station, in the city of Pittsburgh for 75 years, with hip-hop, R&B, soul, jazz, and gospel, and that means a lot to the Black community,” Brown says. “Because being Black, not just in this city but in this country, we’re looking for something that can represent us, be our voice, be our connection.”
WAMO has done that through community engagement, concerts, events, music festivals, on-air programming like "Stop the Music, Stop the Violence" segments, and featuring important figures on the radio, whether they be a favorite celebrity or sports star.
“Connecting with the people and letting them know what’s going on, WAMO has had that position for a very long time,” says Brown. “As far as Pittsburgh with the Black community, we were the first, and that’s a very important position to have.”
Brown speaks from experience; she’s seen the evolution of WAMO over the last few decades firsthand. The station is a family legacy in its own right. Besides working her way up from an intern in the ’90s to her current on-air position, Brown’s father, Clifford “Sly Jock” Charlton, was a DJ for WAMO for over two decades beginning in the ’80s and was most recognized for playing rap and hip-hop on the radio at a time when that was unheard of in Pittsburgh. Thanks to Charlton’s work at the then 105.9 FM, WAMO was the first commercial station to regularly play the genre in the City of Bridges.
“It makes me proud to know that I've seen WAMO go from one end to the other,” says Brown. “I see where it came from, with Porky Chedwick and Sir Walter Raleigh, even with my dad, from local morning show to syndication … And it's keeping up with the times. I only know one station that's been around that long, and that’s KDKA radio, and they’ve been around much longer.”
WAMO’s anniversary celebrations have been ongoing for the past month and culminate with a concert at Rivers Casino Fri., Sept. 29. The show features Union DJs alongside Lah Pat, of the 2023 viral hit “Rodeo” that remixes Ginuwine’s most famous song “Pony;” and Pittsburgh’s CRAVE.
Brown hopes the event will be a callback to the days when Pittsburgh’s nightlife scene was pulsating with clubs like the now-defunct Whiskey Dick’s, Chauncy’s, and Rosebud populating the Strip District, Station Square, and even Monroeville. The music curation and atmosphere of the party is meant to transport older attendees to their heyday, while allowing younger WAMO fans to get a taste of those experiences for the first, if only, time.
“We may not be able to fit the same jeans, we may be a little bigger, we got kids, we got married, we’ve lost, we’ve changed, we’ve gained,” says Brown, “but for those few hours, we just want to take you back to those good times.”
WAMO’s reputation for being a reliant community station took a bit of a hit after going off-air from 2009 to 2011. Then, during the late 2010s, the station’s signal could be pretty spotty, even in the middle of the city. However, with Audacy’s acquisition of WAMO, tools like their app allow listeners to stream broadcasts no matter where they are in the United States.
The station is ready to reclaim its crown as Pittsburgh’s urban community engagement platform. Brown urges listeners to “let WAMO back in," saying, “some people still don’t know that we’re back, that WAMO is here to stay,” she says. “We’re going to get back to the station that we were when we were 106 Jams, being more involved in the community, having that great content, great music, and just want people to remember that and embrace it … I'm praying that we can stay around for another 75 years.”Correction: Originally this article listed Ginuwine as the headliner for WAMO's celebration event. That has since changed. Union DJs will be headlining the show. We've updated the story to reflect that.