Remembering AM 1540, WPTR

You might not know this, but radio station WPTR is gone again.

If I were to say this to anybody under the age of 25, I would assuredly receive some glassy-eyed stare about “WPT-wha-a-a?”  And I would suspect there might be an equal amount of readers who will say to me, “Chuck, when did it come back?”

Trust me.  If you grew up in the Capital District, and you had a radio in the 1960’s or 1970’s, you listened to WPTR. 1540 on your AM radio dial. And with 50,000 watts of broadcast power, you could pick up WPTR on a clear night in Boston – imagine living in Boston and choosing between Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg on WMEX and Boom Boom Brannigan on WPTR. It’s no choice. Boom Boom trumps Woo Woo.

A vintage 1960's WPTR promotional playlist, featuring Boom Boom Brannigan on the cover. Yes, that's a 15-cent hamburger from McDonald's in Latham. Image from

In fact, do you want to hear Boom Boom Brannigan’s “Brannigan Shenanigan” from 1962 on WPTR, complete with commercials and a newscast?  Thanks to, you can do so – just by clicking here and going back in time.  And here’s another aircheck, this one from Bill St. John in 1970 – complete with a commercial from State Toyota in Schenectady.  One more clip – this one from 1972, featuring Jeff Douglas.  All linked airchecks courtesy of, and require RealPlayer to hear them.

Growing up in Albany, if you wanted decent Top 40 music, you either listened to WPTR or WTRY. Yeah, maybe if you had an FM radio you might have tuned into FLY 92 or WGFM (“Rock 99”), but WPTR was always the station you went back to. I didn’t care that WTRY had American Top 40 every Sunday morning; I could always listen to that and then swing back to WPTR.

I used to remember when WPTR would have their top five of the day – it would play at 9pm each night, and I would listen intently to hear if my favorite songs actually made the top of the list.  For a while, I wondered if there was some reason why WPTR’s Top 5 list didn’t match up with the list played on American Top 40, but it didn’t take long to figure out that WPTR’s list was local – and based on phone requests from listeners like me.  I also remember that WPTR had a tendency to play records that weren’t national Top 40 songs, and give them plenty of love on their station.  Examples?  How about “Free As The Wind” and “Don’t Let Me Sleep Too Long” by the Myddle Class, or “When I Was a Children” by the Bougalieu, or “There’s Always You” by Bobby Dick and the Sundowners, two local hits that got as much airplay on WPTR as did the Beatles or the Beach Boys.

So you had the national hits and some pretty fine local hits as well.  That’s what made WPTR so great.

But as I got older, WPTR started to disappear. It went to a country music format. I didn’t understand at the time – wasn’t the country music supposed to stay on WOKO 1460 and not move over to WPTR? Didn’t matter. By 1980, WPTR was a country music station. And eventually it even became one of the few stations in the country to broadcast in AM Stereo. Any of you ever owned an AM Stereo radio? Me neither.

The station went through a few other formats and permutations, until one sunny morning in 2000, when I was driving and looking for a decent AM radio station at the same time – and did my ears deceive me? Was that Boom Boom Brannigan on the radio again? Did he use the letters “WPTR” in a sentence? I checked the dial. It was 1540 AM. Hokey smokes, WPTR was back – albeit in a “Legends” format, with music from the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, but I didn’t care. I quickly set the car radio channel for 1540 WPTR and listened to my heart’s content.

That love affair lasted only a few years – in 2004, WPTR changed its format to Christian programming, and the WPTR call letters were dropped in favor of WDCD. Not that I have anything against Christian music – I’ve seen Toby Mac and BarlowGirl in concert – but not when I want to hear the radio station from my youth. I reluctantly took AM 1540 off my radio presets.

For years after that, my memories of WPTR were just that – memories. But then came a surprise. In February 2011, one of my Facebook friends, WROW Magic 590 disc jockey Richie Norris, “liked” a new radio station in the area, Legends 96.7 – which had rebranded itself as WPTR – and, with the rebranding, came a tonload of oldies. Thousands of oldies. Oldies that hadn’t received airplay since their hitmaking days.

I celebrated. WPTR was back – even if it didn’t have Boom Boom Brannigan (God rest his soul). I quickly set 96.7 FM on my car stereo presets, and WPTR 96.7 became one of my “road music” travel choices.

I should have known it was too good to last.

Barely a year after WPTR re-entered the Capital District, it disappeared again. 96.7 FM started simulcasting the Christian music from WDCD-AM, and the “Legends 96.7” oldies format was relegated to an Internet-only radio station. Great. How am I going to get this station in my car? Plug in a 20-mile-long CAT 5 wire into the dashboard?

To be totally honest, maybe I should have just left this station back with my old childhood clock radio. Today’s radio stations are all about ratings and marketing and who can get the most Adele spins, I guess…

Or maybe I can wait another five or six years, until another local radio station liberates those call letters and puts WPTR back on the air again.

I can only hope.