(WFSB) -- 1971 was the year Disney World opened, the year of the first Starbucks, Amtrak trains took to the rails for the first time, and half a million people marched on Washington against the Vietnam War, the largest war protest in U.S. history.

In that same year in Connecticut, radio station WPLR came to life. The first broadcast was actually April 29, 50 years ago.

WPLR

The first song ever to be played on 99.1 PLR was the top 10 pop hit "Up, Up and Away" by the 5th Dimension.

The “easy rock” format didn't last long. Within nine months, the station switched to album-oriented rock.

Marcia Simon was one of the station’s early DJ’s, coming on board in 1975.

“The music was fantastic. I mean, I look at it now as classic rock when it was new. You know, we're still hearing this music 40 years later. It's incredible. You know, bands like Led Zeppelin had new music. Billy Joel was really hot. Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run just came out. The Who had new music. The Eagles were, like, everywhere. Stevie Nicks had just joined Fleetwood Mac,” she explained.

Simon, who started at night, eventually became the state’s very first female morning DJ.

“Then it was just being one of the guys and having a good time. But being the first female morning drive host in Connecticut, I guess that's an honor,” Simon said.

The station has been home to many other memorable on-air personalities, like Stoneman in the late 1970s, a sales guy who hopped on the air when the evening DJ walked out.

“He became the most legendary night show in the history of the radio station,” Chaz, from WPLR, said.

Remember the “Wig Master?” There was Bob "Doc Rock" Nary, Rick Allison, Eddie Wazoo, Mark Kaplowe, and Mike Lapitino, who arrived in the 1980's and is still on the air.

'Smith and Barber' were popular morning drive hosts for 20 years, starting in the mid-80s.

They were playing journey Black sabbath, AC/DC, ZZ Top, Motley Crue, Kiss, The Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, and the Rolling Stones.

Most bands were brought to the state by concert promoter Jim Koplik, who works with the PLR team to this day.

Chaz came on the scene in the 1980s.

“I was here in 1986 and left in 1994,” Chaz said.

But then he returned in the early 2000s with AJ, to launch a new morning show that is still on the air.

“Together as a team, 18 years, in morning drive,” Chaz said.

Over the years, turntables have been replaced by computers.

“The technology, to me, from being in this seat, is the thing that's changed the most. We used to have to play records, with the needle. So we don't have any records skipping anymore,” Chaz said.

The AM format is more talk than music, tackling the news of the day with the “Tribe,” which is what Chaz and AJ call their listeners, no matter how tough it might be.

They've had a vice president on their show, along with other notable guests, from Dick Cheney, to every senator the state has had since 2003, and the governor.

For Chaz and AJ, and the station as a whole, it's always been about community and charity.

It started the very first year on the air with Jerry Lewis.

“Our then General Manager reached out to Jerry Lewis and got him to come to the New Haven Green to do a week of shows and we called it the "Radiothon for Muscular Dystrophy,” Chaz said.

The station raised $18,000 for the MDA.

There have been fundraisers for storm sandy relief, and for sick children looking for their wishes to come true.

Also, every year at Christmas, the station hosts a huge toy drive with lasting impact.

And no one knows how lasting better than the man who started it.

“The Toy Drive is our biggest annual event and that comes from just a personal experience of growing up in a tough situation and seeing a box of toys coming into my house and thinking I was going to get anything for the holidays. And I asked, 'where is this from?' and it's from people who give donations because they want, they want to help kids, like you. That always stuck in the back of my mind. So as soon as I got into radio, I thought 'this is an opportunity to do the same thing that someone did for me’,” Chaz said.

If you're interested taking a trip back in time, PLR has all kinds of pictures and audio clips and memorabilia from the station's 50 years on the air. Check out their website by clicking here.

Copyright 2021 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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(1) comment

pgmr

yeah, 50 yrs of hearing the same 30 songs over, and over, and over for each generation hour after hour the same songs with no deviation. that is why i and many i know do NOT listen to radio anymore

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