WWZZ/WWVZ were a pair of simulcasting radio stations in Washington, D.C., owned by Bonneville International. The station broadcast from Braddock Heights, Maryland at 103.9 MHz FM and from Waldorf, Maryland, at 104.1 MHz FM. It was commonly known as Z104 with the slogan „Washington’s Modern Music.“ The station was also known for its community efforts and donation drives for local charities. Furthermore, as a member of the Nationals Network, it offered radio coverage of a large portion of the Washington Nationals games.
The WWZZ/WWVZ simulcast was originally two separately owned and operated stations, starting with WXTR („Xtra 104“), then Washington’s heritage Oldies station. WXTR, which had been purchased by Liberty Broadcasting, was soon paired with the Frederick, Maryland-licensed WZYQ 103.9-FM, the original „Z104“, which had been doing a locally based CHR format in Frederick for years, in an attempt to attain better signal coverage for WXTR. From that point on, both stations operated as a simulcast throughout a variety of formats: first oldies, then all-seventies. Finally, Bonneville purchased the WXTR/WZYQ combo, and changed the format over to CHR at 11 AM on July 11, 1996, as „Z104“ with the call letters WWZZ/WWVZ. The first song on „Z104“ was „Get Ready for This“ by 2 Unlimited.
The music was highly researched with an upbeat, high energy presentation and was well received by local audiences. Under consultant Dan Vallie and Program Director Dale O’Brian, Z104 played a mix of well established top 40 hits along with the best of „Euro-Pop“ dance music and recurrents from the previous few years, as the market didn’t have a Top 40 station since the sign off of WAVA-FM in 1991. Z104 rocketed into the top 5 in the Washington, DC ratings. The station was musically vibrant, and over the years, Z104 had some of the best air talent in the country, including Lisa Berigan, Matt Reid, Mathew Blades, Jo Jo Morales and Sean Sellers. O’Brian left the station in 2000 for WBTS in Atlanta, GA. He was replaced with Mike Edwards, known primarily for his tenure as Program Director of WDCG in Raleigh, NC.
The biggest test for Z104’s longevity came in 2001, when Clear Channel station WIHT (Hot 99.5), which played a similar selection of hip-hop and modern R&B music, signed on. WIHT had a very strong signal that covered parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, DC, and west/central Maryland, much of the same area covered by Z-104. WIHT also ran an advertising blitz in the area that included attack-style ads targeting Z104 specifically. In one notable incident, a man wearing a Z104 T-shirt knocked on doors in the DC area and introduced himself as a convicted animal sex offender, though it is unclear whether the stunt was authorized by WIHT management or if the individual was trying to win a position with the station.
On October 1, 2001, with their audience steadily switching to WIHT, Z104 had no choice but to change, and switched to a modern adult contemporary format, playing music by the likes of Dave Matthews Band, Goo Goo Dolls and Third Eye Blind, in addition to less-frequent commercial breaks. The format proved an effective alternative to WIHT and to local stations WWDC (DC101) and WHFS (HFS 99.1), both of which specialized in hard rock. The station also dropped the „Z104“ name in favor of „More Music 104“ and simply „104“ for a while, before reverting to the „Z104“ name on April 8, 2004 at 8:04 AM.
On January 4, 2006, at Noon, WWZZ went off the air due to a multiple-station format change arranged by Bonneville International. The final song on „Z104“ was „Soul To Squeeze“ by Red Hot Chili Peppers. (The opening lyrics of „I Will Remember You“ by Sarah McLachlan were then played, but the song was cut off by General Manager Joel Oxley announcing the changes, thanking the staff and listeners, and, in a rare move, redirecting former listeners to competing stations in the area). One of the most popular stations in the Washington, D.C., area, all-news station WTOP, expanded its reach by adding 103.5 to its collection, though a new radio station, „Washington Post Radio“, took over WTOP’s previous frequencies on March 30, 2006. The previous occupant of 103.5, the classical music station WGMS, was moved to the Z104 frequencies.
Ironically, one year later, the WGMS identity was shut down and the records sold to WETA. The 104.1 frequency for a short period aired a Jack FM-style variety hits format as „George FM“, but it was a placeholder format. The station is now owned by Radio One, which acquired the former WWZZ from Bonneville. The station is presently airing an urban gospel format as „Praise 104.1.“
Z104’s weekday morning program included the Matthew Blades Radio Program on the McDonald’s Morning Drive, led by its namesake, Matthew Blades. The show focused on a mix of music, celebrity gossip and interviews, and listener interaction. Other prominent DJs affiliated with the station included Jenni Chase and Music Director Sean Sellers. During weekday evenings the station also broadcast features such as „Download or Delete It,“ which showcased the newest in music, and „DC Downloads,“ which lists the top 5 songs that were legally downloaded in the Washington DC area for that day. Weekends featured an hour of coverage dedicated to the local music scene in the Capital Scene program, hosted by Jenni Chase. The station’s previous morning programs included one hosted by Billy Bush, the nephew of the 43rd President of the United States, who went on to TV fame as the host of the syndicated entertainment program „Access Hollywood“, and one hosted by TV sportscaster Brett Haber. Haber was initially paired with female co-host Erin Carman on a program entitled „Haber & Erin in the Morning“. When Carman was fired for insubordination towards station management in 2004, the title was changed to „Brett Haber in the Morning“. Haber resigned from the station in mid-2004 to return to television as the Sports Director for Washington’s CBS affiliate WUSA.
The station also hosted a number of live events featuring prominent musicians. The Z104 Lounge programs featured performances and interviews in the Z104 studio itself. Tickets for these events were typically given out through other Z104 programs leading up to the event. Among the performers featured on the Z104 Lounge were Ben Folds, Alanis Morissette and Gavin DeGraw. Audio clips from the Lounge programs were then played back during predetermined weekend hours. In December 2001, Z104 attempted to compete with local radio festivals like the DC101 Chili Cook-Off and HFStival with the one-time Z104 Subway Snowball, which was held at George Mason University’s Patriot Center and featured performances by Five for Fighting, The Calling, Train and Barenaked Ladies. The Z104 Bosom Ball was held in 2003 at Washington’s famed 9:30 Club, benefiting George Washington University’s mobile mammogram program and featuring performances by Guster and Third Eye Blind. A follow-up in 2004 featured Pat McGee Band and Bowling for Soup, and the third and final incarnation in 2005 featured Better Than Ezra, Vertical Horizon and Hootie and the Blowfish.
In October 2002, following the Beltway Sniper attacks that terrorized the Washington area for weeks, Z104 held a 24-hour Request-a-Thon to raise money for the victims and/or their families. Listeners would call in with a request for any song of any genre and pledge a minimum of $25 to the Salvation Army. The event was such a success that it became an annual happening, with future Request-a-Thons benefiting Ronald McDonald House, plus a special one held after Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 for the victims of that catastrophe (the minimum donation was raised from 2003 onward to $500 for unsigned local bands seeking an avenue of exposure).
Broadcasts on each day of the week had a certain theme associated with them, which changed the music played throughout the day.
Their weekend tagline was „It’s the weekend and you gotta be on the Z, Z104!!“