Broadcast Pioneers lifetime member Dan Lerner is a Pennsylvania native son. He was born in Philadelphia on November 26, 1932, and lived in Bywood and Drexel Hill, graduating from Upper Darby High School in 1950. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Music, graduating in 1954. After spending several years with the City of Philadelphia Civil Service Commission, he returned to Penn where he earned a Masters degree in Communications in 1961.
Dan’s father, Joseph Lerner, emigrated from Ukraine to the U.S. with his family in 1894 at age five, grew up on a farm in Carmel, NJ, and left school after the 8th grade. At age 13, he moved to New York to earn his livelihood, eventually founding a successful women’s clothing manufacturing company in Philadelphia. As a result of his life experience, he encouraged his two sons to gain a higher education, both ultimately earning graduate university degrees.
Dan began his career in broadcasting in 1961, as an Account Executive at an AM station, WADK, in Newport, RI. In 1962, he joined WFIL (AM) in the same capacity, working for a time under late fellow Broadcast Pioneer Gene McCurdy. In 1963, Dan and his brother Arnold purchased WLLH AM & FM, in Lowell and Lawrence, MA, a suburb of Boston. In 1966, Dan separated WLLH-FM from its sister AM station and changed its call letters to WSSH (“Wish”). It was there that Dan created the format that eventually became known nationally as Adult Contemporary. WISH soon became one of the most listened-to stations in the Boston market. He retained ownership in the station until 1986.
Due in part to his father’s declining health, Dan returned to Philadelphia in 1967, accepting a position at WFIL-TV, Channel 6. In 1972, he joined WIFI, Philadelphia, as its General Manager. He left WIFI in 1974 to form his own consulting company, Daniel Lerner Company. At the same time, he applied to the FCC for the then recently-revoked license of WXUR, Media, previously owned by controversial radio evangelist Carl McIntire. WXUR had lost its license due to the station’s alleged violation of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine.
After a competitive hearing against three other applicants that went on for several years, the FCC assigned the license to Dan in 1981, finding that he was the best-qualified applicant to own and operate the station. The station signed on in November 1982 as WKSZ (“KISS-100”).
In October 1982, shortly before the KISS-100 sign-on, LIN Broadcasting changed the name of WUSL to KISS-99. Dan went into Federal Court and succeeded in forcing them to drop the KISS name. LIN then changed it to Power 99. Dan also successfully resisted the demand of WJBR 99.5fm, which had been calling itself “FM 100” for years and wanted Dan to stop using 100.
He also was threatened with legal action by Malrite’s WWSH for using the slogan “Soft Hits,” claiming they owned the rights to it. Within two years, KISS-100’s Soft Hits format became one of Philadelphia’s highest rated radio stations among adults. KYW-TV ran a feature story on the station at the time, calling KISS-100 “the success station.” One of the station’s slogans, “No hard rock, no sleepy elevator music” is still widely imitated.
By 1993, with KISS-100’s format niche becoming overcrowded, Dan changed the station’s name to Y100, and its format to Alternative rock. After an intense two years battle with format competitor WDRE, the latter dropped the format, enabling Y100 to propel itself to the top of the ratings chart among younger listeners. It remained one of Philadelphia’s top revenue producing stations until Dan sold the station to Radio One in 2000. Radio One retained Dan’s staff and its Modern Rock format for another five years before switching to an Urban format in 2005.
When Dan sold off his radio stations, he retained ownership of their towers and continues to operate two communications tower companies. Dan now is semi-retired and, with his wife Lyn shares his time between Merion Station, Boothbay Harbor (ME) and Palm Beach. He is an avid boater and still operates his own 36’ Hinckley Picnic Boat, in both Florida and Maine. He served until recently on the boards of two non-profit foundations, one in Florida dedicated to the health needs of the uninsured, the other in Maine that operates a nationally renowned botanical garden, Coastal Maine Botanical Garden.
Dan has a daughter Julie, who lives in New York and owns an online restaurant employment service; a son Paul, a writer in Los Angeles; and a daughter Ann Poole, who lives in Maine and, with her husband Dirk, owns several businesses there. Ann has two daughters, Savanna and Marina.
In honor of his 50th undergraduate reunion at Penn in 2004, Dan funded a scholarship known as the Daniel Lerner Family Endowed Scholarship that provides financial assistance to students in the fields of music and communications. He also has named major building facilities, including the Lerner Atrium at the FoundCare Community Health Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, and the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses in Boothbay, Maine. Dan turned 80 in November 2012.
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