96rock revived as a digital-only station after 15-year absence

The station aired on 96.1 on the FM dial in Atlanta from 1974 to 2006.

iHeartMedia Thursday revived the classic Atlanta rock station 96rock as a digital-only station on its app.

The station, which played plenty of the Who, Van Halen and the Allman Brothers, was on the FM dial at 96.1 from 1974 until 2006 and dedicated fans continue to scoop up 96rock T-shirts and license plates online.

The new version of 96rock features pre-recorded commentary from past on-air personalities such Willard, Larry Wachs and Steve Mitchell interspersed between songs. The music during the 3 p.m. hour included “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas, “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, “Panama” by Van Halen, “Good Times Roll” by the Cars, “Yer So Bad” by Tom Petty, “No One Like You” by the Scorpions and “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd.

“96rock was Atlanta,” said Mitchell, who was a jock on the station during its heyday. “The station and its audience grew up together, spanning several generations. It was more than just a radio station.”

During a history of the station Mitchell produced for the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame a few years ago, he interviewed former 96rock managers and on-air personalities who noted how much fun it was to work and party there.

Among the alumni that went on to work elsewhere are Mitchell (Y106.7, Eagle 106.7), Kaedy Kiely (Z93, 97.1/The River), Steve Rickman (Rock 100.5) and Christopher Rude (680/The Fan.)

“If you grew up in Atlanta, it was probably your first exposure to classic rock before it was considered classic,” said Mike Rose, a former radio executive in Atlanta who now sells mortgages. He graduated Briarcliff High School in 1980. “It’s memories of hanging out with friends at night and weekends listening to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. It was before you had a real job or responsibility. Some of us may have had our sexual experience with 96rock in the background.”

The station’s popularity peaked in the 1980s but lost some steam in the 1990s when 99X and its alternative-rock focus took away some of 96rock’s audience and radio consolidation changed the way the station was run.

But 96rock remained viable well into the 2000s when owner Clear Channel decided to dump its name and make it a younger-leaning active rock station called Project 96.1. That format lasted six years before the company (now called iHeart) turned it into top 40 Power 96.1 in 2012.

Credit: Mike Rose

Credit: Mike Rose