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'Worst To First': Radio Legend Scott Shannon Reflects On Z100 Success Story

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The world of radio in the nation's largest media market changed forever on Aug. 2, 1983.

Z100 hit the airwaves and started "serving the universe," led by an unknown, overconfident out-of-towner named Scott Shannon.

Many of us lived through it. But if you didn't, and you love music, "Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York" is the movie for you, CBS2's Chris Wragge reported.

The biggest revolution in radio history was underway. Last place WHTZ hit the airwaves with the brand new "Z Morning Zoo" led by Shannon, a radio jock hired from Tampa.

"I was a cocky, confident guy on one hand and on the other hand I was scared to death," Shannon said.

The slogan, "Serving the universe from the top of the Empire State Building," became synonymous with Z100.

But it was more like "Coming to you from a little building in Secaucus, New Jersey." Of course, no one needed to know that.

"You didn't know Staten Island from Long Island at that point," Wragge said to Shannon. "So what was it about you that this market was able to identify with?"

"I knew that the suburbs were people that I understood," Shannon said. "That was the battle plan."

The plan, the music and the cash giveaways worked. Seventy-five days after debuting in last place, Z100 was in first place.

"It was pretty crazy. It was a different time. All the local TV newscasts actually carried that news," Shannon said.

Z100 shot to the top and with that success came star power. James Brown, Madonna, Bon Jovi. If you wanted a hit record, you came to Z100.

Every Tuesday, a woman would wait for Shannon outside that little spot in Secaucus so she could peddle her music. He finally took the tape and played it at night. It was Madonna.

"You know what's unique about the 'Z Morning Zoo' story and Scott Shannan back in the day, it was just a bunch of normal people, no one with a huge, rich show biz background. One of their jingles used to say, 'You're waking up with the Z Morning Zoo, you're waking up with people just like you,'" Elvis Duran said.

Duran now rules the top of the Empire State Building.

"When Scott Shannon started Z100 back in 1983, no one thought it would take off. No one knew it would become the institution it's become. And here we are," Duran said.

"Can you believe, when you look back on your career, that you have been serving the universe for so many years?" Wragge asked Shannon.

"I don't like to think about that Chris, and you know what, give yourself a few years and you're not gonna want to think about it either," Shannon said.

"Z Morning Zoo" signed off in 1989. Shannon said it was time to start something new, and he's still working at WCBS-FM.

"Worst to First: The True Story of Z100 New York" is available starting Friday.

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