The Boston Radio Dial: WBZ-FM

Who, What, Where

Community: Boston
Frequency: 98.5 MHz
Class: B
Ownership: CBS Radio Stations, Inc.
(CBS Corp. [NYSE: CBS]/Sumner Redstone)
Studio: 83 Leo M. Birmingham Parkway
Brighton, MA 02135-1154
Transmitter: ATC Newton (FM-128)
1165 Chestnut St.
Newton, MA 02464-1308
Phones:
Studio +1 617 931 1234
Office +1 617 779 2000
Format:
Main Sports-talk “The Sports Hub”
HD2 Rock “WBCN”
HD3 // WBZ (1030)
Networks: Sporting News Radio
Boston Bruins (flagship)
New England Patriots (flagship)
Web site: cbssports.com/local/boston

Technical Parameters

WBZ-FM transmits at 98.5 MHz with an effective radiated power of 9.0 kW (analogue) from a non-directional, circularly-polarized antenna 349 meters (1145 feet) above average terrain (394 m above sea level). The antenna is a two-bay ERI COGWHEEL 1084-2CP, and is mounted 364 m (1194 ft) above ground level; it is part of a master antenna system shared with WJMN (94.5 Boston) and backup transmitters for WBOS (92.9 Brookline), WTKK (96.9 Boston), WKLB-FM (102.5 Waltham), WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham), WMJX (106.7 Boston), and WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford). The tower is known locally as “FM-128”, and is owned by American Tower.

Station History

Today's WBZ-FM began its life in 1948 as the FM sister station to the Yankee Network's flagship station, WNAC 1260. (For the two earlier uses of the callsign, see WMJX.) The Yankee Network had been involved in early experimental FM broadcasting, in particular stations W1XOJ in Paxton and W1XER on Mount Washington; these stations became known as W39B and W43B—both Boston stations!—in 1941. However, after the FM band was moved, the new layout of the band and new FCC rules made it difficult for these two stations to continue to serve Boston. The Paxton station became WGTR (for General Tire and Rubber) in 1943 and moved to 99.1 in the new band. It was sold around 1950, briefly operated on 103.1, and soon failed. Mount Washington was later known as WMTW-FM and WMNE on several frequencies including 98.1. It too left the air in the early 1950s. A later WMTW-FM on 94.9 (later known as WMTQ and now WHOM) signed on in 1958; it is related in name and transmitter location only. As if to confuse matters more, there was also a Boston transmitter for the relay network, W1XOK, which turned into WEOD and disappeared; this could be said to be the earliest ancestor of today's WBZ-FM.

When it first signed on, WNAC-FM used the same Malden transmitter site as its sister TV station, WNAC-TV, which also began operation that year. In 1964, it would follow channel 7 to a new site in Newton, where it remained until 1981 (about which more later). Curiously enough, the Burlington transmitter site built for WLAW, which WNAC(AM) took over when it bought WLAW's 680-kHz class-II allocation, was also home to WLAW-FM on 93.7; the Lawrence 93.7 allocation was later revived for what thirty years later would be WBZ-FM's sister station, WEGQ (since sold).

Throughout its early life, WNAC-FM was merely a simulcast of its sister AM station. When John Shepard sold the Yankee Network to RKO General, no changes were immediately forthcoming, but the new owners dropped a very large hint in 1960 when a brief attempt at a top-40 format was made. The callsigns WRKO and WRKO-FM were requested when the change was made, but the market was not yet ripe for such a move, and WNAC resumed its previous format before the FCC approved the new callsign. RKO General wanted to keep other stations from receiving the WRKO callsign, so WNAC-FM became WRKO-FM despite the cancellation of the call change on the AM. Thus, even though WRKO-FM continued to simulcast WNAC until 1963, its callsign was not changed back to WNAC-FM. In 1963, with the impending restriction of AM-FM simulcasts to less than 50% of the program day, WRKO-FM added half a day's worth of independent programming, although still keeping the MoR format. (One correspondent believes that the FM station had the callsign WRKO-FM as early as December of 1958; we are at present unable to precisely pin down the date of the change.)

At midnight on October 12, 1966, a new, all-automated top-40 format was introduced on WRKO-FM: the famous “ARKO-matic” format with its distorted “robot” voice—actually a recorded human with a pickup called a “Sonovox” strapped to his throat. Neither the top-40 format nor FM radio had previously been a major force in the Boston market, but the unique presentation of WRKO-FM excited many young listeners; sales of FM receivers skyrocketed. Within a year, many of the major local FM stations would have followed 'RKO's lead and converted to a modern music format and added stereo.

The death of the Yankee Network in March of 1967 brought about more changes at RKO's Boston stations. WNAC became WRKO(AM), and the live programming there was simulcast on WRKO-FM between 6 AM and 6 PM every day. Then on January 1, 1969, the stations broke away for good, and WRKO-FM became “Stereo 98.5, WROR” with Bill Drake's all-automated “Hit Parade '69” format (what today we would call a “gold-based” contemporary format, with lots of rock&roll oldies mixed in with the currents). At the same time, all three stations left their long-time home of 21 Brookline Ave. for new quarters at 7 Bulfinch Place, near Boston's latest urban-renewal nightmare, Government Center.

Throughout the 1970s, WROR programmed oldies under a variety of different monikers, like “Solid Gold Rock & Roll”, “Nostalgia 98.5”, and “Golden Great 98”. On Saturday nights, WROR ran “The Wolfman Jack Show”. The station kept with the oldies format even after WCOP-FM picked up Drake-Chenault Associates as their consultants in 1973. Indeed, after American Graffiti, oldies had a large enough audience to sustain several successful stations.

In 1979, WROR experimentally dropped the oldies format for a mushy version of top-40 which went nowhere. Later that same year, the oldies came back on a re-tooled “98-and-a-half”. They picked up the successful “I'd rather be in...” campaign from the Dallas jingle company JAM, with such memorable lyrics as “The Pilgrims knew / The right thing to do / That's why they came so far / They'd rather be in Boston / With W-ROR / Yes, they'd rather be in Boston / With W-R-O-R”.

By 1981, in the face of mounting legal and financial problems, RKO General was declared by the FCC unfit to be a broadcast licensee, and was required to sell off all its broadcast properties at fire-sale prices. (See the history of WNAC-TV for more details.) Because the new owners of channel 7 refused to lease out space on their tower, WROR was forced to move down the street to FM-128, formerly the home of the first WHDH-TV. The studios moved at the same time from 7 Bulfinch Place to 3 Fenway Plaza, just across Brookline Ave. from Fenway Park (and just down the street from the location abandoned twelve years earlier). The company which bought WRKO and WROR was known at the time as Atlantic Ventures, and it was the direct precursor of American Radio Systems.

No format changes occurred under the new ownership for almost a decade, until February 9, 1991, when twenty years of WROR came to an end with Roy Orbison's “It's Over”. WROR then became WBMX, “Mix 98.5”, with a completely new format which we now call “Hot Adult Contemporary”. WBMX was a pace-setter for the Hot AC format nationwide, bringing it farther and farther away from its AC roots, with the gradual addition of modern rock cross-over material and the exclusion of the 60s and 70s oldies which were once a staple of the old WROR. In 1994, the expansion of Harvard Community Health Plan's facilities at Fenway Plaza forced WRKO and WBMX to move again, this time to American's new master studio location at 116 Huntington Ave., across from the Prudential Center.

In 1997, American Radio agreed to merge with CBS, forming the largest radio group in the country by revenue. The U.S. Department of Justice sued to block the merger on anti-trust grounds, and on March 31, 1998, a consent agreement was announced by which WRKO, WEEI, WEGQ, and WAAF would be sold within 180 days, or placed in a trust if a buyer could not be found. CBS would be allowed to keep WBMX, pending final FCC approval; the merger was consummated in June, 1998.

After Greater Media announced its intention to decamp from 1200 Soldiers Field Road, CBS decided to lease that facility (right next to WBZ at 1170) to become the new WBMX studios; “Mix” moved in early in 1999.

On July 14, 2009, CBS announced format changes in Boston and Washington that would bring sports-talk formats to the FM dial in both markets. In Boston, “Mix” would move to WBCN 104.1 on August 13, displacing WBCN's format and branding to an automated HD2 stream, with the new “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM launching the same day on 98.5. With Boston Bruins hockey and New England Patriots football play-by-play (moving over from WBZ and WBCN, respectively), the new format is expected to challenge the dominance of long-time dominant sports-talker WEEI, particularly in the western suburbs where WEEI's night signal is poor. On July 29, WBMX changed callsign to WBMX-FM, with the unsuffixed calls warehoused on a CBS-owned AM in Charlotte, N.C., in preparation for the move.

On August 1, “Mix” moved out of 1200 Soldiers Field Road into newly-built-out studios at 38 Birmingham Parkway, the home of CBS's other Boston FMs, and on August 5, WBMX-FM became WBZ-FM. WBCN's programming ended just after midnight on August 12, and “Mix” moved to 104.1 two hours later. WBZ-FM broadcast a continuous promo loop for the new frequency for more than a day, until the new “Sports Hub” programming began on August 13.

The HD2 eighties hits and HD3 occult talk programming also moved to 104.1, a few hours before the main program. At the same time—even before the “real” WBCN had ceased to be—WBCN-branded automated rock programming began on WBZ-FM's HD2, and the HD3 simulcast of WBZ 1030 moved from WODS to WBZ-FM.

Historical information provided by Peter George and Donna Halper.

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This station profile was written by the editors of The Archives @ BostonRadio.org. We have no relationship with the station; please send any comments or questions about their programming directly to the station. Network connectivity courtesy of MIT CSAIL.

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