The Boston Radio Dial: WRKO(AM)

Who, What, Where

Community: Boston
Frequency: 680 kHz
Class: B
Ownership: Entercom Boston License, LLC
(Entercom Communications [NYSE: ETM]/Joseph M. Field)
Studio: 20 Guest St.
Brighton, MA 02135-2040
Transmitter: Meadow Road
Burlington, MA 01803
Phones:
Receptionist +1 617 779 5800
Call-in +1 617 266 6868
Format: Talk
Networks: Boston Red Sox (flagship)
Citadel Media Networks (Brinker)
Premiere (Fox News, Limbaugh)
Talk Radio Network (Ingraham, Savage, Doyle)

Technical Parameters

WRKO uses 50,000 watts day and night from transmitter facilities on Meadow Road (shown right), adjacent to the Burlington Mall in Burlington, near the intersection of US 3 and I-95/SR 128. WRKO's pattern is roughly north and south, protecting WPTF, Raleigh, N.C., and others. WRKO has three self-supporting steel towers in a line.

Station History

WRKO is the descendant of Boston's third licensed radio station, WNAC. WNAC was the key station in the Yankee Network, a regional radio network in the northeast. By the late 30s, WNAC was operating on 1230 AM, with 5000 watts from a transmitter in Quincy, Mass.; WNAC also had a sister station, WAAB on 1410. WNAC moved to 1260 and WAAB to 1440 in the shakeup of 1941; WAAB was moved to Worcester when the FCC eliminated duopolies in 1943. WNAC's then owners, General Tire, purchased Lawrence's WLAW 680 and WLAW-FM 93.7 (from the Hildreth and Rogers Company) in 1953, moving the WNAC callsign and programming to 680. As required by the one-to-a-market rule, the old WNAC 1260 was sold at the same time, to Vic Diehm Associates (where it would become WVDA, WEZE, WPZE, and now WMKI); WLAW-FM's license was turned in. The current transmitter facility in Burlington was the one originally built in 1946-47 for WLAW; WLAW-FM once transmitted from bays atop the center tower.

(Properly speaking, we should say that WRKO is the descendant of WLAW, not the first WNAC. However, given the continuity of ownership and programming, it makes more historical sense to say that WLAW ceased to exist in 1953 and WVDA was really a new station, even though the licenses were continuous. WLAW's main studios had been at the Hotel Bradford in Boston, rather than in Lawrence, since December, 1951; the station was licensed to “Boston and Lawrence” for many years thereafter.)

In 1960, WNAC attempted a brief, unsuccessful stint as a top-40 station; upon giving up, station management warehoused their intended callsign of WRKO by putting it on the FM. On October 12, 1966, the FM station broke away completely, and became automated rocker “ARKO-matic”, and then on March 13, 1967, with the end of the Yankee Network, WNAC(AM) became WRKO(AM), one of Boston's legendary top 40 stations.

When RKO General was forced to divest its broadcasting operations (about which read more under WNAC-TV), WRKO was sold to Atlantic Ventures, the forerunner of today's American Radio Systems. At that time, WRKO moved out of the studios of then-sister-station WNAC-TV 7, at 7 Bulfinch Place, and into new studios at 3 Fenway Plaza, across from Fenway Park. (Curiously enough, some fifteen years later, WRKO's newsroom would move back to 7 Bulfinch Place, when Metro Networks moved there from the Prudential Tower.)

WRKO flipped to talk in the early 80s, and with the addition of Red Sox baseball broadcasts, became an important player in the growing news-talk field. Talk host Jerry Williams made the crusade against tax hikes in the 1980s into a personal battle, riding the controversy to high ratings for his shift and the rest of the station's schedule.

As Atlantic Ventures merged its way into American Radio Systems, WRKO and sister station WBMX moved again in early 1994, into custom-built facilities on the top floor of 116 Huntington Ave., behind the Prudential Tower. In 1994, WRKO added several programs from its now-defunct sister station WHDH 850, including Howie Carr and Rush Limbaugh.

In 1997, American Radio agreed to merge with CBS, forming the largest radio group in the country by revenue. The US 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. CBS would be allowed to hold WBMX, thus splitting up the original WNAC and WNAC-FM. WRKO and the other problem properties were sold to Entercom in August of 1998 for $65 million and two Florida stations.

Under Entercom, WRKO struggled to find a place for itself in the Boston market. While Carr's local show remained successful (so much so that ABC Radio took the Herald columnist into national syndication in 1999), ratings for Limbaugh's midday show and the Laura Schlessinger advice show that preceded it remained flat. A succession of hosts were tried in morning drive and at night, including former politician Marjorie Clapprood, the “Two Chicks Dishing”, and a morning show made up of market veteran Andy Moes and former politico Peter Blute. And Jerry Williams, the host who virtually made WRKO as a talk station, found himself with no contract under the new ownership, doing his last show for WRKO in October 1998. To make matters worse, WRKO faced new talk competition as the decade ended, first from FM talker WTKK 96.9, then from the new WMEX 1060, where Williams himself briefly landed.

In late 1999, WRKO dropped the Metro News service it had used for several years since the shutdown of its own newsroom, instead choosing to rebuild a local news operation with market veterans such as news director Rod Fritz and Worcester's Paul Tuthill. In March, 2001, WRKO and sister stations decamped from their long-time studio location in Boston's Back Bay to less-cramped (and less expensive) facilities at 20 Guest St. in Brighton.

WRKO continued to struggle with its talk lineup in the early years of the 21st century, replacing Blute with Scott Allen Miller, then dismissing him in early 2007 in favor of former Massachusetts House speaker Tom Finneran. Late morning talk host John DePetro was dismissed in 2006 after several anti-gay slurs prompted protests. An attempt at “lifestyle” talk in the evenings failed to garner ratings and was replaced with syndicated talk hosts Michael Savage and Jerry Doyle.

An expensive fight over Red Sox radio rights in late 2006 ended with Entercom signing a record-breaking 10-year deal with the team reported to be worth up to $20 million. Beginning with the 2007 season, most of the team's games move from WEEI to WRKO in an attempt to create more sampling of the talk station's programming.

The cost of the Red Sox deal was one of the reasons cited in late 2006 when WRKO again dismantled its news department. Seven staffers, including Fritz and veteran anchor Listo Fisher, lost their jobs as WRKO again outsourced its news operation.

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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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