The Boston Radio Dial: WEEI(AM)

Who, What, Where

Community: Boston
Frequency: 850 kHz
Class: B
Ownership: Entercom Boston License, LLC
(Entercom Communications [NYSE: ETM]/Joseph M. Field)
Studio: 20 Guest St.
Brighton, MA 02135-2040
Transmitter: Central Avenue
Needham, MA 02492
Phones:
Receptionist +1 617 779 5800
Call-in 375 0850
Format: Sports talk
Networks: Fox Sports Radio (Premiere)

Technical Parameters

WEEI uses three guyed towers in a line, broadcasting with 50,000 watts, DA-2, from three 665-foot (203 m) towers on a site next to the former Needham town dump. The night pattern protects KOA, Denver.

Station History

(Note: This history follows the present-day 850 frequency, the station known as WHDH for most of its existence. To follow the WEEI call letters, see WEZE.)

The WHDH call letters made their debut on November 6, 1930, in the fishing town of Gloucester, some 30 miles north of Boston. The station was owned by Matheson Broadcasting. In later years, WHDH would claim a 1926 start date, based in large part on on Ralph Matheson's earlier ownership of WEPS Gloucester, which operated on 1010 kHz and later 1200 kHz, before being sold in May 1930 to share-time partner WORC. WORC soon moved to Worcester, using first 1200 and later 1280 and 1310 kHz. It was only after Matheson sold WEPS that WHDH's history truly began. Stories that the calls stood for “We Haul Dead Haddocks” are probably apocryphal. WHDH soon moved to Boston's New England Conservatory, where it continued to operate on its original 830 kHz frequency. A 1936 listing shows WHDH operating with 1000 Watts, daytime only, from studios at 62 Boylston Street. In its early days, WHDH was in the second tier of Boston stations. With no network affiliation, WHDH's programming was heavy on live broadcasts of hotel orchestras and the like.

NARBA moved WHDH to 850 kHz, with 1000 Watts. The station was now allowed to broadcast until sunset in Denver, the home of dominant 850 KOA. WHDH's transmitter had by that time moved to a site along the Lynn-Saugus line, on present-day route 107. After World War II, WHDH was able to increase its power first to 5,000 and then to 50,000 watts by moving its transmitter site to Needham, west of Boston.

1946 brought big changes to WHDH, as the Boston Herald-Traveler newspaper purchased the station from Matheson. Newspaper ownership and increased power gave WHDH a new legitimacy among Boston stations, though a network affiliation was still far in the future. March 31, 1948 saw the debut of WHDH-FM on 94.5, now WJMN.

By the early 50s, the Herald-Traveler was pursuing TV, and in the mid-50s the company was granted an interim license to put channel 5 on the air. The allocation originally belonged to Worcester, but after going unclaimed for several years, it was moved to Boston. WHDH-TV made its debut as an ABC affiliate November 26, 1957, from the new WHDH AM/FM/TV building at 50 Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, and transmitter on Chestnut Street in Newton (the present-day FM-128 tower). An affiliation swap in 1962 made WHDH-TV Boston's CBS affiliate, and WNAC-TV 7 became the ABC affiliate.

Soon thereafter, Channel 5 became the battleground for one of the fiercest battles ever fought over a TV allocation. Several rival licensees went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the media concentration that included the Boston Herald-Traveler, WHDH-AM, WHDH-FM, and WHDH-TV. In 1969, a group known as “Boston Broadcasting Inc.” won initial approval to begin building a new Channel 5 to replace WHDH-TV, and in early 1972, the Herald-Traveler lost its final appeal. For several months, WHDH-TV was under court order to sign off at 1 AM daily so the new WCVB-TV 5 could test its equipment. (WHDH declined to sell its existing transmitter or studio to WCVB, which was then forced to lease space on the nearby WBZ-TV 4 tower and build its own studios in Needham.) Finally, on March 19, 1972, WHDH-TV 5 signed off for the last time.

The demise of WHDH-TV meant big changes at WHDH radio. In the 1960s, WHDH became well-known for personalities such as Jess Cain in the morning and Norm Nathan with jazz all night. The Herald-Traveler had argued that losing the TV station would make its other properties unprofitable, and indeed a short time after WHDH-TV shut down, the Herald-Traveler went out of business. The newspaper was sold to the rival Record-American, which incorporated it into the new Herald-American. The radio stations were sold in early 1973 to “WHDH, Inc.”, and soon moved out of 50 Morrissey Boulevard and into a new home at 441 Stuart Street in Boston's Back Bay.

The 1970s saw WHDH flourish as a full-service broadcaster, and while some personalities such as Norm Nathan left, others such as Jess Cain remained. More sales followed, landing WHDH in the hands of Sconnix Broadcasting in the early 1980s, separated from the FM for the first time. By the end of the 1980s, WHDH was again reinventing itself as a talk station, turning off the music and saying farewell to veteran talent including Cain and Larry Glick, who had moved to WHDH from WBZ.

In 1990, WHDH was sold again, this time to supermarket entrepreneur David Mugar, who also owned Boston's channel 7, WNEV-TV. WHDH moved into WNEV's studios at 7 Bulfinch Place near City Hall, into the top-floor offices vacated a decade earlier by WRKO and WROR. Air talent included Pat Whitley and Marjorie Clapprood in the morning and Eddie Andelman in the afternoon, until his departure for WEEI in 1991, when WHDH began airing the Rush Limbaugh show. Channel 7 meanwhile changed its call letters to WHDH-TV.

1992 saw yet another sale, as WHDH became part of Boston's first AM duopoly, with American Radio Systems (WRKO and WBMX) buying the station for $3 million. ARS made a few changes, moving Clapprood and Whitley to WRKO, and launching a new all-news block in morning drive on WHDH.

It proved to be the last format change for WHDH. In mid-1994, ARS announced its purchase of the programming and call letters of Back Bay Broadcasting's WEEI 590. The change came in late August; Friday, August 26 was the last weekday for WHDH, and on the last live program, talk host Howie Carr took to the sidewalk outside 7 Bulfinch Place to auction off the contents of the WHDH studios for charity. At midnight, August 28, the last WHDH programming came to an end, and an anonymous board operator sent the station to the history books with a recorded toilet flush.

The next morning, WEEI's sports programming made its debut on 850 (although technically, the WHDH calls remained in place for several more days while the paperwork was completed). 5:30 AM saw the start of the Don Imus show, and at ten, the local Dale Arnold show made its debut from ARS's new studios at 116 Huntington Avenue. WEEI has remained all sports on 850 ever since, adding the Red Sox (from sister station WRKO) for the 1995 season. Since its acquisition in 1996, WWTM Worcester has simulcast most of WEEI's programming (thus returning that station to a role it had previously filled for the old WEEI).

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, or else placed in a trust if a buyer could not be found. The four stations were sold to Entercom in August of 1998 for $65 million and two Florida stations.

Under Entercom, little changed at WEEI. The talk lineup shifted somewhat in 1999, when Entercom chose not to renew Imus' contract, replacing his syndicated morning show with local hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan. (Imus moved to new FM talker WTKK 96.9.)

In late 2000, Entercom closed down local operations at partial Worcester simulcast WWTM, returning that station to a full WEEI simulcast and the WVEI calls it had used while simulcasting the old WEEI 590. Early the following year, WEEI moved out of its expensive Huntington Ave. location in the Back Bay to new digs in less-fashionable Brighton.

In 2004, WEEI entered the Ocean State in a big way, adding a simulcast on the 103.7 Westerly facility that had been WWRX-FM for most of its life, most recently programmed as a modern rocker by Boston's Phoenix Media. Westerly quickly adopted the callsign WEEI-FM. WEEI's network of relay stations grew again in 2006, when the former WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield) was relicensed to Easthampton, in the Springfield market, and was sold to Entercom to become WVEI-FM.

In 2007 and 2008, Entercom aggressively pursued more traditional affiliations with stations in Northern New England, most of them FMs, in markets including Portland, Concord, and Brattleboro/Keene. Although some of these deals fell through, by mid-2009 the “WEEI Network” had affiliates in Bangor, Portland, Keene, and Cape Cod, in addition to Entercom's stations in Worcester, Easthampton, and Westerly.

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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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