The Boston Radio Dial: WCRB(FM)

Who, What, Where

Community: Lowell
Frequency: 99.5 MHz
Class: B
Ownership: WGBH Educational Foundation
Studio: 1 Guest Street
Brighton, MA 02135-2016
Transmitter: 100 Holmes Road
Andover, MA 01810-4204
Phones:
Office +1 617 300 5400
Format: European classical music “Classical New England”
Web site: wgbh.org/995

Technical Parameters

WCRB broadcasts at 99.5 MHz with an ERP of 27 kW (analogue), from a non-directional, circularly-polarized antenna 199 meters (653 ft) above average terrain (238 m above sea level). The antenna, an ERI COGWHEEL 1084-5CP, is mounted at the top of the tower, at 137 m (449 ft) above ground; a backup antenna is mounted at the 110-m (361-ft) level, from which WCRB is licensed to operate with 37 kW. The tower, located at 100 Holmes Road, is owned by Greater Media, which built it in 1998 to replace an older tower on the same site. (Greater Media then owned the station.)

Station History

The Merrimac Broadcasting Company put WLLH-FM Lowell on the air in 1948, with 12.2 kW on 99.5, simulcasting WLLH (1400 Lowell and Lawrence). Unlike many such early FM simulcasts, WLLH-FM survived FM's dark years in the fifties and early sixties, in part because its relatively high power and excellent transmitter location, on Wood Hill in Andover, gave the station wide coverage from Boston into southern New Hampshire.

The simulcast era on 99.5 came to an end in 1971, when WLLH-FM, by now owned by Arnold Lerner and operating with 32 kW/600' from Wood Hill, changed calls to WSSH (“Wish”) and adopted an automated beautiful-music format.

In 1986, Lerner's Wireless Talking Machine Company sold WSSH to Noble Broadcast Group for $19.5 million. Noble moved WSSH from the WLLH Lowell studios (where a nominal “main studio” and public file remained for a few years) into a Woburn business park, further edging “Wish” from a Lowell identity into a Boston station. Noble also acquired WMRE (1510 Boston), which spent two brief periods in the late 80s and early 90s as WSSH(AM), sometimes simulcasting with 99.5 FM.

By then, WSSH-FM had evolved from beautiful music into a soft adult contemporary format, with live air talent replacing automation. Its ongoing attempt to become a full-fledged Boston station included a TV campaign featuring singer-songwriter Jim Brickman performing a custom “Wish for a song to make you feel good” jingle at the piano. In 1993, Noble sold WSSH-FM to Granum Communications for $18.5 million, creating a duopoly with WBOS (92.9 Brookline) and moving the WSSH-FM studios to the WBOS facility at 1200 Soldiers Field Road in Allston.

On December 13, 1995, “Wish” came to an end, as WSSH-FM became WOAZ, “99.5 the Oasis”, with smooth jazz. The following March, Infinity Broadcasting paid $410 million for Granum, including stations in Baltimore, Orlando, Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta as well as WOAZ and WBOS, which were added to Infinity's WBCN and WZLX to create the market's first four-FM cluster. Three months later, CBS/Westinghouse paid $3.7 billion for Infinity, putting the Boston cluster over the ownership limit. WOAZ and WBOS were traded to Greater Media in exchange for WMMR (93.3 Philadelphia).

On August 22, 1997, WOAZ's smooth jazz was replaced by country as Greater Media swapped formats between 99.5 and its WKLB-FM (96.9 Boston). As 99.5 became WKLB-FM, “Country 99.5”, 96.9 became WSJZ, with each format's airstaff remaining intact during the move. The studios followed the formats through the switch, so 99.5's studios moved yet again, to the WMJX (106.7 Boston) facility in the Salada Tea Building at 330 Stuart Street.

In late 1998, the WKLB-FM studios moved once more, to Greater Media's new cluster studio at 55 Morrissey Blvd. in Dorchester. What followed was a period of rare stability for the 99.5 frequency, as “Country 99.5” found a steady audience loyal to the market's only country station.

In 2006, 99.5 took on yet another new life, as Greater Media executed an unusual upgrade of its Boston cluster, buying WCRB (102.5 Waltham) from Charles River Broadcasting, then trading the WCRB intellectual property (calls and classical format) and studios, along with the 99.5 Lowell license and transmitter facility, to Nassau Broadcasting in exchange for Philadelphia-market WTHK (97.5 Burlington NJ).

At noon, December 1, 2006, Greater Media's WKLB-FM signed off 99.5 with “The Star-Spangled Banner”, and Nassau's WCRB arrived on the frequency with the “Hallelujah Chorus”, using the same studios at 750 South Street in Waltham that Charles River Broadcasting had used for almost 60 years at 102.5 (and at 1330 before that).

While listeners in the city of Boston, on the South Shore and as far away as Rhode Island complained that the move to the Lowell-licensed 99.5 made it hard to hear the WCRB signal, the classical format found a new audience in parts of southern New Hampshire where the 102.5 signal had not been as strong.

In May, 2009, Nassau and certain of its lenders and investors entered into a restructuring agreement which effectively gives voting control of Nassau to a manager appointed by the investment bank Goldman, Sachs & Co. As a part of the restructuring, Nassau filed to assign WCRB's license to a new corporation, Boston Broadcasting II, LLC. Lou Mercatanti would continue to serve as Boston Broadcasting II's chief executive.

The restructured Nassau did not retain WCRB for long. On September 21, 2009, Boston public broadcaster WGBH announced that it would acquire WCRB's license and intellectual property—but not its Waltham studio facility or its World Classical Network operations—for $14 million. WGBH took over operation of WCRB on December 1, 2009, converting the station to noncommercial operation but retaining WCRB personalities Laura Carlo (morning drive) and Ray Brown (afternoon drive) to work alongside several WGBH staffers moving to the new “All Classical 99.5” to make room for a more extensive news-talk lineup on WGBH's main 89.7 signal.

Listeners south of Boston and within the city proper soon raised complaints about difficulty receiving the 99.5 signal compared to the 100-kW 89.7 signal from Blue Hill. WGBH responded by adding additional frequencies to the classical service, switching its “East Cambridge and Beacon Hill” translator W242AA (96.3) and Nantucket relay WNCK (89.5) to the WCRB programming and putting WCRB on 89.7-HD2 for listeners with HD Radio receivers.

In 2011, WGBH entered into an arrangement with Bryant University to put WCRB programming (by now rebranded “Classical New England”) on Bryant's WJMF (88.7 Smithfield, R.I.), with WGBH providing technical support for an upgrade allowing the WJMF signal to reach most of the Providence market.

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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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