The Boston Radio Dial: WILD(AM)

Who, What, Where

Community: Boston
Frequency: 1090 kHz
Class: D
Ownership: Blount Masscom, Inc.
(William Blount)
Transmitter: 99 Revere Beach Parkway
Medford, MA 02155-5124
Format: Christian teaching

Technical Parameters

WILD operates at 4,800 watts daytime, 1,900 watts critical hours, from one of WKOX (1430 Everett)'s two towers at 99 Revere Beach Parkway in Medford, near the Wellington MBTA yard. WILD holds a construction permit to relocate to the WJDA tower at the end of State Street in Quincy, from which it would operate at 2.7 kW days and 1.8 kW critical hours.

Station History

The Templetone Radio Manufacturing Corp., a company from New London, Connecticut, first applied for a station in Boston on September 17, 1945 — just two weeks after the surrender of Japan officially ended World War II. The station was to be a “graveyard” station, operating full time on 1450 kHz at 250 watts from a transmitter at the end of Porter St. in East Boston, but Templetone also requested booster transmitters in Belmont, Brockton, Quincy, and Saugus. The initial application was designated for a hearing, and Templetone amended the application in February, 1946, to instead request a daytime-only station with 1 kW on 1090 kHz from a site on the west bank of the Malden River, which removed it from a group of mutually exclusive applications and allowed it be granted the following May. Templetone's consulting engineer was Paul deMars, former technical director for the Yankee Network's FM stations, who took a job with the engineering firm of Raymond Wilmotte after returning from World War II.

In parallel with its request for a “standard broadcast” station, Templetone also applied for an FM station. The FCC held a hearing on April 4, 1946, to consider applications for new FM stations in Boston from nine applicants, including Templetone. The company had FM inventor Edwin Armstrong on hand to attest to their qualifications to construct and operate a radio station. (Templetone never owned any other broadcast stations.)

WBMS signed on Sunday, November 24, 1946, from studios at 35 Court St. in downtown Boston. Fitting with its focus on classical music, WBMS got BSO conductor Serge Koussevitzky to make a special opening broadcast from his home at 11:30 AM, which was followed at noon by a recorded performance of “The Magic Flute” by the Berlin Philharmonic. Templetone chose “WBMS” for “World's Best Music Station”; the station received its initial license on February 27, 1947.

In 1947, WBMS was granted an FM permit on 104.1 MHz, initially operating at 3 kW (full-power service at 20 kW was envisioned). In January, 1948, Templetone filed to sell WBMS to the Friendly Group, which owned stations in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; the transfer became effective on July 2. While that application was pending, Templetone filed to modify WBMS's antenna system to add an antenna for the new FM station, which was granted in October, 1948. Also in 1948, WBMS received a Massachusetts George Foster Peabody Award for “meritorious public service”, specifically citing its music programming. WBMS-FM first appears in newspaper program listings in May, 1948, with the Daily Globe showing a simulcast from 7 AM to 6 PM, followed by additional music programming until midnight. Over the next two years, FM programming would slowly be cut back, until by 1950 the Globe's radio listings show WBMS-FM as only operating from 3 to 8 PM daily.

In January, 1959, Friendly Group hired George Lasker away from WORL (950), which had been fighting in the courts to get its license renewed, to be group vice president and general manager; Lasker would work out of WBMS's Court St. offices. Lasker claimed to have invented the disk jockey (although radio historians do not give much credence to this claim), and his hiring presaged programming changes at WBMS. Friendly requested extensions for time to construct the modifications of the AM antenna required to host a full-power WBMS-FM, but after granting the first two, the FCC denied the request for a third, and that permit was canceled in August, 1950, after FM programming had apparently ceased in the spring of 1950. (Because the FCC's paper records of applications were destroyed when stations were deleted, little more is known about WBMS-FM.)

On April 27, 1950, WBMS switched to a popular music format, and most of the classical staff left. In April, 1951, WBMS changed its callsign to WHEE, but just over a year later, in May of 1952, the calls were changed back to WBMS. In August of 1952, WBMS's studios moved from Court St. to the Hotel Shelton, 91 Bay State Road, in Kenmore Square, today part of Boston University — but just two years later, they moved again, to the Somerset Hotel, at 400 Commonwealth Ave. in the Back Bay, which was also the in-season residence of Red Sox slugger Ted Williams.

On September 5, 1957, WBMS was sold to Bartell Broadcasters and became WILD. In November of 1958, Bartell sold WILD to Nelson B. Noble, a Newton scrap and steel dealer with no prior connection to broadcasting, for $200,000. The Cash Box reported that within his first three weeks of ownership, Noble had fired many existing employees but brought on three big-name announcers from other stations: Stan Richards from WORL, who would be program director and on the air middays; Bill Marlowe from WBZ to do mornings; and “Boston's well known ‘beat’ disk jockey” Joe Smith from WMEX in the afternoons. The new programming was described as “a non-top forty format”.

Not long after Noble took control of WILD, a nationwide steel strike began, lasting seven months and devastating Noble's steel business. In addition, WILD lost more than $300,000 in its first year under Noble's ownership, sending him and the station to the brink of bankruptcy. Desperate to salvage his fortune, Noble fired his big-name disk jockeys, and on December 17, 1959, he inked a deal to sell the station to Franklin Broadcasting Corp. A few days before the sale application was received by the FCC, Noble filed for WILD's regular license renewal. As this was in the middle of the national “payola” scandal, in December of 1959 the FCC required licensees to make representations that they were not engaged in the practice, and Noble responded that to his knowledge his employees were not accepting undisclosed payments for airplay. In 1960, fired DJ Stan Richards told a US House of Representatives committee that he had been taking payola, and that he believed Noble knew about it. Noble filed an affidavit denying any such knowledge, but the Commission told Noble that they were not satisfied with his responses to their inquiry, and gave WILD a short-term license renewal, rather than a full three years. As a result, the sale to Franklin fell apart.

By this time, Noble had found himself unable to pay most of his employees and took over the roles of station manager and general manager, in addition to taking an on-air shift for up to 12 hours a day and soliciting advertising over the phone. Noble also began to seek out brokered-time foreign-language programs to help fill up the schedule with no DJs left on the payroll; WILD began to run programs in Albanian, Arabic, Italian, Greek, Lithuanian, and Polish for up to 30 hours a week. (The Greek program “Grecian Echoes” had been on the station since before Noble purchased it.) Some of the station's remaining employees received free or discounted air time to run their own programs as part of their compensation.

In July, 1960, WILD's studios moved to the Sherry Biltmore hotel, 150 Massachusetts Ave. (now Berklee College of Music). WILD received another short-term license extension in 1961. By this time, Noble's finances were somewhat improved, although he still owed a significant amount on the original seller-financed note he took to acquire the station — Bartell had chosen to exercise forbearance rather than foreclosing. Noble also took loans from record companies to keep the station afloat, and entered into record-plugging contracts with some of those labels to promote their records.

Under Noble, WILD moved to a Black music format: by autumn 1961, the station was playing some jazz, rhythm & blues, and soul, and featuring Black deejays like Jimmy “Early” Bird and “Wildman Steve” Gallon; the station was the only one in Boston programming to the Black community, and was very well-received. At the same time, Noble started a local weekly newspaper for the Black community, called the Boston–Roxbury City News, which was largely written and produced by WILD employees.

In 1962, WILD again filed for license renewal, but this time, the application was slow-walked by the FCC without issuing another short-term renewal. That year, the studios moved again, this time to 719 Boylston St., across from the Lenox Hotel. While the renewal application was pending, in May of 1963, Noble again filed to sell the station, this time to the Pittsburgh-based station group Dynamic Broadcasting, but the sale again fell apart due to WILD's inability to secure a full-term license renewal.

In December, 1963, the FCC designated WILD's renewal application for a formal hearing. The FCC cited financial irregularities, payola, “double billing”, and general questions over Noble's fitness to be a broadcast licensee. The FCC also raised concerns over WILD's brokered-time foreign-language programming: the rules at the time required that stations have an employee to supervise such broadcasts who understood the language being spoken. Twelve days of hearings took place in Boston and Washington during the spring of 1964, and the FCC examiner recommended granting the renewal application on December 11, 1964.

The FCC staff maintained their objection to renewing WILD's license, and on July 9, 1965, a hearing was held before the FCC commissioners. Later that month, the FCC overruled the examiner's recommendation, but noting that all station in Massachusetts were required to file for license renewals by the end of the year, the FCC — over the objections of chair E. William Henry — invited Noble to file a new, superseding renewal application, which would be considered in light of the examiner's factual findings.

Finally, on June 6, 1966, the FCC granted a full-term license renewal to WILD. This then made it possible for Noble to actually sell the station to Dynamic Broadcasting, filing a new transfer application in July and receiving comparatively speedy FCC approval on August 25. Dynamic was principally owned by Pittsburgh businessman Leonard E. Walk along with two business partners. Under the new owners, WILD continued to be the main resource for Black music in Boston, and the only station with Black announcers.

Dynamic Broadcasting's ownership group filed to sell their company, which also owned Pittsburgh's WAMO and WAMO-FM and Buffalo's WUFO, to Cypress Broadcasting in 1969 for $2.5 million, but backed out of that transaction before it could be approved by the FCC. Then in September, 1972, Sheridan Broadcasting — a Black-owned firm — agreed to buy the company's stations. Sheridan's purchase took effect February 28, 1973. Sheridan enhanced the programming, and added more news and public service shows. Sheridan also applied to increase day power to 5 kW, which was granted by the FCC in 1978 but not completed until 1981.

in March, 1980, local Black entrepreneur H. Kendell Nash agreed to buy WILD, taking formal ownership on August 26, and subsequently moving it to new studios at 90 Warren Street in Roxbury. In 1981, Nash applied to move WILD to 720 kHz, operating from a new directional array at a quarry in West Roxbury, with 2.5 kW day, 500 W night — but this application was returned by the FCC due to prohibited overlap with WCAS (740 Cambridge). Until his untimely death in July, 1992, Nash operated WILD as Boston's premier urban station, a title maintained by his widow Bernadine.

In 1999, national urban broadcaster Radio One entered the Boston market with the purchase of Brockton's WCAV (97.7), renamed WBOT. The next year, Bernadine Nash agreed to LMA her station to Radio One, which moved WBOT's operations in with WILD's Roxbury studios.

In the fall of 2000, Radio One purchased WILD from Mrs. Nash for $5 million. Under Radio One, WILD moved from its longtime home in Roxbury to new studios in Marina Bay, Quincy and went through a series of format changes. In October, 2005, WILD(AM) flipped from classic R&B to black gospel, sending the classic R&B format and Tom Joyner morning show to its FM sister, now renamed WILD-FM. The “Praise 1090” gospel format lasted only until January 30, 2006, when Radio One launched a national urban talk network that included WILD(AM) as a charter affiliate. Jimmy Myers was hired as a local morning host in February, 2006, anchoring a lineup that included Al Sharpton and the “Two Live Stews” sports talk show.

In August, 2006, Radio One sold WILD-FM to Entercom for $30 million; Entercom changed that station's format to album rock, changed the call letters to WKAF, and began simulcasting WAAF in Worcester. The sale of the FM station also put much of the WILD(AM) staff out of work: the AM signal flipped from talk back to automated black gospel, then returned to Radio One's talk network (with no local hosts) in December. 2006 also saw a move of the WILD transmitter from its original site on Corporation Way in Medford (which was being taken for a new development) to a diplex on one tower of the WXKS (1430) site adjacent to the Wellington MBTA station, half a mile to the south. With the increased efficiency of the new tower, WILD's power changed from 5 kW days, 1 kW critical hours to 4.8 kW days, 1.9 kW critical hours.

WILD continued to broadcast Radio One's syndicated talk programming until June 2011, when the station was leased to China Radio International. When WILD began broadcasting Chinese programming in the summer of 2011, it thus ended the many years that the station had broadcast to the Black community. In September 2016, Radio One finally sold the station to Radio Boston Broadcasting, owned by James Su and John and Greg Douglas, for nearly $890,000 (including assumption of liabilities, principally lease payments on the shared transmitter site). Their company had been operating the station and providing the Chinese programming under a local marketing agreement since about 2013.

WILD went dark in November, 2019, before being sold in August, 2020, to Blount Masscom, Inc., for $80,000. The sellers put WILD back on the air with an LMA pending the sale, broadcasting Christian programming under the slogan “Life Changing Radio”, simulcast with another of Blount's stations, WVNE (760 Leicester). Blount applied to relocate the transmitter site from Revere Beach Parkway, where the previous owners had been paying some $8,000 per month in rent, to the WJDA (1300) site, 285 State St. in Quincy.

Researched and written by Garrett Wollman and Donna Halper. Sources for this article include the Boston Globe, Broadcasting, and FCC records.

See Also

This station profile was written by the editors of The Archives @ 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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