|Broadcast area||New England|
|Branding||WRKO AM 680|
|Slogan||The Voice Of Boston|
|First air date||July 1922 (as WNAC)|
(call sign adopted while owned by RKO General)
|Former callsigns||WNAC (1922-1967)|
ABC News Radio
(CC Licenses, LLC)
|Sister stations||WBWL, WBZ, WKAF, WXKS, WXKS-FM, WZLX|
|Webcast||Listen Live (via iHeartRadio)|
WRKO (680 kHz) is a commercial AM radio station in Boston, Massachusetts. It is owned by iHeartMedia and airs a talk radio format. Its transmitter is in Burlington, Massachusetts, next to the Burlington Mall, and the station's studios (shared with iHeartMedia's other Boston stations) are on Cabot Road in Medford.
WRKO is Boston's second most powerful AM station, after AM 1030 WBZ. WRKO is a 50,000-watt Class B station, providing at least secondary coverage to portions of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine during the day. Its signal is highly directional at night to protect a number of clear-channel stations on adjacent frequencies, and CFTR on 680 kHz in Toronto, Canada.
WRKO airs mostly local talk shows, with some syndicated offerings.
The station signed on in July 1922 as WNAC. It moved around the dial in its early days, and settled on 1230 kilocycles a few years later. WNAC was founded by John Shepard III, a Boston businessman whose father, John Shepard Jr., had a department store empire throughout New England and saw the potential of radio to publicize himself and his stores enough to finance his son's venture. The previous month, on June 14, 1922, WEAN (another Shepard-owned radio station) went on air in Providence, Rhode Island (today AM 790 WPRV). On January 4, 1923, using a 100-foot antenna connected by a clothesline to the building's roof, WNAC arranged the first network broadcast in radio history with station WEAF in New York City.
In 1927, WNAC became one of the sixteen charter members of the CBS Radio Network. It remained a CBS network affiliate for the next decade. In 1929, WNAC moved to new studios inside the Hotel Buckminster, with the entrance on the Brookline Avenue side (21 Brookline Avenue), which would become the station's home for the next four decades.
In 1929, Shepard also launched The Yankee Network. It was a regional network serving radio stations throughout New England and was a pioneer in radio news coverage. For many years, the Yankee Network was considered one of the best local/regional radio news operations in the country.
In 1931 Shepard purchased a second Boston station, WAAB, which became an affiliate of the Mutual Radio Network in 1935, a year after MBS was formed. He also launched a second regional network, "The Colonial Network", with WAAB as its flagship station. Outside of Boston, Yankee and Colonial programming were usually heard on the same station. Additionally, Colonial carried Mutual programming to its affiliates.
The year 1935 also saw the hiring of Fred B. Cole, a young announcer who would spend more than 50 years on the air, most of them in Boston at various stations. Cole left WNAC for network radio, and returned to Boston at WHDH in 1946.
In 1937, WNAC became an NBC Red Network affiliate after losing CBS to WEEI. Four years later, WNAC's frequency changed to 1260 kilocycles. In 1942, to comply with FCC anti-duopoly regulations, WAAB was moved to Worcester. At the same time, WNAC lost NBC Red Network affiliation to WBZ. With WAAB having been moved out of Boston, WNAC took over the Mutual affiliation. The Colonial Network was also shut down, with Yankee picking up many of its programs. In other parts of New England, however, the only change for some former Colonial programming was in the time periods of such programming. From the 1920s through the 50s, WNAC served as a full service station, airing dramas, comedies, news, sports, soap operas, game shows and big band broadcasts during the "Golden Age of Radio."
In December 1942, the Winter Street Corp., the holding company for Shepard family interests, announced it would be sold to General Tire and Rubber for $1.24 million. Winter Street was the corporate parent of the Yankee Network Inc. which owned the Colonial Network along with four AM and two FM stations. Winter Street was controlled by trusts set up for two of the children of founder John Shephard Jr., John Shephard III, general manager of WNAC and Yankee, and Robert Shephard, who managed the family's remaining department store in Providence. The transactions, and the closing of the Shepard Stores location in Boston, were viewed as a strategy to convert the elder Shepard's assets to cash. John Shepard III remained with the station as general manager under a five-year contract.
Later that same month, the FCC approved the transaction after securing an affidavit from General Tire's president that "no better deal" would be offered the tire company to buy "time, facilities and services" on Yankee Network stations, and that General Tire would "never" use its ownership to gain an unfair advertising advantage over competitors. Some 40 years later, the company was forced to exit broadcasting for reasons including illegal reciprocal trade agreements. In addition to WNAC and the two networks, the sale included WEAN, Providence; WAAB, Worcester; WICC, Bridgeport, Connecticut and experimental FM stations in Paxton, Massachusetts (today WAAF) and Mount Washington, New Hampshire (today WHOM).
In 1947, the FCC denied a request to allow WNAC to move to 1200 kHz and boost its power, using a directional 50,000–watt transmitter.
In 1953, General Tire bought 50,000–watt WLAW. WLAW was licensed to Lawrence, Massachusetts, some 25 miles north of Boston, but with its transmitter in Burlington, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. General Tire took over the AM 680 frequency that June, selling off its old 1260 license to Vic Diehm and Associates, who renamed the station WVDA. At least until 1962, WNAC's legal station identification was "Boston-Lawrence."
For a brief time in 1956 and 1957, WNAC was affiliated with both Mutual and NBC after WBZ dropped NBC programming. The station remained a Mutual affiliate until the network, of which General Tire was a part-owner, was sold in the late 1950s. WNAC lost NBC to WEZE (the station, ironically, that took over WNAC's original 1260 frequency) in 1957, and would lose Mutual as well.
As network programming moved from radio to television, WNAC aired a mix of middle of the road music, news, sports and talk shows. But major changes came to WNAC in March 1967. The station's call sign changed to WRKO, the format switched to top 40 hits, and the Yankee Network shut down.
The move to a Top 40 format in March 1967 was an enormous success. For the next decade, WRKO was one of Boston's top-rated radio stations, and absolutely dominant among its target audience of listeners in the 18-34 demographic. Known to its listeners as "The Big 68," WRKO was home to such well-known personalities as longtime morning man Dale Dorman, Chuck Knapp, Joel Cash, Johnny Dark, J. J. Wright, J. J. Jeffrey, [Harry Nelson-Afternoon Drive and became PD of WRKO in 1978], Shadoe Stevens, Frank Kingston Smith (who was known as "Bobby Mitchell"), Steve Anthony and many others. Mel Phillips, who replaced Bob Henabery as program director, served in that position from 1967 to 1972 before being replaced by Scotty Brink.
WRKO in 1967 even took a dig at market leader WBZ, a Westinghouse Broadcasting station that played pop music. In advance of WRKO's format change to top 40, WBZ tried to get in front of WRKO by adopting the slogan "Boss Radio" (used on famous RKO General top 40 station KHJ in Los Angeles). WRKO, in response, was rumored to have had their DJs reading a liner that said "WRKO, putting the Boss in the Restinghouse." WRKO did ultimately drive WBZ out of the top 40 format.
WRKO's other main competitor was AM 1510 WMEX, which was Boston's original Top 40 station, starting the format in 1957. Even though WMEX's city ratings were good, it had a highly directional signal did not effectively reach many of the suburbs, especially at night. WRKO (and the growing popularity of FM rock stations) eventually drove WMEX to a format change in 1975, with WRKO remaining Boston's sole AM Top 40 station. In May, 1975, WRKO's airborne traffic reporter, "The Red Baron" (Rick Blumberg), joined the morning team with Dale Dorman and Bill Rossi. The Red Baron was both the pilot and traffic reporter, flying at 1000 feet over Boston, in a fixed wing aircraft. 1975 and 1976 were the only years that WRKO had an aircraft in the sky.
WRKO was propelled in its success by the introduction of the so-called Drake format originated by radio programmer Bill Drake. In contrast to other Top 40 formats at the time, it featured very tight formatting with a strict minimal talk, more music approach presented in a very straightforward manner. This format was adopted by other stations across the country, including RKO General stations KHJ Los Angeles, WHBQ Memphis and WOR-FM in New York (now WEPN-FM). Virtually any station using the Drake sound rose to the top of its market.
By the end of the 1970s, however, rock and Top 40 radio had begun to migrate from AM to FM. In a three-year period from 1978 to 1981, WRKO lost a chunk of its audience. The station tried to compete with the surge in FM listening, first with a short-lived focus on album cuts and later by switching to more of an adult contemporary music format, featuring a morning program with market legend Norm Nathan. A switch to a country music format was also reportedly briefly considered. In 1980, WRKO began running talk programming during evening hours. On September 27, 1981, the station switched to an all-talk format. At 6 pm on that date Justin Clark played the last song, "American Pie" by Don McLean. WRKO has been a news and talk station ever since.
After switching to the talk radio format, the station ran a number of service-oriented and general chat programs during the day. As it moved to more issue-oriented talk, the station's popularity surged, with some of the most prominent talk radio hosts in the country such as Gene Burns, Jerry Williams, Ted O'Brien and Paul Parent. The station was often the highest-rated station in Boston during the 1980s and early 1990s. But while WRKO was growing and changing formats, its parent company, General Tire and Rubber, later renamed Gencorp, was under multiple federal investigations and ultimately under an FCC investigation due to its "lack of candor" for failing to disclose unlawful operations by General Tire. In the midst of the investigation into its parent company's problems, RKO General found itself under investigation for reciprocal trade practices involving several of its properties, and later for double billing by a radio network it organized, the RKO Network. The FCC license hearings culminated in the loss of the company's license to operate WNAC-TV, Channel 7 in Boston (now WHDH-TV).
Several years later, the FCC denied renewal of all RKO General's broadcast licenses, with the exception of WOR-TV in New York, which gained a permanent license by agreeing to relocate to New Jersey, with its studios and news operations in Secaucus. The licenses held by RKO for AM, FM and TV stations went to designated competing applicants. Gencorp appealed, but rather than be stripped of the valuable licenses without compensation, the company's broadcasting subsidiary, RKO General, entered settlement agreements with the competing applicants that allowed the sale of its stations to third parties by making settlements with the new owners. At the time, Gencorp was strapped for cash as the result of a hostile takeover bid, during which time the management decided to buy back the company's own stock to fend off the takeover. As part of the settlements worked out in Boston, New York, Memphis, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles and San Francisco, WRKO and its FM sister station, 98.5 WROR (now WBZ-FM), were sold to a neophyte broadcaster, Atlantic Ventures Corp., which was operated by a former cable television executive.
In 1998, after several mergers, Atlantic Ventures (renamed American Radio Systems) decided that owning broadcast and cellular telephone towers was its preferred business and merged with CBS, Inc. WRKO was spun off to Entercom since the merger brought CBS over FCC ownership limits.
WRKO was, from 1986-1994, the flagship station for the Boston Red Sox. In 2006, Entercom (which also owns Sports Radio 850 WEEI) inked a 10-year deal to make WRKO co-flagship station for the Red Sox Radio Network along with WEEI. WEEI (now on 93.7 FM) once again became the sole flagship station on August 26, 2009.
WRKO carried Boston Celtics basketball broadcasts from 2005-2007. Entercom assumed the broadcast rights in 2005 from WWZN and WRKO became the flagship station. Beginning in 2007, Entercom moved most of its Celtics coverage to co-owned WEEI. Celtics games now air on Beasley Media's WBZ-FM.
In August 2012, The Rush Limbaugh Show and Coast to Coast AM programs returned to WRKO. They had appeared on iHeart-owned AM 1200 WXKS, when iHeart decided to compete with WRKO in the talk radio format. iHeart also owns the two shows' syndication company, Premiere Networks. WXKS discontinued the talk-radio format in 2012, freeing up the Limbaugh and Coast to Coast shows to return to WRKO.
In a controversial move, WRKO announced on May 19, 2015, that it was dropping Rush Limbaugh. WRKO said the charges for running Limbaugh had risen too steeply and it would air a local host in that time slot, reducing costs for the station. Limbaugh was relocated to iHeart's sports radio station on AM 1430. In 2017, the show moved to iHeart talk station 1200 WXKS.
On February 2, 2017, CBS Radio announced it would merge with Entercom. On October 10, 2017, CBS announced that as part of the process of obtaining regulatory approval of the merger, WRKO would be one of sixteen stations that would be divested by Entercom, along with sister station WKAF and CBS stations WBZ, WBZ-FM, and WZLX. On November 1, 2017, iHeartMedia announced it would acquire WRKO, WBZ (AM), WZLX and WKAF. To meet ownership limits set by the FCC, 1430 WKOX was designated to be divested. The merger was approved on November 9, 2017, and was consummated on the 17th. Until WKOX's spinoff into the Ocean Stations Trust was completed, WRKO was operated by the the Entercom Divestiture Trust, while the sister stations began being operated by iHeart once the merger closed. iHeart began operating WRKO on December 19, 2017. On that date, it completed its acquisition of WRKO, WZLX, WKAF, and WBZ. WRKO's studios moved to iHeartMedia's facilities in Medford in July 2018.
In recent years, talk shows have been hosted by investigative reporter Michele McPhee, former U.S. Representative Peter Blute, and local talk hosts John "Ozone" Osterlind, Scott Allen Miller, and Todd Feinburg. The morning drive duo of McPhee and Feinburg were let go on October 31, 2012 in favor of additional hours for Kuhner. WRKO has also aired nationally syndicated shows by Laura Ingraham and Michael Savage.
From 1998 to 2014, The Howie Carr Show was the weekday afternoon drive program. At first it was a local show but over time, Carr's show was picked up by other talk stations around New England. WRKO served as the flagship station of the Howie Carr syndicated network. WRKO announced on November 12, 2014, that it would no longer carry the show. It ceased airing as of November 17, 2014. The separation only lasted a few months. On March 9, 2015, WRKO said it would pick up Carr's self-syndicated show as of March 16, 2015.
On January 11, 2007, former Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran replaced Miller as the morning drive-time host. Feinburg was added as a co-host on January 5, 2009. The end of Finneran's five-year run on WRKO was announced on May 29, 2012, and took effect two days later.
In January 2018, WRKO discontinued WRKO '60s Saturday Night, a throwback to the station's Top 40 days, hosted by Jeff Lawrence.
On November 16, 2006, all on-air news anchors and traffic reporters were fired.WGBH-TV's Beat the Press reported that the news and traffic reporters were informed individually and received severance pay. WRKO hired Westwood One-owned Metro Networks (now the Total Traffic and Weather Network) to provide hourly news updates, including traffic and weather, during the day. In announcing the decision, WRKO said that the station's local news and issues would be driven by the talk show hosts, instead of the news anchors. Former news director Rod Fritz moved to WBZ in Boston, after spending a year in New York at Fox News.
Aerial traffic reports were named "Skyway Patrol" by the old WHDH radio in 1961. When Entercom moved WEEI's call letters and programming to the old home of WHDH radio, it moved Skyway Patrol to WRKO. Since the layoff of the news department in November 2006, Metro Networks has provided traffic reports, still styled "Skyway Patrol," with reporters Malcolm Alter, Brian Edwards, Bruce Adams, Joe Stapleton, Steve Hartman, Scott Pike, Mike Riley and Lisa Jackson. The exception to the "Skyway Patrol" was when WRKO had "Red Baron" (Rick Blumberg) in a fixed wing aircraft, flying and reporting traffic in 1975 and 1976.
Massachusetts state trooper Grant Moulison reported traffic to WRKO listeners on the morning and afternoon drivetime situations for 21 years, eventually leaving in April 2006 after retiring from the force with 32 years of service behind him. Matt Hillas reported for "Skyway Patrol" from May 1999 to June 2006.
| Radio Home of the
Boston Red Sox
(split with WNAC, 1942)
| Radio Home of the
Boston Red Sox
(as WNAC; split with 1440 WAAB, 1942)
| Radio Home of the
Boston Red Sox
(split with 99.1 WPLM-FM, 1983–1989)