March 13th, 1967: One Of Boston's Biggest-Ever Format Changes

RI Community Forums Radio History History Of Radio March 13th, 1967: One Of Boston's Biggest-Ever Format Changes

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  • #173299
    Profile photo of joseph_gallant
    Joseph_Gallant
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    This past Monday (March 13th, 1967) marked the 50th anniversary of what I consider to be one of the two biggest format changes in Boston radio history (the other being the old WBCN-104.1 dropping classical for “progressive” rock in 1968, although ‘BCN at first only played rock in late evenings and overnights, not going fulltime rock until May of 1968).

    On that date, what was talk-formatted WNAC-680 changed call letters to WRKO, and it’s format to Top-40.

    With a format patterned after then-sister stations KHJ-930 (Los Angeles) and KFRC-610 (San Francisco), both of which had shot up to the number-one ranking in their respective markets’ ratings, ‘RKO quickly dominated the Top-40 scene in Boston, eventually forcing the city’s two other Top-40 stations, WBZ-1030 and WMEX-1510, out of the format (‘BZ gave up within a couple of years, ‘MEX managed to hang in there with a Top-40 format until 1975).

    Two of the initial DJ’s were familiar to Boston listeners: Joel Cash (who had been at the old WCOP-1150) and Arnie “Woo-Woo” Ginsberg (who had been lured over from WMEX). Ginsberg was forced off the air when WMEX tried to enforce a non-compete clause, but Cash would remain with ‘RKO (usually as a mid-day personality) well into the 1970’s.

    The most famous WRKO announcer, Dale Dorman, arrived in 1968 (replacing original morning man Al Gates) and stayed for a decade, becoming one of Boston’s most recognizable radio voices (he also for much of this time did some booth announcing at WLVI-56, usually during the station’s children’s programs).

    But not all good things last forever. In 1971, the old WKOX-FM-105.7 became WVBF with a somewhat similar Top-40 format, and by 1978, it (and FM in general) was “nipping” at RKO’s heels, and later that year, would pass ‘RKO in both total listeners and listeners in the target demographic of both stations.

    Indeed in 1978, there were rumors that WRKO and then-sister-statuon WROR-98.5 (no relation to the Boston-area station now using those call letters), at the time an automated oldies stations, would swap dial positions. Had this rumored swap happened, WRKO’s Top-40 format (and announcers) would have been on FM and the WROR oldies format would have been moved to AM (but supposedly with live DJ’s added).

    Had this happened, the history of Boston radio over the past 39 years might have been very different. Instead of this post, I might have been writing about WRKO celebrating it’s 50th anniversary as a Top-40 format with 39 of those years being on the FM dial.

    But competition from FM badly hurt WRKO by the early 1980’s, and in September of 1981, the station dropped music and went to talk….ironically, the same format the station had abandoned fourteen and a half years earlier! In fact, WRKO has been a talk station for more than twice as long (35 and a half years and counting) than it was as a Top-40 station (fourteen and a half years).

    Below is a link to various articles and photos concerning WRKO’s switch to Top-40 (this is a PDF file):

    http://backbonehub.com/WRKO-TheLaunch-gnc.pdf

    #173318
    Profile photo of nowradioguy
    nowradioguy
    Participant

    This past Monday (March 13th, 1967) marked the 50th anniversary of what I consider to be one of the two biggest format changes in Boston radio history (the other being the old WBCN-104.1 dropping classical for “progressive” rock in 1968, although ‘BCN at first only played rock in late evenings and overnights, not going fulltime rock until May of 1968). On that date, what was talk-formatted WNAC-680 changed call letters to WRKO, and it’s format to Top-40. With a format patterned after then-sister stations KHJ-930 (Los Angeles) and KFRC-610 (San Francisco), both of which had shot up to the number-one ranking in their respective markets’ ratings, ‘RKO quickly dominated the Top-40 scene in Boston, eventually forcing the city’s two other Top-40 stations, WBZ-1030 and WMEX-1510, out of the format (‘BZ gave up within a couple of years, ‘MEX managed to hang in there with a Top-40 format until 1975). Two of the initial DJ’s were familiar to Boston listeners: Joel Cash (who had been at the old WCOP-1150) and Arnie “Woo-Woo” Ginsberg (who had been lured over from WMEX). Ginsberg was forced off the air when WMEX tried to enforce a non-compete clause, but Cash would remain with ‘RKO (usually as a mid-day personality) well into the 1970’s. The most famous WRKO announcer, Dale Dorman, arrived in 1968 (replacing original morning man Al Gates) and stayed for a decade, becoming one of Boston’s most recognizable radio voices (he also for much of this time did some booth announcing at WLVI-56, usually during the station’s children’s programs). But not all good things last forever. In 1971, the old WKOX-FM-105.7 became WVBF with a somewhat similar Top-40 format, and by 1978, it (and FM in general) was “nipping” at RKO’s heels, and later that year, would pass ‘RKO in both total listeners and listeners in the target demographic of both stations. Indeed in 1978, there were rumors that WRKO and then-sister-statuon WROR-98.5 (no relation to the Boston-area station now using those call letters), at the time an automated oldies stations, would swap dial positions. Had this rumored swap happened, WRKO’s Top-40 format (and announcers) would have been on FM and the WROR oldies format would have been moved to AM (but supposedly with live DJ’s added). Had this happened, the history of Boston radio over the past 39 years might have been very different. Instead of this post, I might have been writing about WRKO celebrating it’s 50th anniversary as a Top-40 format with 39 of those years being on the FM dial. But competition from FM badly hurt WRKO by the early 1980’s, and in September of 1981, the station dropped music and went to talk….ironically, the same format the station had abandoned fourteen and a half years earlier! In fact, WRKO has been a talk station for more than twice as long (35 and a half years and counting) than it was as a Top-40 station (fourteen and a half years). Below is a link to various articles and photos concerning WRKO’s switch to Top-40 (this is a PDF file): http://backbonehub.com/WRKO-TheLaunch-gnc.pdf

    Joe,
    This was a real “boss” write-up!
    I was in my last year of high school in RI at the time and can remember it all very well. I recall the end of venerable Yankee Network, which preceded the changeover to the new call letters, which actually occurred slightly before Al Gates and “The NOW Crowd” took to the airways in March of ’67.
    And the rest, as they say, is history.
    It would be quite interesting to speculate on what might’ve happened had the two RKO-General stations at AM 680 and 98.5 FM swapped formats. It’s possible 98.5 WRKO could’ve made it with some other music format, perhaps pre-empting the whole KISS 108 thing. As for (what would’ve become) 680 WROR, I’m not sure they’d still be playing what was a rather awful canned oldies format (“Solid Gold Rock’n’Roll”); methinks they’d be doing talk!
    We can only speculate on what alterations like this in the space-time continuum can do.
    Anyone else?
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