WEEI

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WEEI
WEEI850.png
City of license Boston, Massachusetts
Broadcast area Greater Boston
Branding ESPN on WEEI
Frequency 850 kHz
First air date June 20, 1929 (1929-06-20) (license, as WHDH)[1]
Format Sports radio
Power 50,000 watts
Class B
Facility ID 1912
Transmitter coordinates 42°16′41.4″N 71°16′0.2″W / 42.278167°N 71.266722°W / 42.278167; -71.266722 (NAD83)
Callsign meaning We're Edison Electric Illuminating
Former callsigns WHDH (1929–1994)
Former frequencies 830 kHz (1929–1941)
Affiliations ESPN Radio
Owner Entercom
(operated via LMA by the Walt Disney Company)
(Entercom License, LLC)
Sister stations through Entercom: WAAF, WEEI-FM, WKAF, WRKO
through Disney: WMKI
Website WEEI website

WEEI is a sports radio station in Boston, Massachusetts, that broadcasts on 850 kHz from a transmitter in Needham, Massachusetts, and is owned by Entercom Communications and operated by The Walt Disney Company, ESPN Radio's majority owner, under a local marketing agreement. Studios are located in Brighton, Massachusetts. The station currently broadcasts programming from ESPN Radio; until October 4, 2012, the station aired a highly rated locally produced sports talk format, which is now heard on WEEI-FM (93.7 FM).[2]

History[edit]

WEEI's seven decades at 590 kHz[edit]

WEEI traces its roots to its original owner, Edison Electric Illuminating (hence the call letters). Edison placed the station on the air September 29, 1924.[1][3] The station broadcast on various frequencies over the next several years, settling on 590 kHz in 1927.[1] In 1926, WEEI became a charter member of the NBC Red Network[1] and remained an NBC Red affiliate until 1936, when the station was leased by CBS and became an affiliate of that network.[4] CBS bought WEEI outright from Boston Edison on August 31, 1942.[5] An FM sister station, WEEI-FM (103.3 FM, now WODS), went on the air in 1948.[6] Until 1960, WEEI, through CBS Radio, was the last Boston radio station to devote a large amount of its program schedule to "traditional" network radio programming of daytime soap operas, comedy shows, variety shows, and similar fare.

For the remainder of the 1960s, WEEI was New England's first talk radio station[6] and home of such hosts as Howard Nelson, Jim Westover and of Paul Benzaquin, one of the most popular radio talk show hosts in Boston history. In the 1960s, the daily WEEIdea feature presented cleaning and cooking tips from housewives.

Actor Pat O'Brien was a guest on the WEEI program "Hollywood Snapshots" in 1942.

By May 1972, WEEI had six full days of call-in talk programming. On weekdays, morning drive time from 6 am to 10 am was hosted by newsman Len Lawrence (Leonard Libman), followed by Ellen Kimball from 10 am to 2 pm. Kimball was hired from WIOD in Miami, where she had replaced broadcaster Larry King after he was arrested on December 20, 1971. Ellen is believed to be one of the first women to host a daily, four-hour, call-in talk show, six days a week.[citation needed] Originally called Boston Forum with Ellen Kimball, the name was eventually changed to The Ellen Kimball Show. Later, newsman Ben Farnsworth took over the Saturday call-in segment from 10 am to 2 pm. Paul Benzaquin handled 2 pm to 6 pm weekdays.

Although its talk radio format was popular, the station went all-news in 1974, following the lead of several other CBS-owned stations.[6] At first, WEEI was not 24/7 all-news; the station's late-night schedule featured the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, an attempt to revive radio drama, as well as a local overnight talk show with Bruce Lee (no relation to the martial-arts actor), a holdover from the previous format. But by the end of the 1970s, WEEI was all-news around the clock.

On December 27, 1977, while engaged in traffic reporting, a Hughes 269B helicopter operated by WEEI lost power and crashed into an apartment building in Quincy while attempting an emergency landing, killing pilot Richard Banks and reporter Chip Whitmore. A fire developed in the building following the crash.[7]

WEEI was put up for sale in April 1983, after CBS reached a deal to acquire KRLD in Dallas–Fort Worth from Metromedia;[8] that September, a deal was reached to sell the station to Helen Broadcasting; the company was owned by the Valerio family, who also owned Papa Gino's.[9] Although Metromedia canceled the sale of KRLD after it was granted permission to own both the radio station and KNBN-TV in Dallas–Fort Worth, the sale of WEEI still went forward.[10] Helen Broadcasting continued the all-news format.[6]

The station was acquired by Boston Celtics Communications (a group that shared ownership with the Boston Celtics basketball team) on May 10, 1990; the Celtics also simultaneously purchased WFXT (channel 25) from Fox Television Stations.[11][12] The Celtics initially pledged to continue the all-news format, hiring a new morning anchor[13] and shifting the station to a 30-minute clock (it previously followed a one-hour clock);[14] however, the CBS Radio Network's decision to shift its Boston affiliation to WRKO effective September 3, 1990 (ending a 54-year link with WEEI) for reasons that included WRKO having a stronger news commitment,[15] which compelled WEEI to join the ABC Direction Network,[16] led to speculation that the station was shifting to an all-sports format.[13] Though this was played down by station officials,[13] WEEI, which had already carried Celtics broadcasts since 1987,[17] expanded its sports programming after the sale; WEEI became the flagship station of the Boston Bruins (replacing WPLM-FM) in 1990[18] (however, Celtics broadcasts were given priority, resulting in some Bruins broadcasts moving to WVBF or WMEX[19]), and a nightly sports talk show with Craig Mustard was launched on August 20, 1990.[20] WEEI also carried Sports Byline USA and CBS Radio Sports broadcasts not cleared by WRKO.[11] The all-news format continued in other dayparts until September 3, 1991, when WEEI became an all-sports station.[11][21][22]

Upon the change to all-sports, WEEI featured the Andy Moes show and Glenn (Ordway) and Janet (Prensky), a short-lived experiment in bringing a "Bickersons"-type format to sports radio. Also part of the roster was Boston sports talk pioneer Eddie Andelman.[23] WEEI also began to carry Boston College Eagles football in 1992, replacing WBZ.[24] However, the change was followed by a dramatic drop in its ratings;[25] additionally, the station struggled financially, at one point losing $80,000 a week, leading to rumors of a sale of WEEI.[19] Still, WEEI improved its morning ratings after it became one of the earliest affiliates of Imus in the Morning from WFAN in New York City on July 12, 1993.[26][27]

On March 16, 1994, the Boston Celtics reached a deal to sell WEEI to Back Bay Broadcasting;[28] shortly afterward, the rights to Celtics broadcasts passed to American Radio Systems (ARS), owner of WRKO and WHDH, effective with the 1994–95 season, while the Bruins signed a deal with WBZ to carry its broadcasts starting in 1995.[26] Sister station WFXT was sold back to Fox Television Stations soon afterward.

WHDH at 850 kHz[edit]

The original occupant of 850 kHz (and until 1941, 830 kilohertz), WHDH, had a long history.

1929–1946: Early years[edit]

WHDH was founded June 20, 1929 in Gloucester, Massachusetts by Ralph Matheson.[1] It was a daytime-only station broadcasting at 830 kilocycles (leaving the air at local sunset in Denver, about two hours after sunset in Boston, to protect the signal of KOA in the Colorado capital city). WHDH was Matheson's second station; he had started WEPS on November 26, 1926.[1] Much of WEPS' programming consisted of broadcasts to, for, or about fisherman, given Gloucester's status as a major port for the fishing industry. The WHDH license was issued in December 1928, a month after WEPS was forced to share time with WKBE in Webster on 1200 kilocycles;[1] WEPS was sold to Alfred Kleindienst, owner of its share-time partner (which became WORC in Auburn, near Worcester, a year earlier), in February 1930, with WEPS being moved to Auburn and consolidated with WORC on May 5.[4] Matheson kept WHDH, which moved its studios to Boston on November 6, 1930, though some programming had originated from Boston for some time beforehand, and the transmitter remained in Gloucester until a 1932 move to Saugus.[4] With the move, WHDH broadened its programming, but still included some reports for fishermen. In subsequent decades, WHDH would claim WEPS' history as its own.[29]

The 1941 North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement moved WHDH to 850 kilocycles, and allowed the station to broadcast on a full-time basis. WHDH was able to increase power to 5,000 watts and go full-time, but not without protests from KOA, one of the dominant class A clear channel stations on 850 AM. For two years, from 1943 until 1945, WHDH was the local affiliate of the Blue Network, the former "NBC Blue", replacing WBZ as Blue affiliate; WHDH ceded the affiliation to WCOP after the Blue Network also chose to affiliate with Lawrence's WLAW (the facilities of which were subsequently sold to WNAC).[5]

After 1946: Home of Bob and Ray, then Jess Cain[edit]

In 1946, shortly after World War II, the Boston Herald-Traveler newspaper purchased WHDH, by this time again an independent station.[29] In 1948, the station moved its transmitter site from Saugus to Needham, west of Boston, where the station would be able to increase power to 50,000 watts with a directional signal aimed east to protect KOA and other stations on 850. The station also expanded into FM broadcasting on March 31, 1948 with the sign-on of WHDH-FM (94.5 FM, now WJMN).[29]

While not first in Boston to adopt a popular music and disc jockey format with hourly newscasts (WORL was the first), a combination of a powerful signal, top-notch personalities like Ray Dorey, Fred B. Cole,[30] Bob Clayton, Norm Nathan, news anchor John Day, and a mid-morning women's show hosted by Christine Evans (also billing herself as Chris); along with live coverage of Boston Red Sox baseball, Boston Bruins hockey, and Boston Celtics basketball, made WHDH one of the most popular stations in the region in the post-World War II era. In the late 1950s, Jess Cain joined the station, first co-hosting the morning show with Dorey, then as solo host when Dorey moved over to television. Cain would remain at WHDH for 34 years. By the early 1960s, Hank Forbes and Alan Dary had joined Cain, Clayton, and Nathan on the WHDH staff.

In the 1950s and 1960s, WHDH, along with WBZ, had the strongest lineup of personality disc jockeys in Boston radio history. While the two stations for the most part programmed different kinds of music, both had very talented air personalities who were "household names" in the Boston area.

Perhaps the station's best-known on-air personalities outside of Boston were the legendary comedy team of Bob and Ray, who did a comedy-and-records show at WHDH before they departed for national fame in New York City. The station employed a popular MOR (what today would be called "adult standards") music format, which would also include soft rock songs by the end of the 1960s. The station also had specialty shows playing jazz and big band music.

"The Voice of Sports"[edit]

While WHDH was never "all sports," it was easily Boston's top sports station during the 1950s through the end of the 1960s. It called itself "The Voice of Sports".

For 30 consecutive years (1946–75), WHDH was the flagship station of the Boston Red Sox, featuring play-by-play announcers such as Jim Britt, Ford C. Frick Award-winning Curt Gowdy, Ken Coleman and Ned Martin. From 1946 through 1949, it also broadcast the Boston Braves, the city's National League baseball club (the Red Sox and Braves then only broadcast home games, thus the teams shared the same announcers and did not have schedule conflicts). After the Braves left WHDH for WNAC (now WRKO) in 1950, WHDH began broadcasting all Red Sox games, home and away.

The station also aired one of the first sports-oriented talk programs, although without telephone calls. "The Voice of Sports" was a Saturday night feature for years, usually hosted by Don Gillis and featuring sports reporters from the Herald-Traveler. It was a panel discussion program featuring lively debate about sports for an hour and represented the sum total of sports talk on Boston radio in that era. The title was also used for a sports talk program when telephone sports talk began to take hold in the early 70s. It was an afternoon telephone sports talk hosted by the legendary Leo Egan which ended after the station was sold to John Blair Broadcasting.

During the winter months, WHDH and WHDH-FM were the flagship stations of the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association and the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League, employing such legendary announcers as Johnny Most, Fred Cusick and Bob Wilson. For a single season, Jim Laing was the announcer for Bruins games and brought unprecedented candor to the job. He was fired for being too frank about a team that finished sixth in a six team league. In the mid- and late 1960s, when both the Bruins and Celtics played, one of the teams (usually the one playing at home) was heard on AM; while the other (usually the team playing on the road) was heard on FM. WHDH also was the radio home of Harvard University football in the autumn, including 1968, the year of Harvard's famous 29-29 "win" against arch-rival Yale, considered one of the greatest college-football games ever played.

In addition, the original WHDH-TV (channel 5), which took to the air November 26, 1957,[29] was the flagship station of the Red Sox television network from 1958 through 1971.

Impact from loss of television license[edit]

WHDH began to lose its valuable properties in 1969, when the Bruins and Celtics were wooed away by WBZ. Soon afterward, the Boston Herald-Traveler Corporation's license to operate channel 5 was revoked by the Federal Communications Commission, and was given to one of the groups of businessmen that challenged its license (Boston Broadcasters); on March 19, 1972, channel 5 became WCVB-TV (Metromedia bought that station in 1982 and Fox Television Stations bought Metromedia in 1986, of at which time WCVB was spun-off to the Hearst Corporation). Stung by the loss of its highly profitable television station, the Herald-Traveler was put on the market, and acquired by the Hearst Corporation in June 1972; the Boston Herald-Traveler Corporation, left with just the radio stations, then changed its name to WHDH Corporation.[31] Less than two years later, WHDH and its FM sister station (by this time called WCOZ) were sold to Blair Radio, a national radio station advertising representative; the deal marked Blair's entry into station ownership.[32] WHDH then lost the Red Sox after the 1975 regular season; it did not carry their games again until 1983–85. The station's last major sports property was the New England Patriots during the late 1980s.

Blair modernized the WHDH format, bringing it from the adult standards oriented MOR sound to a more contemporary approach. Veteran disk jockeys were replaced by personalities with a top 40 background, such as former WRKO personality Tom Kennedy, Bob Raleigh from WPGC Washington (owned by Richmond Bros., owners of Boston's WMEX), Sean Casey who was formerly with WOR-FM in New York and Bill Silver, the well known voice of Per Inquiry advertisements who put the phrase "but wait there's more" into the national lexicon. The music was carefully researched and became more contemporary to appeal to an adult demographic but was never a rock and roll style presentation.

By the early 1970s, WHDH evolved into more of an adult contemporary format; for all intents and purposes, it played top 40 without any hard rock and with more non-current product. By the early 1980s, WHDH began to focus even less on music and more on personality, while playing more music and having less talk than rival WBZ. Air talent then consisted of people such as Dave Supple, Tom Kennedy (the DJ, not the game-show host), Jim Sands (who did a popular Saturday-night oldies show), and Tom Doyle (who by the early 1980s was Cain's co-host).

By the mid-1980s, WHDH was moving toward more of a talk format and in 1987 dropped music abruptly; although the station had been playing more music than WBZ, that station would gradually phase out music over the next few more years. During its talk radio days, programs hosted by Larry Glick (who moved from WBZ in 1987), Avi Nelson, David Brudnoy (who would later go to WRKO, and finally, to WBZ), among others, were featured. During this time, Blair, following a takeover by Reliance Capital Group, chose to sell its English-language broadcast stations to focus on the Spanish-language Telemundo television network;[33] in March 1987, it reached a deal to sell its entire radio group to Sconnix Broadcasting.[34] The deal separated WHDH from its longtime FM sister station (which had become WZOU), as Sconnix chose to spin off WZOU and retain its existing FM station in the Boston market, WBOS. In 1988, WHDH became an affiliate of the NBC Radio Network.

David Mugar era[edit]

On August 7, 1989, WHDH was sold to local businessman David G. Mugar, whose New England Television Corporation (NETV) owned CBS affiliate WNEV-TV (channel 7). (Sconnix sold WBOS a year earlier.) On March 12, 1990, WNEV's call letters became WHDH-TV to correspond with WHDH radio. Mugar was hoping to bring back a main competitor to WBZ radio and television, with a renewed emphasis on a news and straight talk format with some political programming. Some sports programs remained, but news and talk were main priorities. Among the personalities to arrive in the early 1990s were mostly talents from within NETV, including television newscaster Ted O'Brien. WHDH also became the Boston affiliate for The Rush Limbaugh Show.[29] The station also moved into channel 7's studios at Bulfinch Place (near Government Center) in downtown Boston.[29] However, by 1992, NETV was already in trouble due to increasing debt incurred by the channel 7 acquisition as well as declining advertising revenues, leading to speculation of a sale of WHDH radio;[35] on December 1, the station was sold to Atlantic Radio, putting it under the same ownership as rival talk station WRKO.[36] (Mugar would sell WHDH-TV to Sunbeam Television in 1993.)

Atlantic Radio made an attempt to distinguish WHDH and WRKO in 1993 by relaunching WHDH as an "information station," with the feature-oriented Boston This Morning premiering in the morning drive slot on March 8;[37] nine months later, on December 16, it was replaced with News All Morning, a news block competing against WBZ.[38] Conversely, the station began to air a talk show hosted by Boston Herald columnist and one-time WRKO midday host Howie Carr on October 4, 1993, airing in afternoon drive against WRKO's Jerry Williams.[39][40] During this time, Atlantic transferred hourly CBS Radio Network newscasts from WRKO to WHDH;[37] additionally, Atlantic merged with two other radio groups, Stoner Broadcasting Systems and Multi Market Communications, on November 1 to form American Radio Systems.[41][42]

American Radio Systems announced on August 15, 1994 that it would purchase the programming and call letters of WEEI from Back Bay Broadcasting effective August 29; as a result, WHDH would vacate the Boston airwaves entirely, with WEEI taking its place at 850 AM.[43] ARS concurrently moved the Rush Limbaugh and Howie Carr shows to WRKO.[43] WHDH's final broadcast, on August 28, 1994, concluded at midnight with "Taps" and the sound of a flushing toilet; these were played by a board operator who was laid off in the transition, and subsequently led to a formal apology from ARS.[29][44] The demise of WHDH marked the end of a heritage radio station in Boston, but had its void filled by the eventual success of WEEI on 850 AM.

Sportsradio 850 WEEI[edit]

Logo of the radio station under the Sportsradio branding

Following Back Bay Broadcasting's sale the call letters and all-sports programming of WEEI to ARS and the move to the 850 kHz frequency that was previously home to WHDH, WEEI's former home on AM 590 briefly simulcast with AM 850 before relaunching as business news station WBNW; it later became WEZE. With the move, WEEI retained Boston Celtics broadcasts, and also added BC basketball; it also ceded the final year of its Bruins contract to the new WBNW.[43] It also inherited WHDH's CBS Radio Network affiliation until early 1995, when it moved to WBZ. The move to the 850 frequency allowed WEEI to broadcast at 50,000 watts, as opposed to 5,000 watts on 590.[45] ARS also moved Red Sox broadcasts to WEEI from WRKO starting in 1995, marking their return to the 850 kHz frequency.[46]

Concurrent with the move to 850, WEEI ceased an affiliation with ESPN Radio;[47] however, it returned to the network on September 11, 1995 to carry The Fabulous Sports Babe in a schedule shuffle that also saw the merger of the Dale Arnold and Eddie Andelman shows into The A-Team and the launch of The Big Show.[48] WEEI also added "Patriots Monday," featuring weekly appearances from New England Patriots players and coaches, in 1995; it moved to rival WNRB/WWZN in 1999,[49] but returned to WEEI in 2002,[50] and was joined by the similar "Patriots Friday" (formerly aired on WAMG) in 2008. In March 1995, the station ceased carrying Sports Byline USA and One-on-One Sports in the overnight hours in favor of the Sports Fan Radio Network. WEEI dropped The Fabulous Sports Babe after the October 3, 1997 broadcast, leading to the launch of Dennis and Callahan on October 6.[51] Dennis and Callahan became the station's morning show on September 7, 1999,[52] after the station dropped Imus in the Morning in August due to declining ratings.[53]

In 1998, American Radio Systems was acquired by CBS Radio. As a result of the merger, the combined company was forced to sell several of its Boston stations. In late 1998, Entercom announced plans to acquire WEEI, along with WAAF, WRKO, WWTM (now WVEI) and WEGQ (now WEEI-FM), from CBS for $140 million.[54]

In April 2005, WEEI began streaming its broadcasts live online by way of a free membership at its official website; a previous stream was offered from 1997 until 2002. The exception is for Red Sox and Celtics games, as these are streamed only through the team and league websites as part of subscription packages.[55] Around the same time, the station again lost ESPN Radio programming when the affiliation was acquired by WAMG and WLLH;[56] the station then expanded an affiliation with Fox Sports Radio that began in 2002.

WEEI was awarded its first Marconi Award in September 2006 for sports station of the year. WEEI was also named large market station of the year.

The station had an ongoing feud with The Boston Globe. In 1999, the Globe's executive sports editor, Don Skwar, banned the newspaper's sports writers from appearing on the station's afternoon The Big Show after columnist Ron Borges used a racial slur while on the air in reference to New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu. Two weeks later, the ban was extended to WEEI's Dennis and Callahan morning show. WEEI retaliated by banning Globe staffers from all its shows. Nevertheless, WEEI host Michael Holley is a former Globe columnist.[57] The ban came to an end on August 4, 2009, when Bob Ryan appeared on The Big Show, with host Glenn Ordway stating that "we have all come to our senses."[58]

In September 2009, there was speculation that WEEI could move to one of Entercom's properties on the FM dial (such as the 93.7 FM facility then occupied by WMKK), with the AM 850 signal switching to ESPN Radio (which was being dropped by WAMG).[59] Entercom did announce on October 7, 2009 that starting on November 2, 2009, WEEI would once again carry the ESPN Radio affiliation (though most programming would remain local). WEEI began to carry ESPN Radio's overnight programming, including All Night with Jason Smith from 1–5 a.m. and some weekend programming.[60] In addition, WEEI began to simulcast on 93.7 FM on September 12, 2011.[61] On October 4, 2012, WEEI and WEEI-FM split the simulcast; the existing local programming and sports broadcasts remain on WEEI-FM, while AM 850 aired a redirection loop for one day before becoming a full ESPN Radio affiliate on October 5.[2]

Programming[edit]

WEEI's programming is almost entirely sourced from the national ESPN Radio schedule, this includes Mike and Mike in the Morning, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, and SVP & Russillo.[2] However, the station has indicated that it may also air some locally produced weekend long-form specialty programs that do not necessarily fit on WEEI-FM.[62] WEEI also aired Boston Celtics games that conflicted with Boston Red Sox games on WEEI-FM through the 2013–2013 season; if the conflict involved a Celtics playoff game, the Celtics aired on WEEI-FM and the Red Sox game was on WEEI.

References[edit]

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External links[edit]


Preceded by
680 WNAC
1941–1946
(split with 1440 WAAB, 1942)
Radio Home of the
Boston Red Sox
1947–1975
(as WHDH)
Succeeded by
1510 WMEX/WITS
1978–1982
Preceded by
680 WRKO
1983–1994
(split with 99.1 WPLM-FM, 1983–1989)
Radio Home of the
Boston Red Sox
1995–2012
(split with 680 WRKO from 2007-August 25, 2009)
(split with 93.7 WEEI-FM from September 12, 2011–2012)
Succeeded by
93.7 WEEI-FM
September 12, 2011–present