Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Boston Radio: Iconic WMEX 1510 AM Goes Silent

WMEX 1510 AM , a Boston mainstay on the AM radio dial for more than eight decades, went off the air at 6pm on Friday(6/30).

Boston Radio Watch reports current owners, Daly XXL Communications, LLC, decided to pull the plug after indicating the the station has been sold and the new owner has not decided on the new format.  BRW notes the identity of new station owner has not been announced and no transfer of station license application has been filed with the FCC.

From its start in the mid-1930's and for decades to come WMEX had evolved into one of Boston's famed pop music stations. However, by mid 1970's a growing music competition on AM and FM dials forced its sale and a format change. In 1976, WMEX became the first all-talk format station as well as the new flagship for Boston Red Sox broadcasts for the next seven years. In 1978,  the station changed call letters to WITS ("Information, Talk and Sports") by the new ownership.   The Red Sox contract called for the station to improve its signal coverage but despite a $1 million investment into a new antenna, a crucial signal problem remained. Coupled with disadvantageous spot on the end of the dial (1510) and AM radio in general is being challenged more and more by FM, the downward turning point for 1510 was well underway.
As for current situation, after leasing out 1510 for about a year (2014-2015), a family-owned Daly XXL finally acquired WMEX from Blackstrap in June 2015 for $175,000. Over the past two years, the all-talk format featured local morning show "Renegade Radio" show with John Pica and station's general manager Bryan Berner, Boston Herald Radio, Joe Shortsleeve, Sandy Shack, Michele McPhee, Tim Constantine, syndicated Michael Savage.

Boston Radio Watch also reports, WMEX served as the temporary home for Howie Carr who was in the midst of negotiating a hard-bargained affiliation deal with WRKO 680 AM and desperately needed a Boston signal to support his new self-syndication venture. The WRKO syndication deal was finally struck in March 2015 and Carr immediately returned to AM 680

It's not clear whether 1510's discontinued signal transmission will be temporary or permanent. The Federal Communications Commission won’t let a station remain silent for longer than one year, or its license gets automatically cancelled.

WMEX 1510 AM (50 Kw, DA3)
WMEX was founded in 1934 by Bill and Al Pote and in 1957, the Pote family sold WMEX to the Richmond Brothers. Max Richmond, one of the brothers, changed the format of WMEX to a rock and roll-dominant pop music format (one of the first in the nation) and hired Arnie Ginsburg, whose nightly rock and roll broadcasts on WBOS (now WUNR) were very popular. The format lasted from 1957 until March 1975. According to a posting in Wikipedia, Max Richmond was reportedly a challenge to work for, with his alleged micro-managing and abrasive personality, yet there is no denying his uncanny ability to spot deejay talent, and to keep his station—despite a poor nighttime signal in many suburban locations—a major player and innovator for many years.

In the late 1960s, WMEX received a power upgrade to 50,000 watts daytime, still with 5,000 watts at night. Station engineers had to constantly adjust the phasing network as tides in the Neponset River would play havoc with the station's directional pattern. However, the salt-water marsh area provided the station with an excellent coastal signal. While the night signal could not be heard clearly inland at many Boston suburban locations (especially in the growing and affluent western and southwestern suburbs), the station's nighttime transmissions were heard very clearly across the salt water to the Boston city neighborhoods and the working class North Shore areas, which gave the station's programming a more gritty, earthy sound. The salt-water path nighttime transmissions kept going right up to Nova Scotia and Labrador, gaining the station an audience in those areas as well.

By the late 1960s, WMEX was facing tough competition in the Top40 format from WRKO, which featured a tight playlist, a more "suburban oriented" polish, and a 50,000 watt day and night signal which was heard clearly in all suburbs. However, under the programming of Dick Summer and later, John Garabedian, WMEX countered with an expanded playlist featuring some "progressive rock" album cuts.

The station was one of the first two major market stations along with its sister, WPGC in Washington, D.C., to pick up American Top 40 with Casey Kasem and broke "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart nationally. WMEX shot back up in the ratings and actually beat WRKO in a few demographics and time periods, but it was a temporary—and final—victory for the venerable station. Then, Max Richmond died. FM radios were becoming more common, and in cars WMEX was getting the audience who didn't have FM. WMEX decided to abandon top-40 in 1975.

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