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680 AM WRKO / Boston

Harry Nelson on 68 WRKO Boston | Summer 1979

Credit, once again, our good friend Matt over at Big Apple Airchecks for this look at Boston’s legendary 68 WRKO!

No I can’t give you an exact date on this aircheck but we’ll just narrow it down to sometime around August 1979, based on one news item about Windsor Locks (CT) recovering from a tornado. I recall that event and remember seeing the planes flipped over by one of the hangars on the way to Bradley International shortly thereafter. The music kinda gives it away too. One of our listeners will have a better idea (so be sure to post where it says ‘comments’ at the bottom of this post).

This is the same Harry Nelson as heard in our KFRC San Francisco Composite Part 3, but there is a bit of a difference in that Boston’s a bit more laid-back than the city-by-the-bay, and it shows here. This day, Harry’s filling in for Dennis John Bailey (and I suspect he’s programming WRKO at this point, too).

You’ll hear one liners from Harry Nelson, News from Carol Ann Murdoch, and a bunch of tunes from the new Fleetwood Mac album (intros only), since WRKO claims to be the only station in New England with a copy before it’s released…. and Harry Nelson says he locked the studio door to make sure he doesn’t get a cease and desist order from the record company for playing it!

This aircheck is definitely very close to the end of the top 40 era at WRKO… within a year (just a couple of months, actually) it would drop the hits and go soft AC in a downward spiral that would inevitably lead to TalkRadio 68 and a new era of talk legends like Jerry Williams and Gene Burns in the mid-80s… and the not-so-legendary Howie Carr today. But for now lets go back to a fun time – 1979 with Harry Nelson on 68 RKO!

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12 Comments


  1. This aircheck appears to be from Thursday, October 4th, 1979. The Windsor Locks tornado struck the previous day.
    I know because I was a student at UConn at the time, and was in the studio of campus station WHUS when the EBS signal went on–for real–and all hell broke loose.

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  2. WRKO today should go back to playing CHR/pop

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  3. Julius, do your research. Top 40 music, or music formats of any kind do not and can not make it on AM. WRKO is no exception. The landscape has changed forever, and among the chief reasons is that AM sounds so bad, between the high noise level, computers and other things, and a smaller bandwidth coupled with receivers that sound truly awful… nobody wants to listen and barely tolerate it enough to listen to talk radio.

    I used to advocate bringing back the old formats up till about 3 or 4 years ago when the writing was on the wall… the failure of the “Real Oldies” formats in Cincinnati and Buffalo cemented it for me.

    It can’t be done, Julius. You can’t make lightning strike twice in the same spot. These days, even the CHR heyday of 80s FM is but a dim light. The best “radio” will be found in some other medium now, not because programmers don’t like personality Top 40, but because economics dictate that FM stations turn a profit at all costs each quarter for their stockholders. That means that either ad revenue must rise, the bottom line must fall or a combination of both must occur. In this environment, expensive programming, creativity and experiementation are serious no-nos, and its inevitable that any fully staffed station will see personel cuts in the near future. Want to hear great radio? Go find an internet station, or wade through our collection of old recordings. Sorry, its the best you’re going to get.

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  4. While it’s true music just doesn’t make it on AM, it’s too bad RKOGeneral didn’t do more to use it’s FM station in the late 70s. We may be rockin to WRKO today!

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  5. Amen to that! Strangely enough, Wayne, this very subject has been hashed out about a similar station in another place – Los Angeles. RKO/General as you know also owned KHJ and KRTH(FM). Had the FM side kept the KHJ-FM calls and gone Top 40, like Boston’s 98.5, we could be looking at a totally different radio landscape today.

    Unfortunately, in this case, RKO, like so many other radio owners up through the late 70s, had no idea what to do with their FMs, and actually tried to PROTECT the AM stations by not moving those formats to FM until it was already too late and the audience had already evaporated. And by then, they figured they’d evolve their FM properties in a different direction.

    This was not always the case. There were some stations that moved or simulcasted the AM formats for a time, such as in Minneapolis or as in Chicago, where ABC blew up an AOR FM (WRCK) and flipped 94.7 to WLS-FM with a morning simulcast.

    In any case, we’ll really never know if a WRKO-FM 98.5 CHR station woulda taken off… but I’d bet that if RKO/General had beaten Ritchie Balsbaugh to the punch and gone Top 40 in 1978, 98.5 would likely have survived relatively unscathed, as ‘Kiss 108′ might never have survived after the Disco era, the same way as Disco 93 WBOS didn’t. Kiss’ Disco format was number one for one year… and by 1980 it, like most of the Disco music, was dead as a doornail & that’s why Kiss 108 morphed into CHR. Sunny Joe White was brilliant in Kiss’ transformation, but I digress…

    An interesting set of ‘what ifs’ indeed.

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  6. Wow, cease and desist from Warner Brothers on the album Tusk. Warner Brothers now Warner Music Group hasn’t changed much, now taking down all songs on YouTube. Why do not want the free publicity?

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  7. What a great aircheck! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Harry a few times in the past. He’s working in records now, but he’s still a big radio geek at heart. My favorite parts are the occasions where you hear him screw up (i.e. the pearl vision billboard, not turning the news anchor mic on, etc.) It’s not because I enjoy listening to the misery of our fellow broadcasters, rather that I admire his effortless (and entertaining) recovery. Certainly, all of us can learn from this. Especially in today’s world of of voicetracking where all we have to do is “cut it again.” Of course, despite being the PD, Harry WAS still filling in for the afternoon guy so we have to cut him some slack for that, right? Also, I get a kick out of the spot that opens as “the 80’s are coming America!”

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  8. Always loved listening to Harry! Remember driving in the late 70’s in my 72 Gran Torino listening to Harry. They don’t even come close to his energy these days! I listen to these clips regularly. They bring back lots of memories. THANKS Harry!!!!

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  9. It’s interesting how at this point RKO stations shared many of the same formatics and benchmarks, yet by 1979 many were evolving on their own without the somewhat more rigid way the stations were kept to a similar sound in the 60’s and early to mid 70’s. In this aircheck the news formatics are very close to what I was hearing on KFRC, but at that time 610 was much more up with much more rock. It’s interesting and cool to note that they were using the original Drake jingles at the top of hour and TM YOU jingles within the rest of the hour. I have for years lamented the fact that RKO mishandled their FM’s and I would love to be listening to KHJ-FM, WRKO-FM or KFRC-FM which may have been more than an oldies station in the late 80’s & 90’s had they evolved that way. I loved the RKO sound and sure would have loved to have worked for one of those great stations in their prime.

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  10. Marvelous Mark Mckay and Harry Nelson flipped positions in the Summer of 1979′, Mark was programming WROR and Harry was the KFRC APD/weekends Mark’s first air shift back at KFRC was on July 4 and Harry Returned to Boston. Harry would later join his long time friend Gerry Cagle back at KFRC in early 1981. This softer Harry Sound was how he sounded on his first round in San Francisco at KFRC.

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  11. This was indeed Oct. 5, 1979, based on this article from Billboard:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=zyQEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PT3&ots=Y3I8qG_ypr&dq=%22fleetwood%20mac%22%20tusk%20wrko&pg=PT3#v=onepage&q=%22fleetwood%20mac%22%20tusk%20wrko&f=true

    A bunch of the RKO General stations (including WRKO’s then-FM sister, WROR) were playing “Tusk” and they all received the same C-and-D. What a great aircheck!

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  12. I was honored and delightfully pleased to be HIRED by Harry Nelson to move from Spokane to Boston during this exact time!! Talk about a turbo-charged leap in your career…

    Dumb luck on my part. I’d actually sent an aircheck to my former boss (Rob Harder aka “Robin Bailie” on KFRC) with hopes he’d pass it along to Dr. Don Rose for a critique.

    Scott: Hey Rob! Did you ever get a chance to run my tape past Dr. Don?
    Rob: Well Dr. Don and I are on opposite ends of the clock and I don’t really see him that often…but Harry Nelson heard it and wants to hire you to work for him when he returns to Boston to program WRKO.
    Scott: Funny bit Rob. What’s the real story?
    Rob: No, really! He heard me playing it in the production room and said he wants to hire you.
    Scott: Bullshit!
    Rob: No, really! I’m not shitting you man…

    A few days later my room mate tells me a guy named Harry is on the phone and wants to talk.

    How about that?!!! Next thing you know RKO General is moving me, my car, a motorcycle and refrigerator across the continent to an experience I treasure to this day. The TALENT I learned from! Dennis Jon Bailie, Charlie Van Dyke, Mike Adams, Tom Murphy…and of course…Harry “You’re Crackin’ Me Bud” Nelson.

    Thank you WRKO!!

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