By Jim Botticelli, Creator of Dirty Old Boston
In Dirty Old Boston, WMEX-AM was the only station for kids. WBZ and later WRKO were richer and more powerful, but this little station located right outside Kenmore Square launched in 1934 and kept on keeping on. Legend has it that Billie Holiday was broadcast remotely for audiences at home from an unspecified Boston Nightclub. The smart money is on the old Hi Hat in the South End, in the days when South End jazz clubs were commonplace.
The Beautiful and Sad Billie Holiday
In 1941, noted jazz scholar Nat Hentoff, author of "Boston Boy: Growing Up With Jazz and other Rebellious Passions", launched his first jazz show on WMEX, giving listeners nearly a decade of listening before heading to New York where he became a widely respected author, reporter, reviewer and critic of all things Jazz.
Keyboardist John Kiley, Fenway Park organist from 1954-1989, performed live on WMEX in the 40s and 50s, playing audience call-in favorites by request, live, on the spot, earning him a stellar rep and a gig any keyboardist would salivate to sequester.
In 1957, following an ownership change, WMEX changed to a rock-and-roll format, one of the first in the US to do so, and began airing the now legendary Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg, whose nightly rock-and-roll broadcasts on 1600 WBOS were already very popular. Ginsburg got a boost from Revere rocker Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon who recorded Arnie a legendary theme song.
With other personalities such as Emperor Fenway, Melvin X Melvin and Dandy Dan Donovan, the station was the go-to for Boston youth. Ginsburg frequently ran record hops in Legion halls and community centers for local high-schoolers and famously created the "Ginsburger" for sponsor Adventure Car Hop.
In 1967, the popular WRKO went Top-40, but in Dirty Old Boston, WMEX was the real deal. For example in later 1967 while 'RKO aired the Doors "Light My Fire" 45 edition, 'MEX played the album version, complete with Ray Manzarek's organ solo.
This endeared music enthusiasts to the station and until the advent of Underground FM radio and the rebirth of WBCN in 1968, WMEX was king.
In the late 60s, WMEX received a power upgrade to 50,000 watts daytime, still with 5000 watts at night. Station engineers had to constantly adjust the phasing network as tides in the Neponset River would wreak havoc on the station's directional pattern. However, the saltwater 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 in Boston's neighborhoods and working class North Shore areas like Lynn
Lynn Lynn, City of Sin, You Never Go Out The Way You Came In
The saltwater path nighttime transmissions also reached up Nova Scotia and Labrador, gaining the station a wider audience.
By the late 60s, WMEX, lacking the nighttime 50K watts, had a tough time competing with WRKO which had 24 hour juice. WBZ veteran DJ Dick Summer was able to introduce an expanded playlist featuring Progressive Rock album cuts, and eschew the still-dominant Top-40 mentality, by that time the laughing stock of the Hipoisie. WMEX abandoned all Top-40 pretenses in 1975.
Dick Summer, hosting the "Subway" Show on WBZ before arriving at WMEX