WBQT is a commercial radio station serving the Boston area on 96.9 FM, currently airing an urban-leaning Rhythmic contemporary format, branded as "Hot 96.9". Its studios are located in Dorchester and broadcasts from a transmitter atop the Prudential Tower in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood.
The station originated in 1945 as W1XHR (later WXHR), owned by Harvey Radio Laboratories and programmed a classical music format. In 1966, WXHR was sold to a joint venture of Kaiser Broadcasting and the Boston Globe, and in 1967, became beautiful music station WJIB (whose AM successor operates out of the old Harvey Radio Labs building in Cambridge). After several further ownership changes — first to General Electric in 1972, then to NBC in 1983 (three years before the merger between NBC's parent company, RCA, and GE) and Emmis Communications in 1988 — it flipped to smooth jazz as WCDJ, "CD96.9", on October 26, 1990. After Greater Media bought the station in May 1993, the station began stunting with a simulcast of new sister station WMJX at 1 PM on May 4 of that year. Two days later, at 4 PM, WCDJ flipped to country as WBCS, "Country 96.9." The first song was "Here We Are" by Alabama. The station became WKLB-FM in August 1996 after the previous WKLB-FM was bought by Greater Media and consolidated with WBCS, with its frequency being converted to WROR-FM. Smooth jazz returned at Noon on August 22, 1997 as WSJZ, after a format swap with what had been WOAZ (now WCRB). On September 7, 1999, it flipped to Talk, completing a one-month transition to the format. Shortly after the flip, the station changed its call letters to WTKK. During its tenure as a talk station, WTKK used several monikers: "96.9 FM Talk" from its 1999 launch until 2007, "96.9 WTKK: Boston's Talk Evolution" from 2007 until 2010, "96.9 Boston Talks" from 2010 until September 2012, and "News Talk 96.9" from September 2012 until its January 2013 demise.
In April 2007, WTKK management attempted to add Boston Herald columnist and talk-show host Howie Carr to its lineup, after the station's syndicated morning show Imus in the Morning was cancelled after Don Imus' comments about the Rutgers University Women's Basketball team got him fired by CBS. But Carr's long-time radio-station employer, Entercom-owned WRKO, blocked that move by exercising a clause in Mr. Carr's contract allowing it to make a matching counter-offer. Carr held out until November 16, 2007, after which point Carr returned to WRKO. On December 3, WTKK resumed broadcasting Imus in the Morning when it was picked up by WABC, but over time, was locally limited in its broadcast time, ultimately only airing for 2 hours every weekday morning. In January 2011, WTKK dropped Imus from their lineup completely in favor of an extended edition of their late morning team of Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.
WTKK fired the controversial Jay Severin, a host since 1999, in April 2011 after he said he had slept with female interns at a company he had owned, and defended the practice. He was officially replaced in June 2011 by radio host Doug Meehan. Two months later, when rival station WXKS hired Severin for afternoon drive, WTKK shuffled its lineup to place politics-heavy Michael Graham in the 3 p.m. slot. The lineup at this point included Eagan and Braude, followed by various hosts in late mornings, then syndicated talker Michael Smerconish; an open slot, followed by "The Daily Wrap", hosted by Michael Castner and syndicated by the Wall Street Journal Radio Network, then the syndicated John Batchelor and Overnight America shows.
End of Talk and the launch of Hot 96.9
In December 2012, Greater Media registered several web domains for WTKK, pointing that the future of the news/talk format was in serious doubt due to low ratings (in its last book as a talk station, WTKK had a 1.9 share of the market in the Boston Arbitron radio market ratings). Many of the domains included the word "Beat", pointing to an urban contemporary, Rhythmic CHR or Rhythmic AC format; if this were to occur, this would have marked a return for either the Rhythmic AC format (which was last heard in 2005, when WQSX flipped to adult hits) or the urban format (which was last carried on a Boston station in 2006, when the former WILD-FM flipped to a simulcast of WAAF) in the market; in either case, this would have caused the station to compete against long-dominant WJMN. Other domains pointed to possible adult hits, oldies, all-news, sports talk, active rock, dance music, adult contemporary, classic rock, mainstream rock, alternative rock, adult album alternative, or CHR formats. Further fueling the rumors of a format flip, on December 17, 2012, morning host Doug Meehan left to pursue a television opportunity in Arizona, while afternoon host Michael Graham left when his contract was not renewed. In addition, weekend hosts were told the last weekend of 2012 that their shows would not continue in the new year.
In compliance with a press release by Greater Media on January 1, the station flipped at 10:00am on January 2 after Jim Braude and Margery Eagan's morning show, starting its new incarnation as Urban Contemporary, "Power 96.9", which began with "Diamonds" by Rihanna. However, this would only turn out to be a stunt; at 10:00am the following day, the station shifted to Dance, branded as "Nova 96.9." At Noon on January 4, the stunting shifted to adult hits, branded as "96.9 Mike FM" (using the former moniker/format of WMKK). WTKK shifted to classic rock at midnight on January 6, as "96.9 The Bone."
On January 8, at 11:00am, the station debuted its new, permanent format: Rhythmic AC, with the branding "Hot 96.9"; "Run This Town" by Jay-Z was the first song played. According to a press release from Greater Media, the station's direction will primarily be focused on current Rhythmic and Dance hits mixed in with recurrents from the 1980s and 1990s, as it targets an audience who grew up listening to WJMN in the 1990s and 2000s, but want an alternative to Adult Top 40 WBMX, whose presentation is more Pop/Rock oriented. The flip brings the format back to Boston for the first time since WQSX flipped to WMKK in 2005. In addition, like WQSX, WTKK is also using "The Rhythm of Boston" as its on air slogan (albeit briefly; the station adopted its "Today's Rhythm & All the Best Throwbacks" slogan a month later, which was modified to "Today's Hottest Music..." in July 2014, and then "#1 For Throwbacks and Today's Best Hip Hop and R&B" in June 2016). On March 20, 2013, WTKK changed its call sign to WBQT. Clear Channel soon obtained the former call sign for use on their current 106.1 FM facility in Raleigh, North Carolina. Since the flip, the station's ratings have improved, with WBQT currently ranked 11th, with a 4.0 share of the market.
In terms of staff announcements, Greater Media confirmed on January 3, 2013, that Pebbles, former long-time morning co-host on WJMN, will be WTKK's new morning show host. Also brought on from WJMN was Melissa, who became the afternoon drive time host from 2PM to 7PM. In addition, on January 4, Greater Media announced that Jackson "Cadillac Jack" McCartney has been hired as Director of Programming for all 5 stations in their Boston cluster. On February 20, it was announced that former WJMN DJ Roy Barboza was named Music Director and Mix Show Coordinator. On March 1, it was announced that Baltazar, who co-hosted WJMN's morning show with Pebbles from 1995-2001, would become the new co-host of Hot 96.9's morning show beginning on March 4, reuniting him with Pebbles. In August 2013, former WJMN personalities Deirdre Dagata and Hustle Simmons became weekend hosts at the station. On January 8, 2014, former WXKS personality Jackson Blue became WBQT's new afternoon host, with Melissa moving to middays. In April 2014, former WJMN personality Bobby Blaze briefly became a Sunday afternoon/evening host (he would be replaced by Reggie Beas). On August 18, 2014, Baltazar was released from the station, and was replaced by former New England Patriots player and WBZ-FM host Jermaine Wiggins; in addition, Melissa moved to morning drive, with Dagata replacing her in middays. On January 7, 2016, WBQT announced that Ramiro, former morning show host at WJMN from 2001 until he was let go in July 2015 (as well as the host of the Rhythmic edition of the syndicated Weekend Top 30), will host mornings with Wiggins, Pebbles and Melissa beginning January 14.
With the station having moved further to Rhythmic Top 40, and in effect on par with WJMN, Mediabase has moved the station to the Rhythmic panel in January 2015.
WBQT-HD2 programs an all-Irish music format as "96.9 Irish", due in part to Boston's Irish connections and background. The HD2 subchannel has been on-air since 2006, when it debuted as "Classical 2.0." In late 2006, when Greater Media purchased classical station WCRB, 96.9-2 flipped to their current all-Irish format.