Radio station WTKK-FM’s switch from all-talk programming to an all-music format this week comes amid lackluster ratings and a failure to carve out a niche in the crowded Boston market, media analysts say.
The final talk show will air from 7 to 10 a.m. on Wednesday with the broadcast of “Jim & Margery” hosted by Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, according to a station source who requested anonymity because owner Greater Media Inc. has not made an official announcement.
A Greater Media spokeswoman declined to comment.
A pending change at the 96.9 FM station has been reported by several media outlets, including the Globe, as various hosts have been let go. Some have found new employment or will continue in other jobs. Doug Meehan, who had a midday show on WTKK, already has taken a TV job in Phoenix. Braude remains the host of a weeknight news and analysis program on NECN; Eagan is still a columnist at The Boston Herald, as is Michael Graham, who hosted an afternoon program.
It is unclear what kind of music WTKK will play.
“You have to have what we call a ‘stationality,’ and WTKK never really established what it wanted to be,” said Scott Fybush, editor of the trade journal NorthEast Radio Watch.
The move by WTKK, which launched in 1999, leaves rival WRKO-FM as the only station in the market devoted to nonsports, call-in talk radio. It also comes at a time when public radio stations WBUR-FM and WGBH-FM are making moves to strengthen their positions in the nonmusic format. Over the summer, WGBH cut its jazz shows to bolster its news and talk programs, and bought Public Radio International, a syndicator of popular shows such as “This American Life.” In November, WBUR announced the purchase of the 92.7 FM signal in Tisbury, which it will transform from a rock station to a syndicator of its news and talk programming on Cape Cod and the Islands.
WTKK occupied an ill-defined position among the Boston market’s nonmusic radio stations, according to Fybush and Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University and author of the blog Media Nation. It did not fully embrace conservative talk radio, like WRKO, nor did it blend news and talk like WBZ-AM or WBUR and WGBH.
“A station has to have an identity,” said Kennedy. “At ’TKK, you had a sort-of liberal show in the morning, basically nonideological stuff in the middle of the day, and then a hard-core conservative in Graham. When you tune in, you should know what you’re getting.”
“My sense is that the market for nonsports talk radio in Boston is so small that there is no way for two stations to succeed, and it’s hard for even one,” Kennedy added. “With ’TKK out of the way, maybe ’RKO can make a go of it.”
Officials at WRKO could not be reached for comment.
WTKK and WRKO have had similarly low ratings in recent months. In December, WTKK posted a 2.3 share in the Arbitron ratings book; WRKO’s share was 2.4. The leading sports talk station, 98.5 The Sports Hub, posted a 4.4 share.
The format change by WTKK is the second major shakeup on the Boston radio scene in less than two weeks. On Dec. 20, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment launched an electronic dance music radio station on 101.7 FM, the former signal of alternative rock station WFNX.
(Boston.com, the free website owned by The Boston Globe, hired former WFNX personalities to launch in August RadioBDC, a live streaming radio station playing alternative music.)
Phil Redo, who managed WTKK and four other Greater Media stations in Boston from 2006 to 2009, said he is disappointed by the format change.
“I’m a believer that the more local, live news and talk programming you can have in a market, the better,” said Redo, now the managing director of WGBH. “But it’s possible that the station lost its way in recent years, in terms of connecting to the local market.”