Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Trying to Aneasthetize the Way that You Feel

It's only inches on the reel-to-reel.

Boston's WBCN radio announced today they will shift to an All-Sports format next month. (I guess because there far too many radio stations that still have a brand name and a history and far too few outlets for idiots to talk sports.)

A long time ago, WBCN was a classical music station (the call letters even stood for Boston Concert Network, dating back to a period when concerts meant cellos and violins instead of two guitars, bass, and drums).

That all changed in 1968, when they switched to a free-form rock station by playing "I Feel Free" by Cream. Boston's student population embraced the new WBCN and the staff clearly loved music more than anything. For WBCN, free-form radio was more than just a slogan -- for many years as other stations became heavily formatted by radio consultants relying on surveys and test results, WBCN let their DJs play what they wanted. By the late 1970s, the station was one of the few places outside college radio that played punk records.

For 10 or 15 years, WBCN was easily the best thing to listen to in Boston and probably one of the ten best stations in America. It was inevitable that the glory days couldn't last forever and by the time WFNX arrived (and was trumpeted as everything 'BCN used to be back when it was great), WBCN was starting a slow decline. The station backed off from alternative music, put their DJs on ever-tighter leashes, and hired programming consultants. They embraced grunge in the 90s and switched to a harder rock format in the past 10 years, mixing in "classic" songs from its history (and always including a heavy emphasis on local Boston bands).

Additionally, here are three true facts about me and WBCN:

1) Morning DJ Charles Laquidara used to call people up on their birthdays. One morning, he read a letter I'd written asking him to call my girlfriend and wish her a happy birthday. He spent five minutes making fun of the fact that I'd neglected to include her phone number. (It's just as well, the relationship was doomed.)

2) In Los Angeles, we lose great radio stations all the time. In the past 15 years, they always promise to continue as webcasters, then close their digital doors for good a few months later. WBCN plans to continue playing music on the web; here's hoping they can do better than LA's late, lamented 101.9 (World Class Rock) or Indie 103 (home of Jonesy's Jukebox). (Link for Gmail subscribers).

3) WBCN played a crucial role when I lost my virginity. This may already be too much information, so I'll leave it at that.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Sarah Rodman from the Boston Globe has a nice piece with memories of WBCN (with h/t to the Revenge of the 80s Radio blog at http://www.revengeofthe80sradio.com/):