Video didn’t kill the radio star – the radio star killed radio.
When Howard Stern joined Sirius in 2006, his departure signaled the beginning of the end for WBCN, a groundbreaking station that ruled the airwaves in Boston for many, many ears.
Carter Alan, former music director and DJ for BCN, chronicles the history of this “true phenomenon of American radio” in Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN, through the eyes of the people who kept the station on the cutting edge.
Alan certainly has the insider’s advantage as the author of this book, but he had to do a lot of research to document 41 years of radio history. It’s a long read, but well written, with a healthy dose of facts mixed in with great personal anecdotes and memory-making musical moments.
BCN got its start in the late ‘50s as a classical station, but at the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, switched to a rock format with local musician Peter Wolf, Charles Laquidara, and J.J. Jackson as on air talent. (If you don’t recognize at least one of these names, don’t read this book!) The station was a huge part of the Boston scene in the 1960s, championing unknown artists, as well as causes like anti-war demonstrations, and civil and women’s rights. Boston, after all, is a college town, and the people who worked at BCN not only knew their audience – they were their audience.
This was no Top 40 station, and listeners liked that. Through the ‘70s and ‘80s, the mix of music was unique. With the hiring of DJs like Mark Parenteau, Ken Shelton, and Oedipus, BCN remained ahead of the pack. Oedipus had a great ear for new music and introduced Beantown to a new genre in the late 70s – punk. He also supported the local music scene. Later, as program director, his philosophy was to give the DJs a lot of personal freedom, from what they played to how they presented their personas. Oedipus definitely kept BCN relevant.
And then came the ‘90s and a change in the BCN lineup, featuring shock jocks like Stern, and more formatted rock. When the King of All Media left for satellite radio, so did most of the station’s audience. At this point, BCN was long past being locally owned, having been swallowed up by the corporate world. It had become the thing it never wanted to be – part of the mainstream - and in 2009, went off the analog air. You can still listen to it in its new incarnation on digital radio, as WBCN Free Form Rock. And there’s a documentary in production about the early years called The American Revolution.
In the meantime, pick up a copy of this book and relive the heyday of one of the greatest stations to air: The Realllll WBCN, Boston!