Radio Free Boston
The Rise and Fall of WBCN
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Northeastern University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Foreword by Steven Tyler
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Imagine a time when you could get good in a band by practicing in a base-ment or garage, when you could play in local bars or clubs, and when local radio stations were actually running themselves. Real human personalities owned the music as much as the bands that wrote it; they frequented clubs, knew personally the pulse of local talent, and knew the goings-on ...
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Just weeks after WBCN folded in August of 2009, I got a call from Stephen Hull from University Press of New England. “Would I be interested in writing a book telling legends and fables from the birthplace of Boston progressive radio? My qualifications were that I’d actually been employed as a DJ and music director at WBCN for a good chunk of its forty-one-year ...
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Johnny and Beth A., Bill Abbate, Katy Abel, Adam 12, Carrie Alan, Dan Beach, Andy Beaubien, Tony Berardini, David Bieber, Bill Bracken, John Brodey, Larry Bruce, Julie Brummer, Bo Burlingham, Cali Calandrello, Mark Cappello, CBS Radio, Nik Carter, Tony Chalmers, Lauren Chiara-monte, Lenny Collins, Mike Colucci, Tom Couch, Steve Crowley, Charles ...
The American Revolution
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Joe Rogers had a new job. It didn’t pay much, but that wasn’t the point. This was a gig to dream about, like scoring in Vegas for a cool million or winning a gleaming new ’68 Camaro SS in a raffle. Barely three weeks earlier, the Tufts student had been spinning his thoughtful arrangement of folk and blues records at WTBS-FM in Cambridge, the noncommercial ...
A Radio Commune
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Ray Riepen gathered his recruits for the new WBCN air staff, but, in a surprising move, avoided chasing after professional disc jockeys. “I didn’t want people who were in radio trying to figure out what we ought to do, because they couldn’t. They were swimming in the sea of a Top 40 world; all over-hyped and screaming. As far as [producing] something tasteful or ...
I Read the News Today
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By the beginning of 1969, the Wheels of Fire album by Cream, with its rambling, fifteen-minute rock jams and abstruse, poetic lyrics, had gone to number 1 in America; the “all-you-need-is-love” Beatles were squabbling, and Janis Joplin brought San Francisco acid blues to the top of the album chart. Martin Luther King Jr.’s path of nonviolent civil rights protest ended ...
Movin' On Up
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...“Media Freaks Act Out Battles of the Radicals” read the headline of the Boston Globe story by Parker Donham in June 1970. He was describing the wild, often naked, scenes at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, as it hosted the Alternative Media Conference First Gathering. The event was a rallying cry for more than 1,500 hippie announcers, writers, producers, ...
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Ensconced in their soaring steel and glass castle in the clouds, the scruffy inhabitants of Boston’s hippie radio station now found themselves under-dressed as they arrived at the skyscraper on Boylston Street. There was also the uncomfortable check-in at the security desk before every trip up the high-speed elevator. Flashing the ID became routine, but signing in various ...
The Battle Joined
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It’s interesting to consider that one of WBCN’s cornerstone talents, who would remain with the station for thirteen years, developed his Boston radio career by working to co-opt the very audience that “The American Revolution” had fostered since 1968. Ken Shelton would participate in a near-dismantling of Camelot, a surprise attack from across the radio dial ...
Power to the People
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As the newly remodeled WBCN, circa 1978, began to get its balance, a re-newed spirit of optimism could be felt on the fiftieth floor of the Prudential as the staff dug in its heels to take on the threat of WCOZ. “It seemed like it had a conscious turnaround in attitude,” David Bieber told the Real Paper in March ’79. “Everybody was excited. We were going places again.” The ...
"The Reallllll WBCN, Boston!"
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Michael Wiener and Gerald Carrus sat in their office on the fiftieth floor of the Prudential, looking down at the twinkling skyline of the city that had rejected them. As the two owners sat stunned in their defeat, even while publicly claiming a victory, they had to admire the fortitude of their former opponents, whom they were now inheriting, like it or not. As the ...
I (Don't) Want My MTV
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The coolest people in the know, the hippest of the hip, the taste makers, and the trendsetters watched the pitched battle between WBCN and WCOZ unfold with great interest, perhaps even laying the occasional wager on the outcome. But as the boxing match continued through 1981 and into the following year, the attention of these cognoscenti soon dissipated ...
Number 1 Rock 'N' Roll Connection
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Back in 1968, a time that already seemed two thousand light years from home, Ray Riepen’s imaginative leap of faith had birthed the successful experiment of underground, free-form radio in Boston. Joe Rogers, Peter Wolf, Al Perry, Sam Kopper, and the other departed soldiers from ’BCN’s front line could congratulate themselves for significantly marking a place ...
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WBCN’s second age of Camelot arrived and set up a decadelong residence at 1265 Boylston Street. In the station’s backyard at Fenway Park, Red Sox seasons came and went, including the heartbreaking ’86 World Series loss to the Mets (one home run ball shot over the left field wall and dented the station van parked on Lansdowne Street), but ’BCN remained a champion in ...
From Boylston Street to Wall Street
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By the mideighties, the Fenway Park–facing, rear garage-door entrance to WBCN had seen thousands of arrivals and departures, carefully timed to avoid the unsportsmanlike panic of Red Sox Nation traffic. Access from the dank garage and up the dangerously pitched stairs to the offices and stu-dios above took one past the graffiti wall, where employees and stars were ...
Nelson, Howard, and "The Love Shack"
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After years of gazing out over a lunar-like no-man’s-land walled by concrete and barbed wire, the East Berliners who crowded against the barrier erected by the Soviets in 1961 could never have imagined the magnitude of lights, sound, production, or the simple freedom that Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters enjoyed, to stage his band’s grand 1979 work, The Wall, in Potzdamer Platz on 21 July ...
Any Given Sunday, Any Given Weekday
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The WBCN press release dated 17 November 1994 announced the startling news, but the local media was already buzzing excitedly about it: WBCN and the New England Patriots had signed a three-year deal for the radio broadcast rights beginning in the 1995–1996 season, ending the football team’s previous relationship with WBZ-AM. The release stated, “Infinity’s ...
A Bad-Boy Business
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WBCN’s embrace of modern rock scored statistically from the first, but a dramatic visual confirmation of all this ratings hoopla played out in June 1995 when the station presented its first “River Rave,” at Boston’s Espla-nade on the bank of the Charles. Four fledgling bands from the ’BCN play-list — Sleeper, Letters to Cleo, General Public, and Better Than Ezra — made ...
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
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Opie and Anthony’s brand of offensive radio gumbo thrived in New York City, proving that mediocre taste amongst radio listeners wasn’t necessarily exclusive to the Boston market. Because of this success, and the previous gold that Infinity had mined by syndicating Howard Stern’s show into multiple markets, CBS pursued a similar deal for O & A’s afternoon show. ...
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Wednesday, 12 August 2009: It’s the morning after WBCN has gone silent. I push on the main air studio door at 7:00 a.m., expecting to stick my head in on a bustling morning team from the new sports talk station. But I forgot: tomorrow is the day that ’98.5, “The Sports Hub,” will occupy this studio while WBMX assumes WBCN’s former 104.1 frequency. This is a quiet day ...
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WBCN poster from 1973 designed by the master of macabre illustration Gahan Wilson. Wilson was hired by the station to do the artwork and traveled from Chicago to sketch in the studio during a shift by Old Saxophone Joe. By kind permission Wicked Yellow’s license plate. Saved by Tank moments before the legendary radio station vehicle plummeted from a crane to her death on the asphalt during ...
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Page Count: 364
Publication Year: 2013