As I listen to static after WBCN signed off for the last time tonight, I’m sad that one more part of my childhood is gone. WBCN was one of the first FM rock stations in the country. It began in 1968 and quickly grew into one of the most influential rock radio stations.
Growing up in Rhode Island, we did not have a real rock radio station, so it was either get a tape cassette deck or use my home radio to get a station out of Boston or Hartford. Living near the University of Rhode Island, I was in a decent position to bring in a rock station from one of the two cities. So I was happy when I could bring in WCOZ, WAAF and WBCN from Boston or WHCN and WCCC from Hartford.
Now only WAAF survives as WCOZ went by the wayside in the early 1980′s. WBCN is gone after 41 years of breaking great acts. Bruce Springsteen’s first radio appearance was on WBCN. U2′s first U.S. commercial airplay was on WBCN and the group regularly made appearances on the station when it stopped in Boston.
When I started listening to WBCN regularly, it had that renegade attitude. The staff wanted to stay away from corporate radio. The DJ’s chose the music. They played album cuts instead of the regular crap aired on other stations.
The attitude caught on with listeners. And other stations in the market tried to copy their formula. WCOZ and WAAF came in. WCOZ and WBCN were locked in a radio war that gave listeners great music.
WBCN was known as “The Rock of Boston”. WCOZ’s slogan was “Kiss Ass Rock ‘n Roll”. WBCN won that war when ‘COZ changed formats.
There’s a scene in the movie “FM” when listeners rally to keep the station alive and prevent it from being shut down. That is supposedly based on a rally for WBCN. If it was or even if it wasn’t, it adds to the legend of the station.
Boston acts like Aerosmith, the Dropkick Murphys and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were friends of the station and knew they could get regular airplay from WBCN.
The station was home to great jocks like Charles Laquidara who was the morning man for 25 years. Howard Stern who wanted to be on the station from his days attending Boston University eventually got his wish and took us from the 1990′s into the 2000′s. Oedipus was the long time program director who had a great knowledge of music and hosted his own show, Nocturnal Emissions. It also was a pioneer in hiring women for the on-air staff.
I even memorized the lineup. Laquidara in the morning, Ken Shelton middays, then Mark Parenteau in the afternoon followed by Tami Heide at night.
In addition, it was one of the first FM stations to purchase the rights for an NFL team, the New England Patriots and have the games aired in full Dolby stereo. Great to listen to.
However, as times changed, so did the station’s owners. It went from being independently owned to being bought by Infinity which was run by Mel Karmazin, who eventually sold his stations to CBS.
It was with CBS where the station began to slowly die. With Howard Stern’s departure for Sirius Satellite Radio, the station tried several morning options, the ill-fated David Lee Roth and Opie & Anthony, force-fed by the New York corporate offices. Both did not reach the ratings heights reached by Laquidara and Stern. And Oedipus was forced out by corporate.
When news came down last month that CBS Radio was killing WBCN to make way for an FM sports station, there was initial shock, but no real surprise as the rock format had been rumored to be dying for a few years.
But when you have a station like WBCN whose history to rock music is so vast and rich, it’s tough to put into words what this loss will mean.
CBS Radio has said that the station will live on in different forms on HD Radio, but to be honest, no one really knows what it means let alone have an HD set.
As WBCN spent its final four days not only reliving some of the best moments of its history, it was also a funeral to bury a station format that is getting less and less support not only from CBS Radio, but from Clear Channel and other huge radio monoliths. There seems to be less interest in the music and more interest in the bottom line. I speak from experience having worked at a Clear Channel in Providence.
As I listened to Bradley Jay host the final hour, I could not help to think about my days in high school and college, listening to WBCN and being amazed at what the jocks could get away with. And then on my commutes to work, being able to survive long drives thanks to Howard Stern. But now, those are just memories and a mainstay on the FM radio is gone. At 11:45 p.m., I Feel Free by Cream, one of the first songs to be when WBCN launched was aired, followed by Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond. It was a reminder what rock radio used to be and what it can’t be now.
Tonight, Oedipus said he was optimistic that WBCN would reemerge. I wish I could share his optimism. It’s sad the station is gone, but at the same time, a relief knowing that CBS wasn’t trying to needlessly keep it afloat. Farewell, WBCN. You will be missed.