Anybody who's been here long has seen my posts on the Boston radio station WBCN, and it's "Amreican Graffiti'isk" like affect it had on all of us growing up listening to it. This is a great article written by Lisa Traxler about her reflections of BCN. It also has a VH reference that I bolded...

CBS is pulling the plug on what was once the greatest radio station in the world. I have always thought my impressions of Boston's legendary WBCN would be worthwhile to anyone who loved American rock radio, and I guess the official demise of the station makes this a good time to write them down.

In the summer of 1984, I left my job doing middays on a station in Dallas TX to drive my beat-up Honda Civic to the New Music Seminar in NYC. WBCN's Program Director Oedipus was scheduled to appear on a panel there, and I intended to hijack his attention. After all, I'd wanted to work at WBCN since 1979, when I started doing college radio at KJHK in Lawrence, Kansas. When I walked into the event auditorium, the distinctively punky PD was indeed on a panel that was about to start, seated between Madonna and Afrika Bambaata, if memory serves. I climbed up to the dais and inquired, "You Oedipus?" "Yeah," he replied. I dumped a big stack of articles about WBCN on the desk in front of him and said "I gotta work for you." Madonna looked like I'd pulled out a weapon. He hired me on the spot.

I moved to Boston without knowing a soul, not even a friend of a friend, and Oedipus let me live in an empty Fenway condo that he was trying to sell, in fact directly below afternoon DJ Mark Parenteau's place. I squatted there for about two months while I got my bearings, and while I fell in love with Boston. I didn't care that I'd traded a cushy full-time daytime gig for one overnight shift a week. I didn't care if I was broke or hungry. I had a key to the station. WBCN was everything I'd hoped for, and more.

The philosophy that guided WBCN at that point was to hire ultra-creative people, pay them for many hours a week and assign them too little work to fill the time. A typical airshift was four hours long, and even full-time jocks only worked 20 hours a week on the air. But we all hung out at the station anyway, and we laughed at the same jokes, and we made our own stuff up. That's how all our most outrageous comedy bits got recorded, that's how the yearly April Fool's Parade happened, that's how Carlos the computer learned to talk back, that's how "Christmas In Kenmore Square" was created by the brilliant team of Tom Sandman and Billy West. Google that song, if you want a snapshot of Boston in the 80s.

Really funny people worked at WBCN in the '80s; it was in many ways the aural equivalent of Saturday Night Live. You might not know that the writer and executive producer of CBS' “Two and a Half Men,” Eddie Gorodetsky, used to work for WBCN. Billy West, a key figure on the Big Mattress and elsewhere on the station, was the voice of both Ren and Stimpy, plus the HoneyNut Cheerios bee, and tons of other cartoon characters. Dana Carvey once told me he listened to WBCN for inspiration during his SNL days; he could imitate each of the BCN jocks, and knew their verbal quirks.

We were a family, a bizarre, loud, well-lubricated, intense and immensely dysfunctional family. We vacationed together and lived together. Some of us slept together. We had huge spats but would defend each other aggressively if anyone talked trash about our fellow jocks. And absolutely, positively, the funniest moments happened off the air, in the halls and bathrooms and parking garage below the WBCN studios at 1265 Boylston Street. The stuff you heard on the radio was a snapshot of the insanity and hilarity of this group of highly unusual people, broadcasting madness that spilled out into public consumption, but believe me, it was much, much wilder behind the scenes. And underlying it all was the simple fact that we lived and loved the art form of music. We were serious musicologists, and we always held deep reverence for the artists and music we played.

Every week the WBCN airstaff would gather in Oedipus' office and have the weekly music meeting, where we would listen to the new music delivered by the record reps in hopes of getting airplay. We would listen, and argue, and vote, and come out after a couple of hours with decisions made about what the station would sound like for the next week. Oedipus always had an override option, as did our Music Director (Carter Alan, for years), but the process was largely democratic. And music knowledge would be richly rewarded. Oedipus always started the meeting with a massive stack of CDs, t-shirts, and promotional items up for grabs to the jock who could answer an obscure music trivia question; for example, one of my wins was for being the fastest to blurt out the name of the first Siouxie and the Banshees album ("The Scream," if you care).

Musicians knew and loved WBCN. We hung out with virtually every artist, from the Stones and Van Halen to REM and the Replacements. We often had close friendships with very famous folks. Artists knew that when they walked into BCN, they wouldn't be asked general questions about their current single, but rather engage in specific and insightful dialogue about their art...and they loved that. Rock stars hate banal questions like "So how's the tour going?" We never dealt in generalities at WBCN. And artists were comfortable that we genuinely "got it," we understood what they were about. The halls were full of notables every day, even weekends, and many would ring up our studio hotline to chat as well. It was like a club for famous musicians.

So - what happened? I agree with Mark Parenteau and Danny Schechter, among others, who've said rock radio really deteriorated with duopoly (the loosening of ownership rules in the early 90s, allowing for single ownership of competing stations within a market). I believe WZLX and WBCN were the very first stations to experience the odd-bedfellows impact of media deregulation, in fact, and I was right in the middle of it. I'd left WBCN in 1990 to become Music Director at a dump in Hartford, which proved to be a lousy choice pretty quickly and I came back to Boston where WZLX was happy to have me aboard, even if I occasionally chirped out "WBCN" instead of "WZLX" as I hit the vocal post at the beginning of a song. In retrospect, maybe WZLX management didn't really mind my call-letter mix-ups that much, because they loved to lay claim to a former 'BCN jock, even promoted me as such before I did my first shift there in '92. I was the first 'BCNer to appear on 'ZLX airwaves, but many others came after me, even Charles Laquidara, the most prominent 'BCN jock of all.

While duopoly wrecked the natural competition inherent in great radio, I believe WBCN's long slide began before duopoly. The airstaff knew there was a problem when a computerized format was implemented. In 1984, in my first days with the station, we kept track of what we played with a notepad and pen; there was a sign above the sound board that reminded us to play at least three of the "Big Seven" during our shifts; the Big Seven bands were the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, U2, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and Bruce Springsteen. Other than that, the only other guideline was to play a couple of local bands - we'd toss in some Neighborhoods, or Schemers, or Real Kids, or Willie Loco Alexander, or Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, or Dogmatics. The core of our overall sound was stuff like Tom Petty, Talking Heads, Cheap Trick, Ramones, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Cure, Boston, Aerosmith, Pretenders, AC/DC, Elvis Costello...but we also played the Sugarcubes, and Nick Lowe, and Robin Trower, and Husker Du, and Peter Tosh, and Frank Sinatra. WBCN's air studio was the biggest and most complete collection of recordings in the country, since it was the station's policy to keep at least one copy of everything we received from the record companies. We even had movie soundtracks, and it wasn't unusual to hear Clint Eastwood, Groucho Marx, or Cary Grant speaking over an instrumental break in a song.

Our playlists in 1984 were blank pages, waiting to be filled out by each successive jock who held the reins. We played tons of requests. We each had a distinctly colored pen and would note when we'd played a song on a grid on the album itself, so the next jock wouldn't play the same tune. In about late '85 we got lined paper, and soon after that there were categories: current songs divided into tiered designations for "rotation," so we could collectively break new songs and artists, and have some kind of unified sound among the various airshifts. Most slots on our blank but lined pages were reserved for "CS" songs: those were the best-known songs off an album, like Springsteen's "Thunder Road" as opposed to "Candy's Room."

We'd previously had virtually unlimited freedom to play whatever we felt like playing, and the perfect segue ruled. We worked hard at segues - transitions between songs - and would play songs back-to-back that had a similar beat, or guitar riff, or piano flourish, or that were in the same key or tempo. Sometimes we'd do an entire set of three or four songs with the same topical theme, like spiders, or eye injuries, or incontinence.

After the lined sheets with categories were implemented, our individual penchant for Plastic Bertrand, Big Star, or Mink DeVille was relegated to the "O" slot at 45 minutes past each hour. O's could be anything you wanted, from Scruffy the Cat to the Jackson Five to whale grunts. "O" stood for Open, and the BCN airstaff clung onto the O position, against increasing pressure from management and the developing corporate radio industry, for a couple of years. It was a heroic fight, but we ultimately lost the O somewhere in late 1987...and that, I believe, was the real beginning of the slide. Fully computer-generated playlists came along sometime in '88. We consoled ourselves with the theory that the format was still our collective vision, since we weighed in so heavily on the music, but it's clear in hindsight that the move to homogenize the station's sound among the jocks also eroded its uniqueness on the dial.

The legacy of WBCN in American pop culture should not be underestimated. It was the first U.S. station to play the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Police. It helped Aerosmith reinvent itself in the mid-80's, no small feat since they went from oblivion and irrelevance to being the most popular band in the country, and one of the most commercially successful in the world, in just a few months. When Bruce Springsteen couldn't get into his own show at the Rat in Kenmore Square because he forgot to bring ID ('74 or so), he came to WBCN and played live on the air for an hour straight.

WBCN helped shape an entire new art form in 1968, and made the brave transition from bowties, tympani, and string sections to Traffic, Creem, and Yardbirds when the classical station's owner wasn't looking. The station was the soundtrack for the sexual revolution in the sixties and seventies, and alerted youth to the dangers of AIDS in the 80s without flinching, before any other media would touch the subject.

In 1985, Charles Laquidara began boycotting musicians who played the whites-only Sun City resort in South Africa under apartheid rule. The initial industry pressure to play those artists was steadily replaced with support from within and then outside the station, and former WBCN "news dissector" Danny Schechter, who’d gone on to work at ABC’s “20/20” program, teamed with Steven Van Zant to form Artists United Against Apartheid. The huge group of musicians who recorded "(Ain't Gonna Play) Sun City" included Springsteen, U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis, and many more. Things changed at Sun City, and even apartheid itself eventually caved in, its doomed existence chipped away faster under worldwide scrutiny brought by musicians and, yes, disc jockeys who teamed up to put a spotlight on the issue.

WBCN was a key partner in the national broadcast of Live Aid, with Production Director Tom Sandman performing heroic feats of on-the-fly editing while Bradley Jay filled programming gaps with fantastic, obtuse, and oddly entertaining rants about random subjects like dance floors in the back seat of semi tractor-trailers.

I am so proud to have worked there. Thanks, Oedipus. Thanks to the listeners, who knew that the best thing about WBCN was that we loved the music as much as anyone ever could, and that was the common thread among us. And, as always, thanks to the musicians - we were constantly blowing out speakers in the air studio, and that's a testament to your art.

When Peter Wolf quit his airshift at WBCN, he put on the song "Think" by Aretha Franklin...and left the station. No-one was around. The scritch-scritch-scritch of the needle in the end groove was the only sound broadcast until someone came to the station to change the record. I believe that song should be the last one played when WBCN goes dark, and the sound of the needle should go for hours.

Back in 1972, The Who's Pete Townshend declared, "Rock is dead, rock is dead, long live rock!" Joey Ramone wrote, "Do you remember rock n roll radio?" for the Ramones' 1980 "End of the Century" LP. But Dave Edmunds once said, "There'll always be some arrogant little brat who wants to make noise with a guitar. Rock 'n' roll will never die." I hope he's right.

Ray Davies of the Kinks wrote "Better Things", which was my sign-off song when I left WBCN in 1990. It sums up my hopes for you, and for me, especially in light of the demise of The Rock of Boston. I will always miss its best days.

"Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses too
Follow all the doubt and sadness.
I know that better things are on the way...

It’s really good to see you rocking out
And having fun
Living like you just begun.
Accept your life and what it brings.
I hope tomorrow you'll find better things.

I know you've got a lot of good things happening up ahead.
The past is gone its all been said.
So here's to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you'll find better things.
I know tomorrow you'll find better things."

Siging off, with love,


a.k.a. Lisa Traxler