A Warrior for New Music finally fades away.
The station that made me the music junky I am, for better or worse, has left the airwaves. WBCN in Boston, the first full-time “underground” rock station in Boston, originally broadcasting from a backroom at the The Boston Tea Party club, will switch to mainstream rock format with WBMX, Mix 104. Supposedly WBCN will be on an HD channel. That’s like hanging a painting in a closet. Here’s a news report from The Boston Phoenix.
You probably have to go to college radio, run by college students, to even approximate the impact WBCN had. They were at the epicenter of the 60s psychedelic music explosion, the gateway for all the British acts coming through like Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and Cream. It was the place you went to hear the latest Jefferson Airplane album.
I got my first FM radio, a table-top model, for the sole purpose of hearing WBCN. I remember Norm Weiner playing Herbie Mann‘s cover of “Hold On I’m Coming” from Memphis Underground with Larry Coryell AND Sonny Sharrock shredding. The late J.J. Jackson, who went on to become one of MTV’s first VJs, turned me on to Spooky Tooth‘s Spooky Two months before its American release. I sat on Charles Laquidara‘s Big Mattress for too many years and I howled with Peter Wolf (J. Geils Band singer) spinning deep blues tracks at night. The first time I heard Eric Dolphy was during an afternoon while I scraped paint off windows with ‘BCN on. Their news reports from Woodstock as the enormity of that event unfolded kept me glued to my radio in the summer of 1969. Danny Schecter You News Dissector‘s report, with phone calls to left-wing activists upon hearing that J. Edgar Hoover had died, is still etched in my memory. I had a ‘BCN bumper sticker on my flute case.
When I moved to Philadelphia in 1972, I always thought WMMR, that cities underground bastion, paled next to the non-corporate vibe of ‘BCN. But a couple of years later, both stations were failing my need for more adventurous music as I found their playlists restrictive and predictable. But I still recall a trip back homein 1977, driving up Rte 209 in Massachusetts, dialing in 104.1, and hearing a jock preparing to play The Sex Pistols for the first time on the station. He was decrying the audience who was complaining about it even before he spun the disc. I missed the Oedipus years of WBCN’s kinda punk-new wave direction, although I don’t think they ever embraced it whole-heartedly.
I haven’t made a habit of dialing in WBCN for years when I’ve gone home. And when I did, they usually sounded like a generic rock station. I didn’t lose WBCN when corporate overlord CBS decided to pull the plug. It happened years ago, after they moved to the Prudential Center and had to pay corporate rents.
But I’ll always be grateful for the years of music they gave me. I think I can say that if not for WBCN, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
John Diliberto ((( echoes ))