WBCN (FM)

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This article is about the station on 104.1 in Boston until August 2009. For 104.1 afterwards, see WBMX (FM).
WBCN
City of license Boston, Massachusetts
Broadcast area Greater Boston
Branding WBCN
Slogan The Rock of Boston
Frequency 98.5 HD-2 (also on HD Radio) 100.7 HD-3 (also on HD Radio)
First air date March 15, 1968
off air August 12, 2009
Format Modern rock/Freeform
ERP 9,000 watts
HAAT 349 meters
Class B
Facility ID 1901
Callsign meaning Boston Concert Network (original format)
Owner CBS Radio
Sister stations WBZ, WBZ-FM, WBMX, WODS, WZLX, WBZ-TV, WSBK-TV
Webcast Listen Live
Website wbcn.com

WBCN is a digital-only radio station airing on WBZ-FM HD-2 and on WZLX HD-3 in Boston, Massachusetts and owned by CBS Radio. Before switching to 98.5 HD-2 on August 12, 2009, WBCN ran its rock format for 41 years as an analog radio station on 104.1 MHz (now WBMX). WBCN became a legend in the rock music industry for breaking many bands, most notably U2.[1] WBCN was a modern rock/active rock station that mixed music that has been popular in the modern rock, alternative rock and classic rock genres. Known as "The Rock Of Boston", its two main Boston-area competitors as of 2009 were Album Oriented Rock/active rock WAAF and alternative music stations WBOS and WFNX.

The station went off the FM airwaves on August 12, 2009, with two digital-only robotic streams, one continuing the modern rock format, the other Free Form BCN, airing an eclectic mix of rock and related genres. "Free Form BCN" began airing live freeform shows in 2010 on 100.7 HD-3 and was re-branded WBCN Free Form Rock in late September 2010. While still digital and largely robotic, the station is live 11am–2pm weekdays, with other occasional live segments.

History[edit]

Before the mid-1960s, the station played classical music exclusively. The call letters stood for the Boston Concert Network. One of the on-air personalities at that time was Ron Della Chiesa, who also served as music host and program director. Della Chiesa is still active in classical music broadcasting on WGBH. In 1965, Nathaniel Johnson was appointed Music Director of WBCN by station program director Don Otto. Johnson remained with the station until 1967, just prior to the changeover from classical to easy-listening, and then to rock. Johnson then left WBCN to assume a new position at WGBH.[2]

Golden age of WBCN[edit]

The station slowly began to change to an "underground" progressive rock format on the night of March 15, 1968. BCN's first Rock DJ, "Mississippi Harold Wilson" (Joe Rogers), used the station's first slogan, "The American Revolution" and played the very first song "I Feel Free" by the rock group Cream. At first, the new "American Revolution" format was only heard during the late-evening and overnight hours, but in mid-May, the station expanded the rock programming to 24 hours a day. By June 1968, the station's air staff included Mississippi, Peter Wolf (who was just starting the J. Geils Band), Tommy Hadges, Jim Parry, Al Perry, and Sam Kopper was joined by Steven "The Seagull" Segal. Segal's arrival was critical to the station's early development since he came in from Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he had been mentored by the legendary west coast DJ Tom Donahue, who was credited with starting the very first underground rock FM station at KMPX the year before. Segal's west coast radical radio consciousness infused the early 'BCN. In the summer of 1968, Kopper was made the station's first program director. That fall, Segal and Kopper hired J.J. Jackson as a disc jockey. Twelve years later, JJ would become one of MTV's first VJs. In December 1968, Peter Wolf left to take the J. Geils Band full-time and, introduced to the station by Jim Parry, Charles Laquidara was hired to take over the 10pm to 2am air shift. WBCN began supporting non-mainstream investigative reporting and alternative news coverage, including reports from demonstrations and highly produced montage news reports. The news department was initially headed by Norm Winer, who later became program director. For a brief period during that transition, Charles Laquidara, who was acting program director hired Robert "Bo" Burlingham as news director. Bo resigned shortly thereafter when his name appeared on a UPS news wire as one of several people being indicted by then-Attorney General John Mitchell -- a charge which was later dropped. Danny Schechter replaced Bo Burlingham and immediately billed himself as "the News Dissector"). Along with Andrew Kopkind, John Scagliotti, Bill Lichtenstein, and Marsha Steinberg, the news department evolved radically, introducing such novel concepts as a show oriented toward prison inmates, health warnings about the hazards of street drugs, a lost pet-finding service called the Cat and Dog Report, a travelers' aid service called the Travelers' Friend, live updates on the traffic problems at Woodstock, and by 1970, live-to-air concert broadcasts. WBCN's programming in 1971-72[3] bore little relationship to the Billboard Hot 100 or any other conventional programming. Classical music, jazz, or anything else might be played, as long as the skillful DJ's could make it work. For the first time, the owners of the station began to make a profit. However, there was always tension between the artistic expression of the DJ's, and managements need to run a business, resulting in the unionization of the station with the United Electrical Workers in 1971.

Popular legend holds that WBCN was sent a promotional copy of The Beatles' unreleased Get Back album and played it on the air before the release of the album was cancelled. The "album" had been compiled out of material the Beatles recorded in London in January 1969, the same sessions that would be used to create the Beatles' Let It Be album which was released in May 1970. While the existence of the promotional album is apocryphal, the truth behind the broadcast, though less dramatic, is equally as fascinating. In late summer of 1969, WBCN somehow obtained a reel-to-reel tape of a reference acetate of a potential album song lineup prepared by Beatles' engineer Glyn Johns on March 10, 1969. WBCN aired the tape on September 22, 1969. Although WBCN was not the only radio station, or even the first station, to air material from the Get Back sessions — WKBW in Buffalo was the first, and the tapes also aired on WEBN in Cincinnati, WBAI in New York City, and KCOK in St. Louis — WBCN's broadcast of the tapes has been immortalized because it was preserved on a high-quality reel, which spawned several widely circulated Beatles bootlegs.

By 1975, WBCN had gradually evolved from the underground/progressive format of the 1960s to the more mainstream album oriented rock format popular in the 1970s. Unlike most rock stations of the era, WBCN still allowed a degree of individual DJ control of the music. Their playlist in general was more varied than many of their competitors, there was some focus on local music (also see the WBCN Rock & Roll Rumble), and the station was known nationwide for breaking acts (The Cars, 'Til Tuesday, U2) and setting trends. Oedipus (who had the first punk rock show in the country while at MIT's college station, WTBS) was hired first as a DJ in 1977, and then installed as program director in 1981, and helped to break The Ramones, The Clash, The Police, and countless punk and new wave bands out of Boston.

In the period around 1975, John Garabedian, now recognized for the nationally syndicated "Open House Party" (which was once heard locally on WXKS-FM), was an afternoon DJ on WBCN.

In 1979, the station was purchased by Hemisphere Broadcasting, who let go several longtime employees who they determined "non-essential." This set off a local controversy in Boston that resulted in the entire airstaff walking off the air striking in protest. During the walkout, WBCN stayed on the air with substitute DJs imported from several out-of-town Hemisphere sister stations. The protest got local media coverage and the attention of several well-known Boston-based music acts, including The Cars, Aerosmith, and Boston, who got behind the protest. When several large advertisers pulled spots, and the union filed a challenge to Hemisphere's license (pointing out that by forcing the staff out on strike, Hemisphere had created a situation where it couldn't provide the public service it was required to), Hemisphere relented, the fired staffers were rehired and the DJs went back on the air. (It was also rumored that Hemisphere's FCC lawyers had vetoed the course of action advised by Hemisphere's labor lawyers.) Charles Laquidara played "Superman" by The Kinks back to back for an entire show in celebration.

By the mid-1980s, WBCN had successfully fended off a number of challengers (the hard rocking but tightly formatted WCOZ, Top 40 Hitradio WHTT, Classic Rock WZLX, among others) to become/remain the region's top rock station. Many of the DJs, particularly morning "Big Mattress" host Charles Laquidara, were now local quasi-celebrities. Laquidara had Billy West on the show on a daily basis, as well as Karlos, the first computer-generated (using Digital Equipment's DECtalk) on-air personality in radio history. Legendary Boston stripper Princess Cheyenne hosted a Sunday night sex advice show that eventually led to one of her appearances in Playboy Magazine in April 1986. The station was more commercial and "programmed" by this point, but still retained some of its progressive energy and edge.

By the 1990s, WBCN was at a crossroads. With its audience aging, it risked becoming a classic rock-focused station and losing its currency as an outlet for new music. For a long time, WBCN successfully balanced new and old music (featuring the slogan "Classic to Cutting Edge"). In the early 1990s, the station began airing the nationally syndicated Howard Stern Show, but aired it in the evenings on tape delay instead of during morning drive. This allowed them to retain their "Big Mattress" morning show along with its large and loyal audience.

Active rock era[edit]

In early 1994, WBCN made its first major format adjustment since 1968. The old DJs, station IDs, and classic rock were gutted, replaced by an alternative music format featuring new, younger jocks; on April 1, 1996, the Stern show was moved to mornings. The station lost some of its longtime listeners (who migrated to the now co-owned WZLX, where former WBCN DJs Laquidara and Carter Alan had gone), but quickly gained credibility among many younger people.

In the summer of 1999, WBCN moved its format away from strictly alternative music and more towards an active rock-leaning modern rock format. The station by this time was playing some hard rock and Nu metal acts such as Godsmack, Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Linkin Park. By the Fall of 2002, certain classic artists, such as Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and Ozzy Osbourne, were added back in the station's playlist rotation.

Much of the station's programming focused on syndicated talk shows (former WAAF personalities Opie & Anthony replacing David Lee Roth, who had previously replaced Howard Stern in morning Drive Time). During the autumn months, WBCN became more focused on sports as the station broadcast the games of the NFL's New England Patriots beginning in 1995.

In early 2006, with the Howard Stern morning drive time show gone due to Stern moving to Sirius Satellite Radio, WBCN experienced a plummet in Arbitron ratings that the station had not observed since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when it fell behind then rock format competitor WCOZ. The station started to air the syndicated Opie & Anthony during morning drive. WBCN also launched The Toucher and Rich Show, a new locally produced comedy-based afternoon drive time show starring Fred Toettcher and Rich Shertenlieb. The duo formerly worked together at Atlanta alternative station WNNX.

In 2007, the station was nominated for the Top 25 Markets Alternative Station of the Year Award by Radio & Records magazine. Other nominees included KROQ-FM in Los Angeles, KTBZ-FM in Houston, KITS, in San Francisco, KNDD in Seattle and WWDC in Washington, DC.[4]

In December 2008, the station ceased airing Opie & Anthony in morning drive and moved "Toucher and Rich" from afternoons.[5] During the following months, industry insiders, local media, and even WBCN's on air staff speculated that, in a matter of time, WBCN could see a format change, especially after the Boston Herald ran an article in the March 30th, 2009 issue about WBCN's future, and the station airing a Top 40 format for a few hours the following day (April Fool's Day).

From 1995 through 2008, WBCN was the flagship station of the Patriots Rock Radio Network, which broadcast games of the New England Patriots. Gil Santos, former WBZ sports reporter, did play-by-play, while Gino Cappelletti, former Patriots star, provided color commentary. The broadcasts were produced by Marc D. Cappello. With WBCN's dissolution as an analog station, the Patriots flagship station became WBCN's sister station WBZ-FM on August 13, 2009.

WBCN goes digital-only[edit]

On July 14, 2009, CBS Radio announced that WBCN would sign off the 104.1 MHz frequency.[6][7][8]

WBCN's last four days on analog radio were celebration and retrospective shows highlighting WBCN's history. Bradley Jay (now host of the weekday overnight talk show, “Jay Talking”, over on AM sister station WBZ[9]) was the last DJ. The last two songs played were Cream's "I Feel Free" and Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", followed by a much-used collage of songs with the line "They're really Rockin' in Boston..." and station bits and ID spots used over the years, which then slowed to a halt. The final words were from the late Darrell Martinie, the Cosmic Muffin, saying his tag line, "Over and Out". At 12:05 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on August 12, 2009, the station went into a static-like sound, and after a few moments, a voice read the new station identification: "WBMX, WBMX-HD1, Boston" over the "static". The static was broadcast on 104.1 until 2:00 AM. At that time, "Mix 98.5" officially moved to 104.1, playing "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon as their first song after the move. Ironically, that song was in heavy rotation on WBCN during the months leading up to CBS Radio's announcement of the station's demise, and continued until the four-day farewell began.

HD Radio substations on the FM frequencies changed as well:

  • WBCN's 104.1 analog and HD-1 moved to 98.5 (WBZ-FM) HD-2.
  • WBCN's Free Form 104, moved from 104.1 HD-2 to 100.7 (WZLX) HD-3 and was renamed Free Form BCN. It is programmed by Sam Kopper, WBCN's first rock program director, and also features past events from the WBCN archives.
  • Indie 104.1 on 104.1 HD-3 ceased operations.
  • WBMX moved all of its subchannels with it from 98.5 to 104.1: Mix on analog and HD-1, The 80's Channel on HD-2, and The Sky on HD-3.

This was done to make room for an all-sports talk format at the 98.5 FM frequency, known as 98.5 The Sports Hub WBZ-FM. WBCN's Toucher and Rich morning show began broadcasting on WBZ-FM on August 14, 2009. WBCN's afternoon DJ, Rob Poole, known on air as "Hardy", announced on his final WBCN show that he will co-host a sports themed show on WBZ-FM on Saturday mornings.

The current WBCN (in WBZ-FM-HD2 form) transmits from the tower known locally as “FM-128” in Newton, MA. It shares a master antenna with WJMN (94.5 Boston), WKLB-FM (102.5 Waltham), along with backup transmitters for WBOS, WBQT, WROR-FM, WMJX, and WXKS-FM. Google Maps

In order to keep the intellectual property of WBCN intact, without another station in Boston making claim to it, CBS Radio got the FCC to assign the WBCN call letters to WFNA 1660 AM in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Charlotte station was a simulcast of WFNZ 610 AM, known then as "The Franchise", an all sports talk station. On September 14, 2009, WBCN-AM split from WFNZ and became "America's Talk", a conservative-leaning talk station.

WBCN Free Form Rock on WZLX HD-3[edit]

WBCN Free Form Rock (originally Free Form BCN) is a digital-only radio station broadcasting on the Internet and in the Boston radio market on HD Radio WZLX 100.7 HD-3. The station, programmed by BCN's original 1969 program director, Sam Kopper, began airing in February 2009 as Free Form 104, airing, until the demise of the original WBCN, on 104.1 HD-2. Since WBCN's change to digital-only, the station was known as "Free Form BCN" and then "WBCN Free Form Rock" by late September 2010. The station was formatted differently from WBCN's 104.1-FM and HD-1 incarnation, and continues to be different from the current 98.5 HD-2 version. Since its beginning, "WBCN Free Form Rock" has been formatted to play multiple music genres (including rock, jazz, the blues, and country). From its inception, WBCN Free Form Rock has been advertised to be a replica of the original WBCN format circa 1968 to the early 1990s, playing any song it wants, including rock and relative genres. In late 2009, the station begun to increase its DJ'd programming. While it is "robotic" most of the time, it is increasing its live weekdays, and hinting about the potential for more programming as listenership increases.

2011: Attempting a Comeback[edit]

In January 2011, WBCN began a slow and thought out campaign to attempt to return to an analog and HD1 digital station. The station's website was redirected to a WBCN-themed webpage on the website of sister station WZLX. For the first time in a year and a half, WBCN reached out to its audience asking for listeners/supporters to join their Facebook page in order to gain attention from CBS Radio. Called "11,000 in '11", WBCN announced its goal of gaining 11,000 supporters to its Facebook page by the end of 2011. The station said that it was to be the first action in a series. The webpage also teased a big announcement that would come on the January 2, 2011 edition of Boston Emissions on WZLX. That announcement was the return of the "WBCN Rock N' Roll Rumble". In March 2011, the webpage and the two WBCN digital stations were once again updated slightly. The webpage saw a slight change in layout, still encouraging people to listen as often as possible, stating "Remember, when you listen to WBCN, you're voting for a full WBCN return! VOTE OFTEN!" The 98.5-HD2 frequency announced one of its first DJ involved programing since the move from 104.1. "Boston Emissions" is now replayed on 98.5-HD2 on Mondays at 7:00 pm, and on Thursdays at 8:00 pm on WBCN Free Form Rock. The station also boasted about reaching its 43rd year broadcasting Rock music.

Media coverage[edit]

The American Revolution, a documentary film about the cultural, social and political impact of WBCN from 1968 through 1974, is currently in production.[10] The film is gathering historical material and accounts from station members, listeners and others, and is sharing the material online while the film is being produced to facilitate the archival research. The open research and production process that the film is utilizing has led to it being called the "first open source/crowdsourced documentary."[11][12]

Notable station alumni[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
1030 WBZ
Radio home of the New England Patriots
1995–2008
Succeeded by
98.5 WBZ-FM

Coordinates: 42°18′28″N 71°13′24″W / 42.30786°N 71.22325°W / 42.30786; -71.22325