By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Dissecting the death of WBCN

Danny Schechter, the “News Dissector” whose progressive approach to the news was such a key part of WBCN’s early years, has weighed in on CBS’s decision to pull the plug. He writes:

The station’s legacy and importance — the reason it built a national reputation and worldwide respect — was deliberately buried in the need to meet quarterly revenue projections and serve its corporate masters. Their goal was to compete with commercial drek by becoming commercial drek. And they did.

And where did it take them? To the radio graveyard. Shame.

Interestingly enough, Schechter says he had recently been approached about doing commentaries for WBCN’s Web site — something that may yet come to pass, given that CBS is reportedly thinking about keeping the station semi-alive online.

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15 Comments

  1. acf

    So, I'm showing my age. I first listening to 'BCN around '69 or '70, when, compared to what was widely available on radio, it had the sound of underground radio. There was no 'top 40', no Arnie Woo Woo, not of the hyperventilating djs that populated AM in those days, and drivetime FM today. In fact, AM was still what most youths listened to. It was just good rock. I haven't listened to it for years, long after it devolved into another heavily programmed album station, but the final stake in the heart was when they started broadcasting the Pats games. The Patriots on my rock station? I don't think so. Corporate programming won out at the station, and lost in the marketplace, and while I sigh at the loss, I just shrug my shoulders 'so what'.

  2. Aaron Read

    What surprises me the most here is how nobody is talking about Oedipus's role in making WBCN what it was, and how (relatively) soon WBCN is being killed off after Oedi "retired".The man was there for over 20 years. I don't know if that speaks to his ability as Program Director, but it sure as hell speaks to his ability to know where a lot of bodies are buried. Neither skill, nor success, nor ruthlessness alone cannot explain longevity on that scale…not in the radio biz. Oedi had to have dirt on some really important people. And hey, kudos to him for successfully leveraging that for so long, ya know? Score one for the little guy.FWIW, I did a student internship in the summer of 1997 there, working under Nik Carter and "The Afternoon Fiasco". I never cared much for the music but I never cared much for music on the radio anyways…I'm a news/talk guy. Nik's show was at least 50% talk anyways, mostly in the Howard Stern style of things (and this was went Howard was still in the mornings on WBCN).

  3. io saturnalia!

    If people had tuned WBCN out when it was flying over the free airwaves, as David Letterman was once wont to say, "the way God intended," are they likely to follow the Boston Concert Network to the Web?At least there's still 'AAF (though its halcyon days in the Cocaine Realty Building are long gone).We could even use a little Woo-Woo Ginsberg right now.

  4. Mike from Norwell

    Don't quite go back as far as ACF ('75-'76 myself), but do remember Charles and the gang being essential listening through high school and the 80s. Think things went downhill when they bumped Charles Laquidara myself. If anyone can remember Charles' last show, that really brought back the memories of what that station was capable of without corporate programming.Said to see it go, but the reality is the real WBCN died a long time ago.

  5. matteomht

    OK, I'll chime in with my BCN memory:Summers, 1989. I had just graduated high school, and earlier that year started really listening to BCN and getting what rock music was about. I was a house-painter, and the crew would leave BCN on the radio all day long. Many memories of listening to the Big Mattress and Dwayne Ingalls Glasscock on Friday mornings, and that mid-day DJ who played Costello's 'She Gets Paid on Fridays' every Friday afternoon after the 1:04 p.m. comedy break. That always felt like we were rounding third-base for the work-week, about to get our checks and clock out for the weekend. That's the BCN I miss. This crap of the last decade, not so much.

  6. jvwalt

    This is a prime example of what corporate ownership has done to the medium of radio. Every time a station de-localized its format or its programming decisions, it sucked the unique value and stature out of its license. A recent example in my hometown, Detroit: a well-established sports talk station with high-profile local hosts, WDFN, suddenly went to 24/7 Fox Sports Radio, the crappiest of the syndicated sports talkers. Costs were cut, but the value and cachet of the station was instantly reduced to zero. As were the ratings, I'm sure. It's just like strip mining: the corporate owners completely razed these intellectual properties, and left devastated landscapes in their wake. And they wonder why the medium is in decline.

  7. Jon Cohan Marketing

    Almost to a tee all the negative comments about CBS killing WBCN centers on how great they used to be in the 1970’s and 80’s and how the listeners grew up with the station. No one has talked about the relevance of WBCN today. No one is talking about how influential the current morning show is or how new acts are broken with one play from the station. People are missing the idea of WBCN and not the reality of the station and the listener. The reaction is not different than killing any other brand. Ultimately does anyone really miss Plymouth, Oldsmobile, or the Quasar TVs? The answer is no – yet there was great distress when the brands were killed (well maybe not Quasar, but you get the idea). If you asked 20 year consumers about where they learn about new music it will not be from the local rock station. It will be from places like Pandora, friends’ downloaded playlists, or social networking sites. That is the direction music is following. CBS made a business decision that I think will be of benefit to the corporation and maybe provide some entertaining listening in the car and I seriously doubt any of you will be suffering from a vast empty feeling every time you hit 104.1 on your preset and not hear WBCN. It has not been what you remember it being for quite a while

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Jon: Yes. I think we're all saying that. No one cares that CBS is pulling the plug now, and no one has cared for the past 15 years. It's kind of like when Lechmere went out of business — 10 years earlier, people would have been howling. By the time the end actually came … eh.

  9. matteomht

    Lechmere went out of business??? WTF???

  10. Aaron Read

    Lechmere is dead, and yet its ghost still haunts this odd little place about three blocks east of its resting place. :-)God, I remember being happy that Best Buy was replacing Lechmere…how little I knew…

  11. io saturnalia!

    Lechmere was the king when it came to kick-ass JVC receivers and other stereo components. You know, the stuff we played albums on — Tecnics turntables, TEAC double cassette decks, maybe with a Pioneer graphic equalizer thrown in.I'm glad I was alive during the apex of home-entertainment technology. Wonder if I can still find my Triumph 45s?

  12. O-FISH-L

    The Mark Parenteau gay-pedophilia scandal was the last straw. There was no recovery possible for WBCN after that. The station has been on borrowed time since then, and not because of 16 Patriots broadcasts in the autumn.

  13. LFNeilson

    Lechmere closed? No wonder poor Charlie couldn't get off that train!zzzzz

  14. meamoeba

    o-fish, wtf? your blinders are blinding you. parenteau was long gone and in washington when the pedo charges happened. that has as much to do with 'bcn's demise as babe ruth had with the sox going o-fer-86. or mark foley being the reason the gop tanked. (although, come to think of it. . .) it's good fodder for the uninformed and feeble-minded but irrelevant to reality.but charles, matty before he sold out, ken shelton and parenteau were significant parts of anyone who came of age in boston in the 70's unless you voted for nixon. 'aaf was a wannabe ripoff. and i got a kick-ass onkyo receiver/amp, akai reel-to-reel and klh-17 speakers out of lechmere for my first system paid for with my own money. i loved that place.

  15. djcmurphy

    Lechmere was good, but Tech HiFi was better! I still have and use the Ohm bookshelf speakers and Sony TC121A cassette deck(ok, I don't really use the tape deck) I bought with my high school graduation money in 1976.

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