RADIO FREE BOSTON:
THE RISE AND FALL OF WBCN
By Carter Alan.
Northeastern University Press; paperback. 334 pages.
Review by Francis DiMenno
Once upon a time and a very groovy time it was, back on March 15th of 1968 when a lot of the little kiddies were gorging themselves on strawberry Pop Tarts and worshiping the Herculoids, it happened that their beautiful older brothers and sisters were marching on the Pentagon to protest Uglyface Johnson’s Asian land war. And from Day One these hip Disc Jockey “kats” over at this Boston radio station were saying ixnay to all the longhair Robert J. Lurtsema Classical Gas and laying hip platters on the people by the likes of John Coltrane and Jethro Tull… and giving the FBI the what-for. You heard me–the FBI!
Talk about “Sticking It to the Man!”
These “kats” were at ground zero! Teaching the kids how to dodge the draft, and one of their disc jockeys who worked there for four days was even in the SDS!
It was the REAL revolution!
And all through the 1970s this here radio station still did all KINDS of righteous and Down With The People kind of stuff–like, they had this listener line with people answering weird reference questions about, for example, Costa Rica—can you dig it? And they would also talk people down from bad trips and refer them to a suicide hotline and do astrology reports and lay down some righteous raps about the stinking war in Vietnam and Uglyface Nixon and the whole boodle of bad jive down in Washington, D.C. with the politician Daddies and the piggie corporations.
Get this–they wouldn’t accept no advertising from Dow Chemical, which meant they lost a lot of ad revenue–or would have, if Dow Chemical advertised on a hippie radio station.
They even had a union! In 1979! Talk about solid working-class CRED, man! And when the Boss Man tried to fire ‘em, they went ON STRIKE! And–get this–they WON!
Can you DIG IT?
Hey–and listen–these righteous DJ dudes got to meet all kinds of world famous celebrities like Ian Anderson–a douchebag–and Jesse Colin Young–an asshole–and David Bowie—a righteous dude–they smoked his cigarette butt on the air–a TRUE STORY! And they were the ones who gave The Clash and Aerosmith and U2 and Bruce Springsteen and The Probers their big breaks, otherwise they might still be playing half-empty VFW Halls off in some dying mill town where drunken lumberjacks shiver out their lives in pickup trucks with busted heaters. And hey–these DJs also hob-nobbed with famous celebrities like Little Richard and Robert Goulet and–get this–John Belushi!
What a stone GROOVE!
Now I’m not saying that some of these here “kats” weren’t heavily into certain, ahh, heh heh, illegal substances, because there’s no secret that, way back when, they were really into the kind bud, the herbal remedy, and also the marching powder later on, though how any of them could afford it on a disc jockey’s salary is a mystery to me, or maybe I’m just naive, because I guess they also were in touch with all kinds of heavy-duty cats from the music industry, but they don’t talk about that much. In the book I mean.
No, instead, they talk about how they knew all these famous sports people who gave their checks to sick kids with cancer and how they licked South Africa and apartheid single handed–which meant they lost a lot of ad revenue–or would have, if South Africa advertised on a hippie radio station.
Maybe it must of been the drugs that made these righteous “kats” so doggone capital-F Funny because they were always pulling clever pranks like talking their listeners into mailing bags of shit to Arbitron, and dropping a lot of things from high places.
By the early 1980s they were also into this stuff called punk rock. That’s how cutting-edge they were! And by 1993 they were heavy into all the alternative sounds—no more “Thick as a Brick” and stuff like that.
Now, you might say to yourself, who cares about an old beatnik explaining to his grandchildren about this wondrous book. What’s a book? I’ll explain later. A book about this groovy radio station—what’s a radio station? Quit interrupting! I’ll explain all that to you later.
Okay, so you might say to yourself, well, who cares about book about a DJ talking about the olden days at a hippie radio station? Well, that’s easy for you kids to say, but I would say that you’re probably just jealous because you weren’t a part of this wonderful time when jobs were plentiful, wages were high, food tasted good, and love was free. And you can put THAT in your hash pipe and smoke it, Daddio!
It was a good station, for a while there, and then Howard Stern came in and had to ruin it, because we all know that people like Howard Stern and Opie and Anthony and Toucher and Rich are cheap vulgarians, and bringers of bad vibes. And so after they came in, what was the point anymore? And so the radio station finally went out of business back in 2009.
Oh–and the name of this radio station these magical DJs worked for was WBCN. Maybe you heard of it.