On Friday, Bittner will celebrate his 20th year of station ownership with an all-request show — as long as he's not in the hospital.
FRIENDS AND LOVERS OF WJIB
Ten years ago, Al Deadrick attended a fateful performance at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. A dozen musicians had gathered for a monthly slapdash concert-cum-open-mic called "Works in Progress." One of the bands, helmed by Alex McGregor of Ponies in the Surf, called itself the WJIB Band and played covers of songs they heard there.
"Suddenly it hit me," Deadrick, 38, says. "There were more people listening to this station than I thought."
That night might have been ground zero for WJIB's cult following among a generation decades younger than its intended audience. It seems that way for Deadrick, anyway — in 2008 or 2009, "before everybody's parents were on Facebook," Deadrick realized he had enough friends who listened to the station to start a Facebook group for them. He called it "Friends and Lovers of WJIB."
These days, the page is a repository for all things WJIB. Fans post YouTube links to songs they like, figure out where the signal is strongest, and update each other on Bittner's health. At the time of this writing, the group has grown to nearly 400 members — including the man himself.
"It was going a year before Bob found it," Deadrick says. Since then, Bittner has been known to chime in on song discussions and to clarify, for instance, which version of "Would You Like to Swing on a Star" he has just played. (At least three are in rotation.)
About a year ago, Bittner started talking about the Facebook group on the radio. "I never thought that he would mention it on the air," Deadrick says. "At some point, he started mentioning the group, but he always makes a point in his announcements to say that it's all young people on there."
Whatever Bittner thinks of the WJIB Facebook group, they are hardly the station's youngest fans. As they age, many a Cambridge hipster has discovered that his child is fond of adult standards.
"The only thing my older son ever wants to listen to is the Memories Station," says Jeff Stern, discussing his three-year-old, Alex. "Whenever there is other music on, he says 'memory station.' It's hard to tell if he just knows the name or actually likes the music, but the music is so peaceful."
Stern, 38, discovered the station while driving behind a wagon with a WJIB bumper sticker. He tuned in and instantly fell in love — so much so that he's producing a forthcoming documentary about Bob with fellow Cambridge residents Derek Frank and Adam Van Voorhis.
"I'm going through a middle-age thing," Frank, who is 37, tells me. "I'm interested in the way our experience of movies, books, records — that sort of thing — has changed. Terrestrial radio falls into that."
In the era of Pandora and Spotify, Frank relishes the sonorous tones of Bittner's voice. "There's this one guy and it was his voice connecting and speaking to you — it's so much more personal," he says. "There's something really nice about Bob speaking to you on the radio and playing you music that he really likes. It's his."