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Danny Schechter dissects WBCN's demise


As I note in a piece that'll be online later today, there are a few different theories about what killed WBCN, including the station's shift to alternative rock in the early 90s; the generally tepid state of rock today; and general corporate mismanagement.

If you're familiar with Danny Schechter's work, it'll come as no surprise that he favors the latter explanation. Here's what Schechter--WBCN's "News Dissector" during the station's countercultural heyday--had to say when I emailed him yesterday.


Actually I have been invited by former 'BCN DJ Sam Kopper to contribute to a new digital Free form 104 'BCN HD online substation which is not streaming yet, and, now, who knows if it will. I have done some commentaries which have been mixed in to the music format.

It is cheap programming which also has the distinction of being creative and cool which is probably why it has yet to be fully embraced. Maybe we will be surprised. Not that many HD receivers have been sold yet but it was like that when 'BCN erupted  from the bowels of the old Concert Network introducing an FM alternative to the all the hits all the time AM audience. It took a while but it caught on.

I was actually in the "new" station in the basement at the old channel 38 building a week or two ago, How low the mighty have fallen (from the top of the Pru)! I felt a bit like a ghost from another planet in the midst of my own personal transition from the 60s to 60.

From the early days of our brutal firings and then (successful) strike provoked by Hemisphere's Broadcasting's takeover and then the CBS merger led by Mel Karmazin, 'BCN has been characterized by a community be dammed testosterone driven programming riddled with sexism and contempt for listeners.

The station's legacy and importance--the reason it built a national reputation and worldwide respect--was deliberately buried by the need to meet quarterly revenue projections and serve its corporate masters by competing with commercial drek while  forced to become commercial drek.

The jockocracy took over long ago with all the Patriot worship (not the real patriots struggling for a just America, of course, but the Team struggling for Superbowl rings and big payouts). As salaries and bonuses went up, quality went down. The news was downgraded and just about disappeared; public service was derided. What was allowed to happen to Boston  Radio happened nationally.

What went around came around. Its all part of the implosion of media in our time.

Did it make the network stronger or richer? No way. CBS lost BILLIONS and dishonors the memory of those that put it on the map, the people we respect like like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite et. al.

I hope the local management there--and there are some good executives who understand all this but are 'just following orders'---will follow up and encourage the new HD free form concept. If they do, they will rebuild an audience and regenerate the excitement the station lost with predictable formulas, hypocrisy, and Rock of Boston mush.

The irony: it only costs about $200 a week to offer the stream. Why not do it?

'BCN is Dead. 'Long Live 'BCN.

  • Ken said:

    Besides Howard leaving.. another big reason WBCN ultimately failed, is they never got out of the 90's.  In it's heyday, WBCN was cutting edge. It played all the new, avant garde music that everyone else was too scared to play.... When "Alternative" started taking off...WBCN was there for that too, but they never left. Their daily playlist, still to this day, basically consists of... The Beastie Boys, The Offspring, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against The Machine, Janes Addiction, Violent Femmes, Bush, Alice In Chains, etc.... music from 16 or 17 years ago. For so many years, WBCN's longevity was due to it being able to adapt by putting emphasis on new music, and stay ahead of the others...but in the end, for whatever reason, they failed to progress, and wound up beating themselves to death.  RIP WBCN.

    July 15, 2009 11:24 AM
  • mike said:

    I think their demise can also be contributed to the crappy music they play.

    July 15, 2009 11:32 AM
  • the grand vizier said:

    I may be accused of just being old and out of touch, but 'BCN's demise is primarily due to 2 reasons: satellite radio is one, and the fact that today's music just plain sucks is reason no. 2.  I can't imagine being young today and trying to figure out what to listen to.  There are dozens of "indie" bands, there is no overriding style,or form, or genre.  People make their own cd's; piracy takes away any profits for the labels. It' a mess.  I also agree with Danny Schechter about the jock/testosterone issue.  Anyhow...WBCN...RIP.

    July 15, 2009 12:44 PM
  • Mark said:

    I worked in the audio dept at Lechmere in Manchester NH and we always had BCN on between demoing systems. Charles in the morning, Ken ("The Mighty Lunch Hour") Shelton midday and Marc Parenteau closing out the afternoon.  The music was decent, the format was good.  Years later, I tuned in again and found that things basically turned to crap.

    July 15, 2009 2:01 PM
  • ToyNeedle said:

    Music today doesn't suck. You just don't like it. The problem is totally a combination of divergent delivery systems (web, HD, streams) and programming philosophy. Essentially, radio stations try to play as many songs as possible that don't make you tune out. Every single song is researched every single week for "burn". The higher the burn, the less likely the song gets played. In fact, the reason stations don't play so much new music is because more people tune it out on first hearing it--they want familiar music. Very un-BCN and that's why the old BCN doesn't work in the twenty-first century.

    July 15, 2009 4:39 PM
  • Scott said:

    I belive Wbcn is just another casuality of the "year of the celebrity death", as predicted by Greg Hughes (Opie) from the Opie and Anthony Show /XM202 Sirus197. Which was once featured on Bcn mornings before their mother station Kroc changed formats. FRUNKISS

    July 15, 2009 5:08 PM
  • Boston to Boca said:

    The real Rock of Boston included:

    Charles and "The Big Matress" in the morning

    Capt. Ken Shelton mid day

    Mark Parento Afternoon drive

    That was real honest candid radio.  That I'll always miss.  WBCN became part of a nationally accepted formula of contrived programming after that core group moved on.

    Boston Radio has lost a legend...but it died long ago

    July 15, 2009 6:18 PM
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  • geno from worcester said:

    Give me a break - avante guard? beastieboys and offspring? LOL. That is exactly why bcn is dying shitheads like you who listen to shit music, and dont buy any records.

    WBCN was about the good ol days you never saw or heard. When the Grateful dead stayed at MIT in 72 and came in and played in the studio for hours. That was the real WBCN.

    thank you

    For a reel good time

    July 16, 2009 12:43 AM
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  • pete wilgoren said:

    Lamenting to the loss of the "rock of boston" WBCN. Working there was perhaps the funnest most underpaid time of my entire life. In my few years there, I met david bowie, members of pearl jam, the counting crows, alan parsons, live, presidents of the USA, metallica, 311, talking heads, the samples, peter wolf, boston, rick ocasek, pj harvey, weezer, the outlaws, marshall tucker and many more from comedians to actors. I was actually paid to drive the WBCN hummer around boston one day to use up the tank of gas so it could go inside for the "world of wheels".  I once was the chauffer for joey ramone and had to pick him up at Logan Airport.  I got paid to go to woodstock '94 and hiked down the mass pike when our car ran out of gas on the way home. When jerry garcia died, at 3pm I hit the button on "touch of grey", at the time it was the last Dead song WBCN ever played.  I admit it, I dressed up as a lobster once "the rock lobster" and waved to people in Allston as they beeped their horns and gave me the finger.  I DJ'ed a wedding for a top WBCN staffer, and had members of the staff at my college graduation. In the summer, we'd crack open the garage at WBCN and sit and listen to the red sox play right across the street.  Longtime fans know WBCN call letters originally beckened back to its classical music past.  In my years there, we went from "the rock of boston" to the "rock revolution" to "boston's new rock" and "the rock" No question, the rock will live on.  

    Pete Wilgoren 1993-1998

    WBCN listener line, van driver, assistant producer, longtime fan

    July 16, 2009 9:22 PM
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  • Ken said:

    Geno, you're a little slow on the uptake I see. why don't you read my post again. This time read it slowly. It doesn't say that The Offspring and The Beastie Boys are Avant Garde... I'm saying that for years WBCN was able to adapt, keeping up with the cutting edge of things. At one time, alternative was the new thing, and WBCN jumped on it...Then it died. But they kept playing it...being stuck constantly playing music from that one genre from almost 20 years ago, is a big part of what killed it. No, I wasn't there for the in-studio with The Grateful Dead in 72, but I was there for the good times with The Mighty Lunch Hour, and The Big Mattress,and I buy music, so you presume an awful lot.... By the way, if there's a shithead's looking like it just may be you, champ.

    July 17, 2009 8:02 AM
  • Stan The Man said:

    Rock is Dead.

    The 90's killed it. Pearl Jam, Godsmack and the rest of the negative, way too serious bands shoved down everyone's throats really set the pace. Sorry guys, but you know how lucky you were to make it big with the talent you have. BUT it dumbed down everyone coming up.

    LONG LIVE Capt. Ken, Charles, Mark P., Carter, and the rest of you GREAT jocks as well as the one's before you like Wolf, etc., for making BCN what it was!!!!!

    Oh, and this dumbing down is happening EVERYWHERE in all aspects of our once great society.

    Sorry but it's true.

    July 18, 2009 2:35 PM

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