Remembering the radio stations I've been listening to through the years, I see how important radio has been in my life.
When I was growing up, listening to the radio was a big part of my life. With all their iPods, computers and such, do kids even listen to the radio these days? I don't know.
Starting around age 10, I always had a transistor radio pressed up to my ear when I was walking anywhere. That was true of most of the girls at that age. It seemed that boys were a little older when they started their radio days, but once boys started, they tended to get more seriously into music and to be avid listeners for a longer time.
Several AM stations played rock'n'roll music back then; FM's rise to prominence was a few years away. We always listened to WMEX ("Wimmex"), WRKO and WBZ. WBZ had a broadcast trailer at Paragon Park, and I remember seeing Dave Maynard broadcasting there. I particularly liked Dick Summer's Subway Show, which was on evenings and played some pretty cool music. I even had a book cover with drawings of the 'BZ jocks on one of my textbooks.
My girlfriends and I would always talk about the groups that we liked and we'd tell each other about any good new songs that we'd heard. Listening to the radio became a shared experience, even if we'd been listening alone. And we listened all the time so we wouldn't miss anything: I guess we were too young to realize that the stations kept repeating songs and we wouldn't have to listen for too long to hear everything.
I remember one day when I was sitting on my porch, a friend came by and told me that there was a new radio station, at 104.1. The station was WBCN, which would later become THE popular station. It was something new: not only was it our first FM experience, it was a totally different kind of station. It was freeform, which meant the DJs pretty much played what they wanted. Though it was mainly rock-based, all kinds of music were in the mix. The station also had a good vibe and cool DJs. I listened to it a lot, though I continued spending time with the AM stations to hear the hits.
By the time we were in high school, we'd probably all left the AM dial behind. It faded into the background as everyone listened to the FM stations with their higher quality sound and more interesting/varied formats. As FM grew in prominence, other stations competed for the rock audience. When I was in college, WCOZ became the chief rival of WBCN and many of us listened to both. WCOZ eventually went away, while WBCN remained. I also listened to WAAF but its signal never came in very well; it's still there and it still doesn't.
Although WBCN was always the backbone of our radio menu, we sometimes wandered into other music genres. After Sha Na Na played at Woodstock, a lot of us at WHS got into fifties rock'n'roll. We then started listening to the original hits from that decade, though I can't remember if I listened to the oldies stations, which played fifties music back then. (One of the things that lets you know that you're getting old(er) is when the music of your youth is played on oldies stations, or even worse, when it is too old for the oldies stations!)
During my senior year, when I was involved in The City Program and going to school with black kids in Boston, one of the kids always carried a tape recorder playing soul music. Many of us Watertown kids loved the tunes and started listening to soul. I often listened to WILD, an AM soul station whose broadcast ended at sunset.
But through it all, as my tastes in music varied and different styles came and went, WBCN was the stalwart, the station I always came back to. Subsequent generations gravitated to it as well. (One day I remember asking a much younger cousin what music she was listening to at the time, and she casually said, "The usual. 'BCN.") The station eventually migrated to a more playlist-oriented format. Three years ago, its current owner, CBS, took WBCN off the air in favor of a sports station. But the station isn't gone: WBCN has a new home on HD radio (and streaming online).
The station's original program director, Sam Kopper, has been programming the HD-3 station, WBCN Free Form Rock, with a rock-based but eclectic mix of music, including a lot of new music. The format is similar to that of the original WBCN, and he and a few other DJs also broadcast live for several hours on weekdays. Kopper also retrofitted an old school bus and turned it into a broadcast studio from which WBCN has begun doing live remote broadcasts from various locations. The green bus, the Gypsy Dancer, will be parked at Direct Tire on Galen St. in Watertown on Friday, May 11, and DJs will be broadcasting live from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
I'm glad to see a radio station doing live remote broadcasts: these are a lot of fun for both listeners and DJs as they bring the two together in one place to share both the music and a sense of community. And it also reminds me of how much listening to the radio meant to my friends and me back in the radio days of our youth.