Over and Out: WBCN Fades to Static

Filed in Arts & Entertainment, Local News by on August 12, 2009 4 Comments

Yesterday evening, a thick, low-lying fog began enveloping Boston around 6PM. An omen from Mother Nature, as the sky and buildings around us faded into the fog, so too would one of the biggest radio stations in Boston forever fade away into the night.

A few minutes after midnight, the Pink Floyd tune Shine on You Crazy Diamond merged into nearly two minutes of clips from the 41 year existence of WBCN. One last audio cut of “They’re really rocking in Boston” was sent out, breaking down into the words “over and out“, and then fading into static. A few seconds later, a voice came on, announcing “WBMX / WBMX HD-1 Boston” and then WBCN the Rock of Boston, faded out of terrestrial FM radio and into static noise.

WBCN: A Rock Radio Legend

In March 1968, WBCN began broadcasting free form rock programming over the Boston airwaves. They helped break tons of bands, including The Clash, The Ramones, The Police, The Cars, U2, The Who and Aerosmith.

Though over the past five to seven years WBCN has been on a steady decline downwards in terms of listenership and many would say quality of programming, when I was growing up in Boston 104.1 FM was a mainstay on my radio dial. Listening to Nocturnal Emissions, attending River Raves and seeing WBCN constantly hosting events around town was a big part of my teenage years.

Heck, I even listened to WBCN during the New England Patriots – St. Louis Rams Super Bowl in 2002, as Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti were much, much better than any of the TV announcers. At least Gil and Gino will live on as part of 98.5 FM The Sports Hub.

The Future of WBCN

Now, WBCN won’t completely disappear off the face of the earth. They’ll continue to broadcast online and on HD radio, but considering the massive propagation of FM radio, it’s a massive negative change for a station that helped promote some huge bands and shaped many careers in radio.

Ironically enough, with the move off the FM radio dial and onto HD/online radio, I may actually listen to WBCN more than ever. But, I’m in a minority that does not own a car and does not work in a corporate cubicle (two huge markets for FM radio broadcasts). As I’ve been listening WBCN’s new home at 98.5 FM – HD2 online, I’m finding the focus on music awesome and refreshing. One of my big issues with modern terrestrial radio was the huge focus on talk and commercials, with music playing a back seat. Free Form BCN will continue on 100.7FM-HD3 too, with an online stream to come soon.

The real question becomes if listeners will migrate over to HD and online radio broadcasts, or if WBCN will slowly, truly, fade away, to become a footnote in Boston’s history books. I’ll be a bit sad if that’s the case, but perhaps CBS Radio, the parent company of WBCN, has inadvertently re-invigorated WBCN. They’ll be forced to cut out fluff and focus on their core product with the move off the FM radio dial. In that regard, the product itself should get better, especially as they won’t be under intense scrutiny by CBS Radio to justify their place on the digital dial.

In a few years, perhaps we’ll look back at this time as a seminal moment in radio, one where radio finally makes a big push towards HD and online broadcasts. I didn’t hear the last few moments of WBCN FM on a radio, I’m not even sure if there’s a working one lying around here; I heard WBCN’s fade into static online.

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  1. When I first moved to Boston, WFNX was challenging WBCN for mindshare amongst my peer group — it was the mid-80s and they were the upstart which made them cool for a lot of us. (We were upstarts too.) But WBCN had a special place in the hearts of the folks who grew up around here – The Rock had introduced them to a whole lot of great music and for that they were eternally grateful.
    .-= Bobbie CarltonĀ“s last blog ..August Virtual MIN Innovators =-.

  2. Julie says:

    I felt very sad to wake up this morning without BCN. I worked there for many years, and even got to work on the sidelines of the Superbowl game against the Rams you mention here. It was a surreal experience in so many ways and one that cannot be matched. The station meant a lot to many people and for me it feels like they tore down my childhood home and I am just staring at the vacant lot. All things end and times change, so I am really just grateful that I got to be a part of it and thankful for the lasting friendships I still have with those that I shared it with.

  3. Bobbie,

    I used to have an awesome WBCN bumper sticker from the mid-80’s, it was all neon colored and full of 80’s win, but alas at some point I lost it. šŸ™

    Your point about BCN introducing people to great music will resonate for a long time. They might have lost a bit of their luster over the past few years, but for 4 decades they kept delivering great radio.

    Julie,

    Thanks for the comment, great to hear from someone with hands-on experience at BCN. From people I know in the radio industry, WBCN was really looked up to as an ideal role model for how to produce great radio. Seems your experience backs that up.

    It didn’t quite hit me how important BCN was in my life until that static hit my ears. Then, like you I became very sad that this entity that had a huge effect on myself and Boston culture was gone. Hopefully they find a way to stay viable on HD/online radio and eventually have a comeback. Wouldn’t that be wicked rock & roll of them?
    .-= Adam PieniazekĀ“s last blog ..UnGoals for PodCamp Boston 4 =-.

  4. Doug says:

    This is awesome! I fell asleep and missed the last few moments of ‘BCN, so i was thrilled to hear it here. They used to play that “they’re really rockin’ in Boston” montage a lot, and having it run down was a cool way to end, just like the old heydays of “BCN. And then hearing the last three words spoken on ‘BCN “over and out” were from the late Darrell Martini, the Cosmic Muffin, just gave me goosebumps.

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