It was more than 40 years ago, on a March night in 1968, when WBCN-FM (104.1) decided to break from its classical music format. Instead of Bach, listeners that evening heard “I Feel Free,’’ by the Eric Clapton-led rock band Cream, and right then Boston’s local music scene was transformed.
The Boston Globe – July 15, 2009
Read the full article here.
That was what the Globe printed the day after WBCN parent company CBS, Inc. announced the frequency swap of WBMX to 104.1, the demise of the then-current WBCN and the impending launch of a new FM Sports station on 98.5.
In a very real sense, a living legend was being snuffed out. Or, perhaps it was more like put out of its misery. WBCN WAS the Rock Of Boston, and in its heyday it was more than a radio station, more than a Rock station, more than an institution… WBCN was to Progressive Rock what Rolling Stone is to the music and entertainment industry. Its the station that Peter Wolf was a DJ at, before becoming a sensation as lead singer of the J. Geils Band. It was one of the pioneering stations of the Album Rock format (which led, inevitably, to the Classic Rock format, the Active Rock format and the Alternative format). But in recent years, the station was dying a slow death from a cancer that was growing both in Boston Rock Radio, and with the station itself that grew out of the loss of the Howard Stern Show.. which, ironically, was never a local program despite the fact that Stern essentially got his radio start in Boston at local WNTN (1550 AM). Sales were down substantially before the economic downturn of September ’08, and the station’s ratings had been steadilly falling for over a decade. The answer to ‘why’ might lie in the fact that greater Boston’s youth was increasingly more interested in Rap, Hip-Hop and R&B music in recent years, and the fact that so many stations in Beantown were playing some form of Rock music… stations like co-owned WZLX (Classic Rock), WAAF, a recent move-in signal that used to be licensed to Worcester but moved to Westborough to cover the city better and the launch of a WAAF simulcast on the former WILD-FM (ex WBOT, WCAV-FM) as WKAF, plus rimshot Rockers 94 HJY from Providence, WHEB-FM Portsmouth NH, WGIR-FM Manchester and other stations heard well in the suburbs… not to mention WBOS and WXRV doing a lighter form of Rock and WFNX, a relatively low power but well listened to Alternative station. Its quite amazing that WBCN lasted as long as it did.
We give kudos to the CBS and in particular, the CBS Boston cluster’s management and staff. Quite often when there’s a format change, there’s an abrupt change, a few hours of stunting, then a new format… and the listeners are just left hanging. This time was much different. Four full days were alloted to celebrating the storied history of WBCN, which included special guests, celebrities, and former disc jockeys, also featured plenty of airchecks and classic songs & programming elements.
Perhaps it is because the then-current WBCN Active Rock format moved to WBZ-FM HD3 as a digital station, and that a retro “progressive WBCN’ format is on another HD signal. Or, perhaps CBS decided that this time, for once, the listeners, staff and station should be given the respect due this institution. For whatever the reason, this one time, CBS and local management, right down to the last jock, did the best format change / frequency swap I’ve heard since the big switch in New York in 1988 which saw WNBC (660) expire and WFAN move from 1050 to 660 along with some other swaps. Kudos to ALL! Great job!!!