For WBCN, it was time
What are those clichés? Don’t kick dirt on a grave, don’t beat a dead horse?
But in the case of “The Rock of Boston,” WBCN, its death should have been celebrated with an orchestral symphony of celebration. Unlike the classic New Orleans, La., funeral dirge, the mourning was unnecessary; only the dancing and upbeat music were fitting for such an occasion.
WBCN, despite the “alternative” music it played, was nothing more than a corporate monkey, stuck playing the same rotation that left too much to be desired. The death of WBCN is long overdue, but unfortunately, its demise does not bode well for the radio industry.
WBCN was not always stuck in the motions of a regular rotation filled with the same music over and over. Flip it on for the last decade and you would hear Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys and so on. Not to knock these bands – they all have some great music – but when it is played over and over ad nauseum, it takes this great music and strips it of its entire flavor.
When WBOS 92.9 changed from a pop station to a more adult/alternative format recently, this made three stations in eastern Massachusetts that were all pumping out the same rotations. Turning the radio dial from 92.9 to 107.3 to 104.1 was nothing more than a futile attempt to maybe catch a second or two of a song one had not heard in the last week. New songs by new musicians were hard to find.
I thought there was a glimmer of hope when WBCN started playing Kings of Leon, but they stuck to the two pop hits, “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” without exploring the rest of their catalog. The same thing goes for breakout artists Cage the Elephant, whose CD is impressive, but their only song played on ‘BCN or the other stations was “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.”
So, with ‘BCN’s passing, there is one less garbage radio station to get stuck with. Unfortunately, its death was not the result of poor ratings, but an attempt by the station’s owner CBS Radio to launch a new sports station to challenge perennial champion and sports talk behemoth WEEI.
Full of blowhard sports commentators, for the most part, WEEI has never really had a significant challenge to its dominance of Boston’s sports airwaves. Clearly, CBS Radio ran the numbers, and the risk-reward for starting a new sports talk station in Boston, Mass. beat the projections that WBCN was due to make.
This means several things. First, CBS Radio realized that WBCN was not getting a large enough audience to deserve a valuable FM signal or that a sports talk station might generate more listeners. Maybe as time goes by, the corporations who own radio stations in large markets across the country will realize that the failure is not that another station might attract a larger audience, but that listeners would actually appreciate variety in the songs and artists played, rather than the farce of ads that say it does (seriously, someone should track down the KISS marketing agency and sue for false advertising on the grounds they claim to play Boston’s most variety).
Anyways, radio is obviously catered to corporate interests and wherever corporate realm enters, similarity ensues. It’s the endgame of what Henry Ford kick-started over 100 years ago with the assembly worker. Every Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Target and all the other big-box, corporate-dominated enterprises demand the cloning of stores and operations. How else would employees be shuffled around so easily? How else would skills required at a job stay at the bare minimum? How else would a downward loss of wages and benefits be enforced?
This sick, disgusting side effect of the corporate culture so alive and kicking in the United States was emblematic at WBCN. While some shows had independence (Toucher & Rich and Boston Emissions), the music played by the DJs was a set rotation. From Toucher and Rich in the morning, who blasted WBCN’s policy of forcing them to play music and choosing the songs for them during their morning show, and for the rest of the day, WBCN rarely strayed from orders issued from up top. It seems CBS Radio had a playlist it wanted, and ‘BCN acquiesced.
KISS 108, MIX 98.5, WBOS 92.9 and WAAF 100.7 all seem to be in the same boat. It is just a blessing that there is one less station out there. The only independence seems to come from WERS 88.9 aired from Emerson College. Its low audience share may be a blessing in disguise – it is exempt from the synchronization endemic among large radio stations and their owners. I thought I was going to miss WBCN, how mistaken was my first instinct when the announcement of its closure first aired.
Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.