The Day the Music Died

August 14, 2009

With total apologies to Don McLean and complete recognition of the hyperbole of the title, I am quite sad that WBCN died this week. The station was dying a long slow inevitable death for the last decade since its purchase by radio conglomerate CBS.

This matters to me because WBCN was the station of my youth, and most Bostonians over 40 would agree. That it happened in the same week as John Hughes death was all the more poignant.

From a business perspective, rather than a musical or emotional one, it is quite interesting to analyze. BCN was the dominant rock and roll station in Boston, and one of the best rock stations in the country. BCN played all types of rock, from the Stones of the 60s to Aerosmith of the 70s to the Clash of the 80s, and BCN did it without labels or corporate play lists.

And when CBS bought it, it used traditional targeting and demographic analysis to force WBCN to change formats. You see, CBS already owned a “classic rock” station in Boston and quite a bit of what BCN played was classic rock. Of course, when BCN started playing it, there were no such definitions. But in the competition for advertisers, classic rock was the pure “boomer” demographic and “alternative” rock was the Gen X/Y demographic. So BCN was forced to change.

The problem with this is that CBS completely misread the Boston radio market and those of us who loved WBCN and its totally eclectic rock music. If it was good rock, they played it. So like most others, I stopped listening. And then the ratings fell until finally the station was killed off.

In the final days, WBCN played its old format with many of its old DJs. And like many others, I listened and thought, “If they played this all the time, I would still be listening to BCN.”

It’s too bad that one of the great radio stations had to die because corporate radio bureaucrats were too stupid to realize they needed to apply something other than their national cookie cutter to WBCN and the Boston market.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond