Oedipus at WBCN in 1978. MORE PHOTOS: WBCN through the years.
"Five years it took them. Five years, almost to the date. Boom. Goodbye. My baby, into the ground."
-- Oedipus, on the fate of WBCN after he left
You want someone to name names? Fine. Oedipus -- the legendary former program director of The Radio Station Formerly Known as WBCN who introduced a generation of Bostonians to punk rock and guided its powerhouse rock-radio station through its glory years -- will name you some fucking names.
Ask Oedipus what went wrong, and he won't just tell you what happened -- he'll tell you who's to blame. "It's just a sad commentary on the state of radio," he sighed late last evening, after having taped an episode of WGBH's Greater Boston alongside longtime Phoenix contributor Brett Milano. "WBCN was so woefully mismanaged after I left, it was embarassing. When I left five years ago, I left them with a perfectly healthy radio station: they had a 4.3 share, they had everything they wanted. It's like a 1.6 [share] now."
"The suits took over, they got rid of all the creativity," he continued, calmly. "Dave Wellington ran it into the toilet. When Mel [Karmazin] left was really the key. [CBS Radio CEO] Joel Hollander -- it starts at the top."
To translate: Mel Karmazin was the president of Infinity (when Infinity was WBCN's corporate parent), and Oedipus was his guy. A week after Karmazin resigned, in 2004, Oedipus stepped down from WBCN. Wellington was Oedipus's immediate successor, the first person to try and fill a pair of shoes that had been held by a single man for 23 years. Wellington got canned in June, 2008 -- by Mark Hannon, another Infinity/CBS suit who's in Oedi's crosshairs. Longtime radio watchers will recognize these are old feuds, but they
still burn -- perhaps even moreso now that CBS has proved Oedi's point
by killing off a radio giant.
"They didn’t let the programming department and the promotions department be
creative. They researched everything. The music had to be researched
and double checked and approved by the Greg Strassells and the Mark Hannons of the world." Strassell and Hannon are CBS Radio programming VPs -- it was Hannon's name on the quotes that cheerfully and casually spelled out WBCN's death sentence yesterday. Not coincidentally, Hannon used to run WBMX, aka Mix 98.5, the station that just swallowed WBCN. "[Hannon] is a numbers guy," says Oedipus. "He doesn't have a creative bone in his body. WBMX is a joke. They came up with Free FM, they came up with David Lee Roth [as a morning jock]. Some of these people, they manage to survive -- and when things go bad they blame everybody else but themselves. You have to encourage creativity and enthusiasm. The jocks at BCN weren't into the music they were playing, and you could tell. They tried to be funny and witty. And they weren't."
Bottom line: who killed WBCN? "It's the top management -- they set the tone of the company. And they cut corners and got rid of the creativity and let focus groups run the station and it rusted away. It's sad -- it's like when Michael Jackson died. You don't expect Michael Jackson to die, you don't expect WBCN to die. You expect them to be around for ever. And when they die, it affects you -- it dates you. The station touched so many people's lives."
WHAT COMES NEXT
While music fans mourn the loss of WBCN, sports fans are bracing for an epic ground war for sports supremacy WEEI and CBS's new FM "Hub Sports" station. Oedipus doesn't think they'll have an easy road. He argues that the new station's contracts to broadcast both the Patriots and the Bruins could actually hinder its ability to make money. His argument goes like this: the contracts with the teams are incredibly expensive, and require bringing in separate advertising. (Radio stations generally make their money in pre- and post-game shows.) The games themselves pre-empt the station's regular programming. And therefore selling to the station's regular advertisers gets more complicated: "How do you sell the evening programs if they're going to be disrupted 82 times a year?"
As for how he expects to see the rest of Boston's rock landscape to shake out? "Of [WBCN's audience], let's make a broad assumption that isn't true: let's say that their 1.6 [share] wants music. WAAF owns the right wing of music -- hard rock. So all they have to do is move to the center a little more. BOS has to tweak a little more and people will find them. The sharing between WFNX and WBCN over the past five years has been minimal -- it used to be a lot more, because we used to play the same music. WFNX could conceivably get an itty bitty bump, but people aren't going to suddenly go to FNX unless they reinvent themselves."