WCAS History - page 2

The Core

Somewhere along the way, and in what order I frankly do not remember, I hired Moe Shore and Frank Dudgeon, both instrumental, no, both *crucial* to the development of the station. They, like anyone else, received minimum wage for the hours they put on the air (about 20 per week), and nothing for all the other work they did. Moe became "Music Director" and spent I don't know how many hours listening to the crap the record companies sent us, and Frank became the musical conscience of the station, his music tastes running more guttural and more purist than the rest of ours. Moe found us Dan Fogelberg and acceptable tracks by Fleetwood Mac and other rock genre artists. Frank brought us Doc Watson and Dave Van Ronk and folkie artists on Rounder Records and expanded us into blues and other eclectic stuff. It was a strange melange, but somehow it worked. Throw in the Chieftans, Van Morrison and some Beatles tracks and you begin to get a taste of our all-too-unique and almost indescribable flavor.

We had a terrible time just getting records to play; many afternoons I would get in my Volkswagen beetle and drive to various record distributors in Waltham and Woburn and beg for anything they could give me. I handed them back the Tony Bennett and Aerosmith albums; they had no clue what we were about, nor did they particularly care to find out. Barry Korkin at A&M did, I will always remember him for that; unfortunately A&M had very little that fit the format.

Anyway, Moe did the most entertaining program on the station "The Show More Moe Shore Show" in afternoon drive, which ended at 4:30 during the winter (we were a daytime only station) and Frank did the midday for a while, but I found his music selection too esoteric or too un-commercial and bounced him around to weekends, occasional middays, and anywhere else where we needed a shift filled and where I could "hide" him from a regular slot. He took it with good humor, at least to me. His tastes and mine did not jibe and I was probably wrong, but then that's what they pay a Program Director to do, to make decisions. Even bad ones.

The Birth of "Live At Passim's"

At one point I went to Bob Donlin, owner of Passim's Coffeehouse, which had a nice little business in the space formerly known as Club 47. Coffee and lunch in the day, folk-ish acts most nights. I proposed to him a revolving Sunday afternoon series of concerts from his club, from the Orson Welles Theater (up the street) and from one other venue (to be named later) and he jumped at it. It was the worst presentation I ever made, but Bob saw the possibilities and signed up on the spot. Since it cost money to install broadcast lines, we decided to stick with Passim's and Passim's alone, and that is how "Live at Passim's" came to be. Bob paid for nothing, but gave away the seats (he kept any sandwich and drink concessions), we paid nothing for the acts, which Bob arm-twisted into doing a Sunday afternoon radio show.

I had a major fight with Kaiser to get the money for the broadcast lines since that was another $100 a month in rental expense plus a host of the show and someone back at the station to play commercials and fill between acts, but I got around it by promising that I would get the broadcast sponsored and that it would be profitable in-and-of-itself. I never did, and it never was.

As the station was taken over by long-haired hippies, Merrill Smith faded away, Paul disappeared, and we were on autopilot while Kaiser announced an attempt to sell the station to a buyer from a religious group, Family Radio in California which planned to disband the station and run prerecorded sermons on tape. ("Send your Goodwill Dollars to Reverend Jim in Baton Rouge...") It was a business model they had followed in many other markets and it probably would have done OK for them.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but this was not an attractive prospect to those of us employed (making $60 per week, or in my case $90), and many gripe sessions followed in various places. One, the details lost to history, was with David Misch, a local folk-singer with a keen sense of humor, who agreed to head up a public campaign to "save" the station, except, oops, he had no money or idea what to do.

 

25 for a Save WCAS bumper sticker. And people Bought them! and Used them!

 

I Bite The Hand That's Almost Feeding Me

Neither did we, but we pooled a few bucks and brainstormed a few ideas and off he went. He found someone at a print shop (Boston College, if memory serves) who made up a bunch of "SAVE WCAS" bumper stickers which were sold in record stores throughout the area. That cost me $100, but it was the best advertising investment I've ever made. The Real Paper, Cambridge's alternative weekly, ran a story, then the Boston Phoenix, the bigger Boston weekly did the same, the Real Paper ran an update, the Phoenix updated the update, the Cambridge Chronicle weighed in, the Gay Community News headlined it, a TV station came calling and it snowballed. Eventually even the Boston Globe grudgingly covered the story, petitions were circulated and signed, and forwarded to the FCC. David Misch fronted everything, but I had some input. He provided the power, to be sure, (and we couldn't have done it without him) but I felt I had few fingers on the tiller too, probably a moral dereliction since I was cashing Kaiser's paycheck at the end of each week as well. We had several "secret" meetings in the dark in out of the way bars and coffeeshops. Why, it was a regular *intrigue!*

On the cusp of the sale and after a blizzard of newspaper clippings and citizen petitions, Kaiser blinked and said it would reevaluate its decision to sell. We had a reprieve. In the interleaving time, the publicity, the bumper stickers, the coffeehouse talk had made us into something of an item, and while our ratings were abysmal (we peaked at a 1.5), we had "an audience."

The "3 share" that the previous format engendered was sparsely distributed throughout the Boston area. A few listeners in out in Woburn, a few more  in Milton, a couple in their car in Waltham, three kids at Mom's house in Belmont. These people were of no interest to local advertisers, since there was no "local geographic concentration", and were of less interest to regional advertisers, since they could more efficiently buy WRKO or WBZ or whoever, and were of no interest at all to national advertisers.

 

 

The Business Plan

"Our" listeners were concentrated: in large part by geography in Cambridge (and Somerville), and in smaller part by lifestyle, in "alternative." In that venue, the only competition was WBCN, the powerhouse "underground" FM station which had begun charging high advertising rates, and by WNTN, another AM daytime station that had been taken over by some renegades in Newton. I don't know that story at all; someday I'd like to hear it.

Anyway, we had found "an audience", and advertisers began to buy: in small pieces, at first, but then larger and larger: the Harvard Coop and other Harvard Square retailers, concert promoters, head shops, followed by more traditional retailers looking for the student trade in and around Cambridge and Somerville. We eventually got a few bucks (emphasis on "few") from major Boston retailers, presumably from young time-buyers at agencies who liked our programming. We actually got to the point of "break even", but only by abusing the employees, ignoring transmitter maintenance, and shifting some costs to the TV station nominally affiliated, but located a million psychogenic miles away off the Expressway in Dorchester.

Nothing is forever and the Globe still wanted out (and so did Kaiser,) and they re-ginned their efforts to find a buyer for the station. And they did, another religious broadcaster [*errata] who wanted to do the same thing as the last one. Go figure.

But by that time, we had filled the public service slots to the brim with "News The Teletype Won't Tell Or Type" from highly active Cambridge political groups, we carried a Sunday morning slate of local programs, and we were *known*. The script repeated nearly verbatim, news stories, petitions, and the religious group finally walked away, saying something to the effect of "If we're not wanted, we won't come there." They weren't and they didn't.

 

CONTINUE

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