Friday, October 15, 2010

Media: Remembering WBOS

TORONTO, ONTARIO - When I arrived in a new town, I used to scan the dial searching for new radio stations to sample. When I arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in 1997, I knew where I was going to get news (WBZ 1030 AM and WBUR 90.9 FM), but the only music station I had really sampled during a brief visit had been "Mix 98 5" (WBMX), a hot adult contemporary station and one of the best I had encountered to that time along with Chicago's WTMX and the long-defunct i107.7 in Seattle.

Pretty rapidly, I settled on three music pre-sets, WBMX, top-40 "Kiss 108" (WXKS-FM at 107.9), and a station that was a little different, WBOS 92.9 FM. I would soon learn that since 1989, WBOS had officially had an "Adult Album Alternative" format with a wide playlist, but it was a little different than any "AAA" station I had encountered before. While it was willing to play deep cuts and older music, the contemporary portion of its playlist was little different than WBMX. Because of its greater variety, I tended to favor it more and more the longer I lived in Boston. One of their better promotional slogans was "We play the father and the son," referring to Bob Dylan and his son Jacob (of the Wallflowers). Their "EarthFest" free performances around Earth Day often brought artists like Edwin McCain and Abra Moore to play at the Hatch Shell along the Charles River. I considered these free events one of the highlights of living in Boston.

However one describes it, I soon discovered that WBOS was the official pizza joint station in greater Boston. Whether in East Boston, Cambridge, or Dorchester, I'd walk into an inexpensive restaurant serving pizza and I'd find WBOS in the background. It became a bit of running joke in my group of friends that the pizza world would be in upheaval if WBOS ever re-formatted.

The WBOS "AAA" format never received great ratings, and was constantly rumored to be going away. It didn't help that another "AAA" station, "The River 92.5" (WXRV) was on a near-adjacent frequency, and was generally regarded as the better-programmed station, just with a weaker, "rim-shot" signal into Boston proper. Serious proposals to make WBOS into an FM talk station (in 1999, which instead went to 96.9), smooth jazz (in 2000) and a "Jack" station (in 2005) never came to fruition, as the format would always have a good ratings book right before its owners were intending to make the change, allowing the format to survive.

The handwriting was clearly on the wall in 2005 when the station started emphasizing music over DJ's (which it had always done to some extent) and a digital signal. When I heard the slogan "the same music sounds different on WBOS," I knew it was only a matter of time before the station would be gone. WBOS as I had enjoyed it during my stay in Boston disappeared in February 2008, as the station flipped to modern rock. The WBOS calls live on, but the station is now marketed as "Radio 92.9." WBOS is yet another station from my past pre-sets that is no longer on the air as I recall it--and I have no idea what station is played in area pizza parlors now.

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