Click here to start the music: a 3-month review of RadioBDC

Just about three months ago, my aural anguish was soothed dramatically by the launch of RadioBDC, the online-only radio launched by (the digital arm of the Boston Globe). When alt-rock radio icon WFNX went silent over the air (OTA) as the sale of its frequency to ClearChannel pushed it to the web only, it jettisoned all of its DJ’s. Of course, you could still listen to WFNX online (and still can), but the soul of the station was gone. The departure of its program director, Paul Driscoll, and all the jocks I was so used to hearing (such as Henry Santoro, Julie Kramer, and Adam 12), left a terrible void in my workday and on my car radio.

In a fit of corporate purging, I went through my car radio presets and expunged any sign of Clear Channel stations, opting to fill every preset with the few remaining indie/public radio stations and leaving the rest for WERS (Emerson College radio). These days, most of what you hear in my car is either NPR – my palliative against road rage – or selections from “Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks” (a fan favorite with the kiddos). I can listen to RadioBDC in my car, thanks to a spiffy app that I installed on my iPhone (also available for Android and Blackberry), but I typically try to keep my non-wireless data usage fairly well in check so as not to train myself to be a data hound once my plan flips to metered at next renewal.

So, this means I usually listen to RadioBDC only during the workday and on the weekends or evenings, when I’m puttering in the kitchen. At work, I put on RadioBDC through my web browser, and at home I’ll pipe it through my iPhone. Showing just how much he truly loves me, on Thanksgiving morning, dh put RadioBDC on via the iPad and plugged it into our stereo so I could blast it all morning long while I chopped and chopped…and chopped…getting my stuffing ready to go for the evening meal.

And now that we’re three months in, what’s the verdict?

I’d say RadioBDC is a win, and here’s why…

I’m a tough audience. I like music. A LOT. Having worked at a record store in my formative years, I have a voracious love of music that I’m trying to pass along to my kids. But that said, there’s some stuff I just can’t suffer to be bothered with. Heavy rotation (playing the same song within a 2hr timespan) doesn’t work too well for me, having gotten MTV-PTSD from seeing the Bruce Springsteen video for “War” played every hour, on the hour, when I was much younger. Some alt bands, like Pearl Jam and Cage the Elephant, make me reach for the mute button. So, to find a station that I’ll listen to all day with no more than a couple of “mutes” is really rare. The variety of music gives me something new pretty much every day, and I don’t hear the same songs every single hour.

Some examples of what I heard in just one stretch yesterday morning:

  • “Sun” by Two Door Cinema Club
  • “Kettling” by Bloc Party
  • “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men
  • “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay
  • “Blood Red Youth” by California Wives
  • “Skyfall” by Adele
  • “You Are a Tourist” by Death Cab for Cutie
  • “Steve McQueen” by M83

If a standard way to judge the awesomeness of a music selection is that you’re pretty sure you’re going to get a UTI from failing to get up from your desk because they just put on YET ANOTHER song you really want to hear, you’re clearly listening to the right radio station. It hurt my heart to have to turn off RadioBDC as I headed to a meeting this afternoon; they were playing “Don’t Panic” by Coldplay, one of my favorite songs on the truly fantastic “Garden State” soundtrack, and I was really disappointed to have to interrupt it.

While not being OTA, RadioBDC is clearly a real, functioning radio station: it has all the same trappings. RadioBDC does giveaways, sponsors shows and holds events. Even better, RadioBDC has “Live in the Lab” mini-concerts at the station (housed in the same building with the rest of the Globe folks), which they stream live and archive for later viewing/listening via the station’s web site. There’s also the “+1” free concert series with (mostly) emerging artists playing at local venues. Listeners can enter to win or simply sign up for free admission to attend events, which seem to run every few weeks or so. There’s still a vital and vibrant connection to the alt rock scene, bringing forward new and established artists in both pre-recorded and live formats. One big “get” for the station was the recent announcement that they’re sponsoring the “Hometown Throwdown”, the longtime annual series of pre-New Year’s shows done by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. You couldn’t do that if you were just some little startup with no-name DJs or a computer powering all your airplay selection. Or I suppose you could…but everyone would know that it was about being a poseur and not about really being a part of the Boston music scene.

That leads me to the people and just how important they are. The jocks keep the station human. There’s no algorithm picking what I hear during my workday. The music is picked by the people who know music I like, and I even get to contribute my own suggestions. During Adam 12’s “4 o’clock Free-For-All” set, I’ve had the pleasure of getting several of my requests played (submitted via my personal twitter handle, often prompting “12” to sweetly send out a “Hey Jude” before each song). You just don’t get that at most radio stations, where it’s either all pre-programmed or it’s so corporatized that you can’t get them to step outside of what they were paid to play. These DJ’s are the people who have the connections to the bands, to the scene, to the music. When WFNX laid them off, they stupidly got rid of their true capital, the greatest worth of the station.

The relationship with and the Boston Globe also strengthens what the station brings to the air. Henry Santoro, the newsman of the jock set, gets news direct from the bullpen at the paper. Several Globe reporters, columnists and bloggers come on air throughout the week to talk about what’s going on in their corner of the world. Not only does this get you some more in-depth analysis of what’s happening in the Boston area, it also means you finally get to hear the voices of some of the people who’ve only spoken to you through newsprint all these years.

I think there’s also something to be said for having built something real. Within the last few weeks, RadioBDC announced the addition of several more DJ’s – including other refugees from WFNX – who are adding their own flavor and shows. This stepped approached to building the station’s format and design is clearly measured and cautious, designed for growth and stability. Truly, setting aside the lack of the OTA component (for which they’ve built nifty app/browser-based workarounds), it’s a real, live alt rock radio station. I listen to it as much as I can, I tweet with the DJ’s and keep an eye on what they post, since there’s almost always some nugget of information or humor worth passing along or checking out.

And here’s the final point that I really need to make, if it isn’t already apparent from what I’ve written before on this blog: I don’t shill. I’m not a corporate mouthpiece, and I don’t write about things because someone pays me to. I write about things that I’m interested in or things that make me happy. I do the occasional review of things that people are kind enough to let me try out, but I don’t take every review opportunity out there because there’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t interest me at all. I wouldn’t write all these nice things about RadioBDC if I didn’t really believe in what they’re doing and enjoy their product – and I can assure you that they didn’t pay me to write any of this. I don’t even have a RadioBDC shirt…much as I’d totally wear one. (hint hintha ha)

If the mark of a brand being successful is having people advocate for it without ever receiving a red cent, then you can definitely call them a success. But, to say that they’ve given me nothing would be a lie. I’ve gotten hours of enjoyment from listening to the music, hearing the DJ’s talk, reading their tweets and blog posts, seeing and hearing the Live in the Lab sessions on my computer, and watching Frank Turner belt out his songs in their first streaming event. I was there the night they “launched” at the Paradise, and I can’t imagine having been anywhere else that night.

Real radio does that, and RadioBDC is definitely the real deal.

The night the music came back

I’ve loved music seemingly all my life. I grew up on a steady diet of Simon & Garfunkel, Hall & Oates, Billy Joel, Elton John…and the occasional classical piece or opera to round things out a bit. Road trips were filled with music, often thematic for the trip (Billy Joel and Elton John for trips to New Jersey; Kenny Rogers and Juice Newton for trips to Virginia). When my sister played “Hot Hot Hot” by The Cure for me, when “Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me” first came out on vinyl, I knew I’d found something truly special. Only a few years later, I would get the chance to expand my repertoire even further when I got a job working at a local record store chain. I remember listening to “Nothing’s Shocking” by Jane’s Addiction, learning the Rolling Stones had a whole streak of country-esque songs, and discovered the joys of howling “Mother!” at the top of my lungs along with Glenn Danzig. Life’s always been grand with a soundtrack.

Back in the DC area, we had WHFS, which was THE source for what was then known as “alt-rock”, the “alternative” to the standard pop offerings from the more mass-market radio stations. I was a complete devotee of WHFS; the only time I didn’t have it on was when I needed NPR to keep my road rage down on the Beltway.

When I moved to the Boston area fifteen years ago, I renewed my acquaintance with WFNX, the radio station my sister (again) played for me during her college days in Cambridge. WFNX would be my new aural home – the place where I’d first hear Arcade Fire, Temper Trap, Passion Pit, Frank Turner, and other amazing, AMAZING singers and bands. When WFNX was in its death throes, having had its frequency sold off to media sucking-sound-of-evil ClearChannel, it was like part of my soul got ripped out. Would I be forced to go to Pandora and other internet services that just spew music with no context, no local connection, and no sense of why something was worth listening to beyond some algorithm’s mathematical matchmaking?

Thankfully, the folks at (the web face of the Boston Globe) had an answer: they quickly snapped up a chunk of the on- and off-air talent from WFNX and decided to launch their own radio station – RadioBDC. It’s internet-only, but that’s not a limiting factor if you don’t let it be one. And, better still, they built something with the soul and wit and style of that “alt-rock” that has sustained me for nearly three decades.


Last night was the launch party for RadioBDC, and I snapped up my free ticket to the party as soon as they were available. For a while, it was unclear if I could go, but a combination of circumstances made it possible, and I raced to get to The Paradise for the 8pm start time. It’s odd going to a show by yourself; I always go in tandem. It took me years to get up the courage to go to a movie by myself, and this was the first time I went to a rock show on my own. The only person I “knew” who was attending was OccupyFNX (now OccupyRadioBDC), a fellow tweeter with a love of great music and a passion for keeping it on-air. We wouldn’t meet until just before Boston native and former Letters to Cleo frontwoman Kay Hanley would take the stage, but it was a great few minutes of solidarity…together.

Kay Hanley

Kay Hanley, rocking out to her killer set

All of those of us who came out for the show want to see RadioBDC succeed. We know the DJ’s from their time on WFNX (in some cases, even farther back than that), and there was something so wonderful about seeing them together after hearing a few days of early broadcasts from the fledgling station. I was only a few feet away from Adam-12 as he spun tunes before Hanley and her band played, but I hung back. It’s not that I didn’t want to say “THANK YOU SO MUCH” to someone who’s played such amazing music for me; it’s more that I didn’t want to intrude. Years ago, before I left DC, one of my side-ventures was to run an online music magazine and I often interviewed bands before or after they played at local clubs. Ultimately, I never felt comfortable in that world; I always felt like an intruder. I liked listening without poking in, even if to say thank you, because I felt like I was taking up time they had to themselves. It was the same last night. The party was a celebration of the rebirth of alt-rock in the Boston area, with the people who know it the best, and I didn’t want to bother them by gushing about how much it means to me that they’re back on the air, bringing the music to my ears that I so desperately needed.

RadioBDC DJ's

RadioBDC staff (L-R): Adam-12, Paul Driscoll, Julie Kramer, Henry Santoro, and Mike Snow

It’s not as though I don’t have an iPod. I have two. I have over 1000 CDs at home. I HAVE music. But having access to a variety of music, especially new and local bands, with DJ’s to put it into true context…that’s something levels beyond what you can get from your own static collection. My iPods are filled with what I’ve learned of over the years, and these people have helped me build this collection by giving their knowledge and sharing their loves on air with me and everybody else in Boston.

Adam-12 spinning tunes

Adam-12 spins aural joy before Kay Hanley’s set

Now, thankfully, the new station reaches even farther than the former WFNX’s sometimes-limpy transmitter in Lynn, Mass. RadioBDC can be accessed via the internet on a laptop/desktop and can also be streamed to an iPhone/iPad, Android device or Blackberry via the RadioBDC app. I’m not being paid by the or RadioBDC folks to say any of this. I love music, and when I see my nearly six-year-old daughter dance into the room when she hears Death Cab for Cutie’s “Soul Meets Body” or when she tells me how much she loves Florence + the Machine, I know that it’s these people who helped me make that happen. They facilitated my bringing that love of music to the next generation.

And on and on and on. Please pass it on. Music is love. Long live RadioBDC!

Expanding the definition of “locavore”

The concept of a “locavore” is pretty easy for most folks to grasp: someone who buys things that are produced locally. Typically, this is used when describing people who purchase locally-produced foods, whether those foods are animal or vegetable. There’s also the idea of “Think Global, Act Local” to remind people that we need to support local businesses. And, between the bevy of days designed to get us out there frequenting local businesses (i.e. Record Store Day, Free Comic Book Day, Small Business Saturday, etc.), you have a whole host of reminders that we need to consume local resources first, before we look outside of what’s right nearby.

And so, it was with a terribly heavy heart I heard the news yesterday that WFNX (101.7FM to those of us in Eastern MA) had been sold to Clear Channel. Yes, the folks who own the “IHeartRadio” brand that seems hell-bent on destroying all variety in radio had bought yet another station and was planning to take it from its current alternative music format to (likely) either Spanish-language talk or country.

I can’t describe how awful I felt when I heard this. I have all kinds of words that I would typically use for this circumstance which I try pretty hard not to use on this blog, for fear of giving the impression that I’m an off-duty sailor. Basically, this decision is just bullshit and it’s robbing the local area of a resource that many of us really enjoyed. My sister introduced me to WFNX in the early 90’s, on one of my trips up to Boston while I was still in college. I loved the variety, the fact that they played music that no one else even considered putting on the radio, and the sheer bravado of putting on music that wasn’t designed for people who only wanted aural pap. When I moved up to the Boston area several years later, WFNX became “my station” – the one I would listen to in the car all the time. Even now, working well out of the range of its puny transmitter, I stream it to my desktop at work so that I can keep tabs on the music I love and the DJ’s that I find highly amusing (in an era when most DJ’s are interchangeable animatronic figures with their own inner laugh tracks on constantly).

These days, when you turn on the radio in your car (assuming you only have terrestrial radio and haven’t ponied up for Sirius/XM), what you hear is fairly homogeneous. Any station you land on fits neatly into one of five categories: news/talk, classical, classic rock, pop rock or college radio. The alternative rock stations have been wiped clean off the map in many cities (my beloved WHFS in DC disappeared one day, suddenly, but is available for streaming these days). And now, the station that introduced me to Mumford & Sons, Foster the People, Arcade Fire, Young the Giant and many, many others is disappearing. The radio personalities that actually lent personality to the radio were let go. A skeleton crew will man the station until its final switchover somewhere between 2-8 weeks from now, and then Clear Channel will re-baptize it as something else.

If you think about what being a locavore means, there’s an inherent sense of consciously bypassing the homogenized experience – the pre-packaged, chemically-enhanced version of what’s on the market. You want the fresh strawberries from the farm one county over, not the ones that flew in from 3,000 miles away. You want the beef that’s hormone-free instead of the beef that’s had god only knows WHAT done to it in order to get that cow to grow faster in a pen that’s smaller than a bathroom stall. Sure, you pay more for that, but you pay knowing that you’re supporting local businesses and your own local community, and you’re doing something that’s better for you in the process.

Listening to local radio isn’t all that different. Sure, the sales channel isn’t exactly the same – you don’t purchase directly from the station, although you may hear about a show or a service and purchase directly from the vendor who advertised on the radio. But still, how is there all that much difference? When you have the opportunity to listen to new bands that have a sound that challenges your preconceived notions of what’s good, expanding your mind, how is that so different from turning up your nose at packaged foods? In my mind, my rejection of all things Bieber and any of the digitally-enhanced crapola that comes out of the record company machine doesn’t stray all that much from my desire to have organic milk in the house. I’m consciously rejecting that which I know is being spoon-fed to me and branching out. That I listen to this on local radio is far better than just streaming it from some faceless server owned by a media conglomerate.

The other piece of this is that I don’t just listen: I buy. When I hear something I like, I go to Newbury Comics and I buy it. I don’t buy constantly, and I often look through their used selections when something finally occurs to me months after a disc has come out and I’ve heard enough to know it’s worth buying. But I buy. And I buy local. Newbury Comics is much like a DC-area chain I used to work for back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. That chain was destroyed by the rise of Tower Records and Best Buy, and ultimately Walmart and Target did them all in. Newbury’s still managed to survive, although they’re very much on life support, to hear their CEO tell it. They’ve had to expand their offerings to include more clothes and other ancillary items, because that’s where they’re getting sufficient margin. They’re being eaten alive by iTunes.

So, if I have to leave you with one idea as I sit in mourning for WFNX and desperately hope that Newbury won’t go the way of the dodo anytime soon: be a locavore about more than just food. Think Global, but for pete’s sake CONSUME LOCAL. Listen to your local radio station. Buy from your local CD store. If you live in the radio/musical equivalent of a food desert, seek out new music and new acts and buy their stuff. Go to local shows if you can. Just don’t give up on what’s local. Because, just as a radio station can disappear in the blink of an eye, so can a family farm. Businesses need patrons to succeed, and they need word of mouth to grow their base. Don’t let another decent station or music chain suffer because the deal is better on Amazon or the instant gratification’s there with iTunes. Think Global, CONSUME LOCAL. Please.