How Boston radio station WBCN became the hub of the rock-and-roll, antiwar, psychedelic solar system
For the people living in Boston in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the radio was their internet. This was especially true for the 250,000 college students in the city at the time seeking a place to connect around rock-and-roll, anti-war activism, and a modern youth culture. The home they found for this discourse was in an emerging local radio station called WBCN-FM.
With over 300 images and untold stories collected by Peabody Award-winner Bill Lichtenstein, WBCN and the American Revolution: How a Radio Station Defined Politics, Counterculture, and Rock and Roll tells this story of how an underground radio station became part of profound social, political, and cultural change.
In this comprehensive history, Lichtenstein explains that while San Francisco was celebrating a psychedelic Summer of Love in 1967, Boston stayed buttoned up and battened down. But that changed the following year, when a Harvard Law School graduate student named Ray Riepen founded a radio station that played music that young people actually wanted to hear. “Nothing sparks the change or fuels the youth revolution to come in Boston as does the arrival of a thirty-year-old tort lawyer from Kansas City by the name of Ronald Ray Riepen,” Lichtenstein argues. “A cultural revolution is in the air in Boston.”
At WBCN, creativity and countercultural politics ruled: there were no set playlists; news segments anticipated the satire of The Daily Show; on-air interviewees ranged from John and Yoko to Noam Chomsky; a telephone “Listener Line” fielded questions on any subject, day and night. For those announcers, producers, and listeners of WBCN, it was a revolutionary time in broadcast radio. Through retellings of Lichtenstein’s own experiences and the compilation of stories from those who worked there, WBCN and the American Revolution explores how this small station in the heart of Boston quickly became the local epicenter of the rock-and-roll, antiwar, psychedelic solar system.
“As a budding broadcaster at powerhouse WBZ-AM in the early 1970s I fell for WBCN and told my boss, who said: ‘FM? It’ll never last,’” said Robin Young, host of NPR’s Here and Now. “He was right in that there will never be another WBCN.”
By threading these archival and oral accounts together, this book becomes more than just a history of a radio station. Rather it is the record of a cultural moment made up of a collective ecosystem of businesses, artists, and curators of the city’s sociopolitical scene, the significance of which may have started in Boston, but had ripple effects that were felt across the nation.
WBCN and the American Revolution in the media:
- Lichtenstein and the book are the focus of the documentary WBCN and The American Revolution, which aired previously on PBS stations. The documentary will re-air on WGBH-TV Channel 2 and WGBX-TV Channel 44 throughout June as part of the PBS affiliates’ spring Pledge Drive.
- The Boston Globe reviewed the book in the New England Literary News column, calling it a “lively, comprehensive history.”
A new book about the radio station WBCN and another tome that takes on how our nation was formed
- Lichtenstein was interviewed for WCVB’s Chronicle, who calls the book “an insightful and lavishly pictorial look at the station’s early days.”
Reliving rock-n-roll history at Boston radio station WBCN in a new book by Bill Lichtenstein
- Lichtenstein appeared on NPR and WBUR’s Here & Now to discuss the book and documentary.
Revolutionary Boston radio station WBCN at center of new documentary
- WBCN and the American Revolution won a silver medal in the Best Regional Non-Fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the accompanying documentary received two silver medals from the New York Festivals TV and Film Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Social Justice Documentary.
- Monocle interviewed Lichtenstein for The Stack podcast on the involvement of WBCN in the social change Boston experienced in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Counterculture: ‘Fuori!!! 1971-1974’ and ‘WBCN and the American Revolution’
- Art New England reviewed Lichtenstein’s work saying it “wildly succeeds in reanimating a lost era of both radio and social history.”
WBCN and the American Revolution
- “A fascinating journey back in time when music and radio were at the center of a movement, and an inspiration for what media can be today. WBCN holds a special place in history.”
—Jon Abbott, President and CEO, GBH