The Untold Story of Boston’s WBCN
By Daphne Northrop
When most of us think about activism in the 1960s and 70s, the city that most likely comes to mind is San Francisco—the home of the Summer of Love, anti-war protests and consciousness-raising.
A new film from Bill Lichtenstein WBCN and The American Revolution reveals that Boston was as influential a driver of the music and countercultural scene, antiwar activism, civil rights struggles and the emerging women’s and LGBTQ+ liberation movements.
The documentary airs May 6 at 9pm on GBH 2.
“The Summer of Love burned out in San Francisco, and it moved to Boston,” said Lichtenstein. “It became politicized because of the draft—largely because we had 84 colleges and 240,000 college students here.”
Nicknamed “The American Revolution,” WBCN (104.1 FM) debuted in 1968 as the city’s first FM station to play rock music. While AM stations were blasting top-40 pop, WBCN disc jockeys were introducing listeners to Led Zeppelin, BB King and Joe Cocker, recalled Lichtenstein, who started working at the station when he was 14.
WBCN also featured news, parody and comedy and premiered The Lavender Hour to cover the burgeoning gay pride movement.
Making the film posed a huge challenge, says Lichtenstein.
“There were no archives. So, we started asking people if they had any material that they could share. It was collaborative, participant filmmaking.” The film showcases thousands of items—photos, radio recordings, video and assorted memorabilia. Lichtenstein also has produced a book and is developing an educational program that will focus on the role that media can play in promoting social change.
Gems include Bruce Springsteen’s first radio interview, Jerry Garcia performing in the station, a photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who came by for an interview. The items are being held in an archive at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“It was a new kind of radio station,” said Lichtenstein. The station’s “listener line” allowed audience members to call in for just about anything—to ask questions, report a missing dog or cat or seek out a ride to a protest.
”WBCN was radio not as performance, but relationship.”
WBCN and The American Revolution airs May 6 at 9pm on GBH 2.