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History of Boston Rock
     History of Boston Rock & Roll - Chapter 15 - The Birth of WBCN


T. Mitchell Hastings: co-inventor of FM radio; clairvoyant; principal shareholder of WBCN; loveable eccentric.

Joe Rogers: (aka Mississippi Harold Wilson, Mississippi Brian Wilson, Mississippi Fats) 19 year oldTufts University philosophy major, moonlighting at MIT's WTBS as a dj specializing in blues and psychedelia; Muddy Waters to the Mothers of Invention.

Ray Riepen: magician from Kansas City, proprietor of The Boston Tea Party

Woofuh Goofuh: Peter Wolf's dj alias, lead singer J. Geils Band

WBCN first hit the airwaves in 1955 from its 5th story 171 Newbury Street station. (Elevator to the 3rd floor, 2 flights of stairs). The classically oriented format often featured live Boston Symphony Orchestra over its' 50,000 watt signal. Come late 1967, the station was losing so much money, that Hastings was doing some serious worrying about 'BCN's fate.

World traveller Ray Riepen was fresh back from the west coast where he had caught wind of Tom (I play phonographs) and Rachel Donahue's conquest of KMPX in San Francisco. KMPX was the world's first underground alternative, free form station. He immediately got on the phone to Hastings and convinced him that he could boost the stations' ratings if he would render the late hours to him. T. accepted the challenge. Ray assigned a personal friend, Jack Bernstein, as program director and official disc jockey recruit officer.

Somewhere Over The River

MIT's engineering majors spent endless hours learning about how radio scientifically worked. Ample wattage allowed the tiny station, WTBS, to broadcast across Cambridge and parts of Boston. The fact was that they, the engineers, couldn't have cared less about most music. The opportunity was there for outsiders to come by and spin, as long as they didn't touch any equipment. WTBS and B.U.'s WBUR became the base for Boston's first underground stronghold.

WTBS' late sixties shows, David Wilson's (editor of Avatar) Coffeehouse Theatre for the folkies, and Mississippi Harold Wilson's Blues Bag and Light Show, concentrated heavily on blues and psychedelia. Jack Bernstein persuaded both Harold Wilson and fellow dj Steve Magnell to come over to 'BCN.

Did you know .... that the name Mississippi Harold Wilson is a takeoff on both blues monikers and the Prime Minister of England Harold Wilson, then the P.M. at the time?


The Hallucinations, by this time, were history. Even though the band was featured in Newsweek's Bosstown Sound piece, they had split before the article hit the newstands. The Hallucinations left no recording history (vinyl). Wolf and drummer Steven Jo Bladd joined forces with the J. Geils Blues Band after Wolf witnessed Jerome Geils and Magic Dick Salwicz jamming on the Cambridge Commons. Danny Klein filled out the quintet on bass.

Peter was living on University Road, where he was often visited by Riepen, who would crash there after drunken nights around Cambridge. On one such night, Wolf was informed that Ray had just bought into WBCN and needed disc Jockeys. Peter accepted the offer.

Beware the Ides of March

Everyone who was to be involved banded together and printed up posters proclaiming UGLY RADIO IS DEAD - TUNE IN MARCH 15,1968 10:30 PM.

"A friend of mine had recently been released from a local mental institute. She was going to do illustration work for the Avatar. She went up to Fort Hill to meet Mel. He turned her on to her first L.S.D experience, and then introduced her to his crucifixion routine (buy the book). Anyhow, when she got out, she was heavily sedated, and she gave me one of her downs that day" - Mississippi Harold Wilson

The American Revolution

At 10:30, dj Ron Dellachiesa (now of WGBH) was finishing up his show with some vintage Andy Williams. Mississippi, sedated, sat on the floor, sweating profusely with Riepen, Bernstein and Tommy Hadges on hand. Mississippi found his way to the turntable and cued up The Mothers of Inventions' Nasal Retentive Calliope Music. As Zappa's symphony of belches and farts kicked off The American Revolution the switchboard lights began lighting up. The classical patrons wanted to know what was going on and the kids were calling to say "Right On," "Yeah." Cream's I Feel Free followed. Around midnight Peter Wolf arrived cum entourage and a stack of his favorite blues and jazz (the dj's had to bring their own records because the 'BCN library consisted of primarily classic) records.

Wolf had spent his early teens hanging out in places like the Apollo Theatre and Times Square Records, where he learned black rap and jive. He took over at 12:00.

    Old Jays
    Little Ladies of the Night
    The Kid from Alabama
    Keeping it all hid
    The Master Blaster
    whatever you can do
    he can do faster
    to all the big ships out at sea...
    This is the Woofuh Goofuh.

Within a week, the late night broadcasts were moved over to the Boston Tea Party dressing room because Hastings wasn't keen on these young freaks being around the station. Big shot (pro) announcers came knocking at the 'BCN doors looking for late night slots but Riepen stuck with the kids because it was their revolution. The dressing room was cramped, and there were problems with the live bands bleeding into the broadcast, but things started happening. The late night sponsors started rolling in, bringing the station more money at night than during the day. Less than 2 months later, The American Revolution went 24 hours. Bernstein was axed within 48 hrs of the initial broadcast. John Garabedian (V-66) was rumored to have passed up the P.D. slot, and the job went to Sam Kopper, another local youngster.

The summer of 1968 brought us the Concerts on Cambridge Commons.

Disappointed, a University Rd. science teacher made the transformation to the rock n' roll business. After spending a season in Europe with the Tea Party talent coordinator Steve Nelson, Kenny Greenblatt returned to Cambridge.

With Bob Gordon among others, the Cambridge Common Commission was formed at the Episcopal Church at 0 Garden St. Members of various Cambridge clergy attended. It was decided to give the kids in Cambridge a place for free concerts in the vein of the Be-In era. That is, a group of people could get together and just be.

With arms locked with the holy men, Greenblatt and members of the commission trooped up the stairs of the Cambridge City Council the day the city was to vote on whether the concerts would be allowed or not. Except for the stubbornness of council ogre William Sullivan, the vote went in favor of the commission. The series was kicked off by T. Rex. "Lots of dirt and dust, but the kids were great, no trouble at all" remembers Kenny.

Soon to follow was Jonathan Nature's Mosquito Richman's first solo public appearance. "I started singing in public, in Boston, in 1968. I knew I couldn't play or sing like the other guys. I figured I had a feeling and that was enough.I knew I was honest".

By the fall, Greenblatt was brought into the'BCN staff as sales director. The summer concerts were a tradition that was carried on into the 70's.

This article originally appeared in The Beat in 1985
(c) Charles William White III

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