Sunday, October 18, 2009

Freeform BCN

"Rock of Boston reborn - Ex-DJ brings WBCN to HD and Internet radio" By Ed Symkus, Boston Herald, October 18, 2009

How do you like this playlist?

1. The Rolling Stones, “Jigsaw Puzzle”
2. The Temptations, “Ain’t too Proud to Beg”
3. She & Him, “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”
4. The Rascals, “Good Lovin”’
5. Coldplay, “The Scientist”
6. Bob Dylan, “Tangled up in Blue”
7. Quicksilver Messenger Service, “Fresh Air”

Internet location:

( Sam Kopper from back in the day, on WBCN-FM )

Darn good batch of music. If all of those songs existed in the late ’60s and early ’70s, they might have been heard on WBCN [website], the groundbreaking progressive rock station that went dark in August after a 41-year run. But that playlist was exactly what came over the air one day last week on ’BCN’s heir, FreeformBCN.

FreeformBCN is the brainchild of Sam Kopper, who back in the day was a disc jockey on ’BCN’s pre-Laquidara morning shift and the station’s second program director (after a brief stint by Steven Segal). FreeformBCN is currently heard at the HD radio station 100.7FM-HD3 and streamed at

FreeformBCN is automated. But Kopper, acting as a sort of one-man radio station, with programming assistance from former BCN announcer Albert O, has grand plans.

“We are bringing back the musical, the sociopolitical, the radio technique of the great days of progressive rock radio - the great days of ’BCN, ’68 through the ’70s,” he said, seated on a couch in his Hingham home.

But Kopper, 63, makes sure to point out that the station will be rooted firmly in the 21st century.

“So when I say bringing back those days, I don’t mean a nostalgia trip,” he said. “I don’t mean constantly rehashing Vietnam, or Watergate, or just the music of then. I mean bringing the consciousness, the youthful, never-grow-up spirit of that time. Musically, that means being very diverse and loving new music - being open to new music.”

Kopper hopes to go live and do away with the robotic, automated business before the end of the year. He intends to bring back disc jockeys who have something more to say than where Eric Clapton had dinner in town last night. Kopper already has ’BCN veterans, including Albert O, Lisa Traxler and Debbie Ullman, eager to sit at the microphone. And he’s got plans to get folks such as Laquidara, Norm Weiner, Tami Heidi and Kathryn Lauren to do shifts that will, through the magic of modern technology, sound live.

Fans of left-leaning politics will be happy to know that Danny Schechter, “the News Dissector,” has already started contributing commentary.

Kopper, who found a career producing live concert broadcasts, was trying to pitch the freeform idea in the early ’90s when he realized that rock radio had given up on playing new music. So he came up with a new format that used classic rock as a foundation and presented it in a seamless mix with new music.

“I took it around to people, including people at CBS, but nobody would listen,” he said. “When Triple-A Radio (adult album alternative) came around, I thought my idea was stolen. But then I realized they weren’t getting it. It didn’t have enough oomph to it. It wasn’t really eclectic. It didn’t cook. It didn’t have any attitude. It was too nice.”

Two years ago, Kopper got together with former WBCN [website] general sales manager Tim Montgomery and they knocked on CBS’ door again.

“We went in to see Mark Hannon, the marketing manager in Boston, and he got the idea,” Kopper said. “We got the go-ahead to begin building FreeformBCN.”

The station premiered on HD last February and started streaming Sept. 11. But can it succeed?

“Getting to a 24/7 staff is all about money, and money is all about drawing a lot of listeners,” Kopper said. “The Catch-22 is, I don’t think we can draw a lot of listeners and excitement without having at least 40 hours a week of live programming. We’ll likely start with a few hours per day, perhaps longer periods on weekend nights. As popularity and demand go up and CBS sees some monetizing happen, then we’ll expand hours.”

Kopper puts the station’s target demo at listeners aged 40-65, but strongly believes plenty of 20- and 30-somethings will like what’s being played.

“I always call my sons, Jake and K.C., who are 25 and 30, and ask what they’re listening to,” he said. “K.C. has eclectic, avant-garde tastes. He’s into Brian Eno. Jake likes everything from hip-hop to Coldplay and Grizzly Bear. Albert (O.) was at ’BCN from 1980 to 2003, and has got much more knowledge of that period than I do. Where we’re both coming from musically totally merges.

“Boston was and is the largest student population in the world,” he added. “People who went to school here from 1968 through the late ’80s and were affected by WBCN are now not only just all over the United States, they’re all over the world. And the Internet allows us to reconnect with them.”

But it won’t only be the pioneering ’BCN jocks making those connections.

“I want to combine us with some of the best, young, just-out-of-college radio jocks,” Kopper said. “It was in ’68, and always will be, crucial to what this is about - that we have fresh, young energy in this. We need their musical input, and we need their attitudes and young concerns.

“So it’ll be the old revolutionary masters and young radio warriors inspiring each other, using the best of the past and constantly renewing it. That is central to the resurrection of ’BCN’s greatest days, of bringing it’s spiritual attitudes and soul into the 21st century.”