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.”


  1. Good songs, but there's no continuity to the list. The best freeform is not a jumbled mix of different music styles, but a flow down river from one town to the next and from one state to the next. TMats

  2. To "Anonymous," don't mean to sound too defensive here but of course there's no continuity at the moment - it's freaking automated. We can only give Selector just so many instructions and the current state of that "art" (radio music scheduling software) doesn't allow creating coherent sets. As one of the originators of creating musical and thematic sets in 1968, I can tell you we passionately look forward to SOON being live and able to inject human thought into combining the music. For now, it's just about the unprecedented (in modern broadcast radio) variety. - Sam Kopper

  3. Hello Sam, thanks for the clarification and good luck in reaching your goals in programming. Glad to have generated some discussion. T

  4. Continuity is overrated. Back when radio was good (vs. now where most songs played by a station sound alike due to short playlists and genre specific programming) I'd occasionally hear a dj apologize for their choice of songs which they played back to back. I must not be a music savant because not once did I wince as if the sound of fingernails across a chalkboard came through my speakers. If songs are good, just play them. I look forward to the day when someone will have the courage to segue Dio into The Carpenters. Freeform BCN is the best thing to happen to radio in a long time. They have me listening to music again after after two decades of predominantly talk radio. I enjoyed WMMR in the 70's, WBCN in the 80's and now the world can enjoy FFBCN. - T.Wilbury

  5. AnonymousJuly 05, 2010

    >>>don't mean to sound too defensive here but of course there's no continuity at the moment - it's freaking automated<<<

    There is to need to question anything Sam. You are not in it for the money or for fame, but for the love of music.

    KMET FM 94.7 Los Angeles began as an automated FM ROCK station in June 1968. Three reel tape machines were used in sync using tones: one with sets of music; one with commercials; one with disc jockey voices. B Mitchel Reed became the 24/7 voice of KMET FM until it went Live 12 hours a day, adding Boston radio legend Tom Gamache (Uncle T) and WBCN disc jockey (by way of KPPC FM Pasadena)Steve Segal.

    At times, the sets of music did not fit the time of day or the then current situations (like a rare rainy day in L.A. or a holiday, etc.), but the songs played were good, no matter how one would describe them using labels (folk, r&b, early rock and roll, country rock, etc.) As Captain Beefheart sang against music labels (not record companies): Lick My Decals Off, Baby.

    KMET FM became a national power house and the most important Rock radio station in Southern California when it went Live 24/7. Sadly, the reason it ended is lame consultants hired because the audience was not given the roots music that established its sound, as the record library was slowly thinned.

    A good FM Rock radio station exposed the audience to a variety of great music, sometimes not the most popular, so the listeners can learn from the disc jockeys they trust like great teachers.

    Please do not play songs to fit an unknown audience, but use the cyberspace airwaves to play great Rock Music and other related so called genres, regardless of Don Van Vliet poetry.

    That is what makes WBCN FM Boston the legend it still is today.