On “The Last DJ,” Tom Petty sings: “There goes the last DJ/who plays what he wants to play/and says what he wants to say.” That song may come to mind when you hear Charles Laquidara’s name.
The longtime WBCN DJ made a name for himself not only as the guy who played what he wanted to play, but who said what he wanted to say, whether calling for a boycott or protest, refusing to read some ads, or going off-script while reading others.
“We were positive that we were going to change the world,” the 84-year-old said of the “hippie dippy glory days” when he ruled Boston’s morning airwaves. “Unfortunately, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Born in 1938 in Milford, Laquidara hosted the morning drive-time staple “The Big Mattress” on WBCN, 104.1 FM, from 1972 to 1995 (minus a two-year hiatus from the station), beginning in an era when terrestrial “underground radio” was as ubiquitous as Spotify and earbuds today.
“At the time, you could go from Boston to Cambridge and you wouldn’t need [your own] radio because every school, every dormitory, every factory, every store, every retail store, every car driving by, every kid holding a portable radio had BCN on,” Laquidara says.
After five years at classic rock station WZLX, Laquidara retired to Hawaii in 2000 “thinking I was going to live and die in paradise. Then my grandkids got born.” So he moved to Petaluma, Calif. That’s where he was when he spoke to the Globe in advance of a sold-out show with another Boston morning-radio giant, KISS-108′s Matt Siegel, at City Winery on Saturday.
“An Afternoon with Charles Laquidara & Matt Siegel,” moderated by Joyce Kulhawik, is a fundraiser for the Paul “Tank” Sferruzza Scholarship Fund. The late Sferruzza was a sports director at WBCN and WZLX.
What will Laquidara and “Matty in the Morning” discuss? “I have no idea. We’re not rehearsing anything,” he says.
Ahead of a talk where he has no idea what he’ll be talking about, Laquidara looked back on the golden age of Boston FM radio, the invention — and firing — of his alter ego, Duane Ingalls Glasscock, and more. Does he consider himself the last DJ? We asked.
Q. The Boston talk is billed in the press release as a “once-in-a-lifetime event.” Does that mean you don’t plan on coming back?
A. I made a vow a long time ago that I wasn’t going to make any more public appearances. There’s too much pressure, plus, you know, it’s been years since WBCN was a big deal.
You have to make sure you don’t say the wrong thing. And if you’re going to give credit, don’t leave any names out. Is my fly open when I’m up on stage? Stuff like that.
Q. [Laughs] So your era of DJ’ing, it feels like that’s gone.
A. Definitely. Radio back in those days was pretty exciting. People [who tuned in] were part of something they’re going to tell their grandkids about, and nobody will believe them. It was back when radio was important. We were turning people on to music. There was a lot of politics involved. It was before the country became split like it is now.
Q. You started out working at a radio station in Pasadena.
A. Somehow I ended up on the radio at a time when losers — people who didn’t wear blazers and have deep-throated golden voices — is what people were looking for.
When I went back home to visit family, I heard this FM radio station, WBCN. I called in to say, “Hey, you guys are doing great. What’s up with that?” We got to talking. They hired me because Peter Wolf was leaving to join the J. Geils Band.
Q. How did you come up with “The Big Mattress”?
A. I was working nights. Dinah Vaprin was working mornings. At that time, nights were when people listened to underground radio. So Dinah Vaprin asked at a meeting: “Why do women always get the morning shift? The [expletive] shift.” I yelled out, “There’s no such thing as a bad shift, Dinah, you should be happy with what you got!” And she said, “Well then you take morning . . .” I said, “I will!” And I did. After the meeting was over, I said to the program director, “What did I just do?”
I had to do something to make mornings different. I surrounded myself with incredible talents. We just made fun of morning AM radio. It just took off.
Q. How did you come up with your alter ego, Duane Glasscock?
A. Charles Laquidara was very PC. So I thought, let me just invent this character that does all [non-PC] stuff and I’ll deny that it’s even me. People believed Duane Glasscock and I were not the same people for years. No one tied me into it because Duane would always make fun of Charles Laquidara.
I changed my voice when I did Duane from the cool Charles Laquidara “Hey, man, what’s going on?” to “Hello, Rangoooooon! It’s time for girly watch!”
Q. [Laughs] Then Duane got fired.
A. Yeah. Duane — not me — was doing a Saturday show and decided, wrongly so, that DJs got screwed over by the rating service, which at the time was Arbitron. Duane said they’re all a bunch of big, fat, cigar-smoking guys driving around in black Cadillacs. He told everybody to send bags of [expletive to them]. He said that over and over every break for the whole show.
That Monday morning, [station GM] Klee Dobra, called me, Charles Laquidara, into his office and said Duane Glasscock was fired because he was a total [expletive].
I said, “You can’t fire Duane, he’s got the highest ratings in the station.”
He said, “Are you not playing with a full deck? Don’t you understand Duane is not real?”
I said, “You just fired him and kept me!”
Q. [Laughs] You’d quit radio for a bit.
A. I quit for two years in 1976. I wanted to do cocaine, which I don’t do [any more]. Radio was getting in my way.
Q. How’d you find your way back?
A. Once I met my wife, Doreen, it was Sophie’s Choice.
Q. How did you meet?
A. She worked at the station. She didn’t want anything to do with me because she was traffic manager. The traffic manager has to manage [the ads], cross out the ads the disc jockeys don’t say, then find a place to put them. And I crossed out the Navy ads, the Army ads, Marine ads. I crossed out all the oil company ads. She hated me.
Q. You didn’t get in trouble, though.
A. Nope. Because if they challenged me, I would have quit. [Laughs] It sounds so smug now, but it was a different time. We were going to change the world. Which didn’t really work out the way we planned.
Q. You famously called for a boycott of Shell Oil.
A. The boycott went very well — any time anybody would come into the radio station to do an interview, whether it was Steven Tyler, Roger Clemens, we’d have them go into the production studio and make a commercial about how you should cut up your Shell Oil card. Shell Oil pulled their $30,000-a-year sales account. They wouldn’t have anything to do with us.
Q. What did you love most about being on BCN in the heyday?
A. The fact that a townie whose dad was a barber could turn an entire city on to music and what I thought was good politics — and I still do — and have so much power, and hopefully use it, not abuse it, to do good. I was lucky enough to be on a radio station that had that power. I was just a little mopey guy who got lucky.
Q. People say Howard Stern used to listen to you.
A. People who don’t like Stern say he learned everything from me. But I’m not so sure about that. I have no doubt in my mind that Howard Stern would have made it on his own if I didn’t exist.
Q. Has he ever told you that you were an inspiration?
A. We never had any conversations. We both knew about each other. He never badmouthed me; I never badmouthed him. We had a mutual respect.
Q. I know he’s on satellite now, but you think he’s one of the last individual DJs?
A. Well, Howard was not a DJ per se, a musical DJ.
As far as rock and roll DJs go, Tom Petty has a song, “The Last DJ.” I think he was talking about a California DJ. But really, Boston knows that at BCN, we were — well, I was the last DJ, because when I left they went to a whole different kind of radio [format] — and I say this not as a plug for myself. I was the last DJ, but really BCN was the last great radio station.
Q. So what are you up to now?
A. Now I’m a grandfather and retired. I love the fact that I exist. I’m hoping I continue to exist until I’m 104.1.