Making radio waves

Dan Beach (left)

WHO: Charles Laquidara and Bill Lichtenstein  

WHAT: It’s hard to imagine, but there was actually a time when radio was interesting, unpredictable, even inspiring. And there may be no better example than the early days of Boston’s WBCN-FM (104.1) - from, say, 1968 to 1974 - when the DJs not only played what they wanted but also had the freedom to opine about the important political and social happenings of the time. As the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed sang in 1970, “Despite all the computations, you could just dance to a rock ’n’ roll station, and it was all right.’’ Well, filmmaker Bill Lichtenstein, who worked at the station back in the day, is making a documentary about WBCN called “The American Revolution,’’ and he’s trying to raise $104,000 for the project on (The fund-raising campaign, which concludes Dec. 19, has some VIP backers, including Patriots president Jonathan Kraft.) The other day, we talked about the project with Lichtenstein and ’BCN’s former madcap morning host Charles Laquidara, who says the station had a hand in changing the world - for the better. 

Q. OK, Charles, what’s this all about?


Laquidara: Well, I heard Bill was making a movie and I wanted to get involved. ’BCN was a special place. When I came to Boston in 1968, the station was already making waves. It wasn’t doing the “Woo Woo’’ Ginsburg, Top 40 kind of stuff. It was unique.

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Q. But did it really change the world?

Laquidara: We were part of the change in a very strong way. Of course, none of us knew what was going on. But we had freedom and we used it.

Q. And people paid attention.

Laquidara: Oh yes. You could be walking down Commonweath Ave. and hear ’BCN playing in everyone’s apartment or dormitory. The station was a major part of the zeitgeist of the ’60s. We didn’t know it was going be so influential. We were just kind of playing our music. People can say what they want about us being just a bunch of hippies, but we did help to change the whole game.


Q. You were just a bunch of hippies, though, right?

Laquidara: People would [criticize] us because we’d badmouth our president and tell people not to go off to war because it was a scam. But it was entertaining. We were an audio version of what “The Daily Show’’ does now.

Q. Can you imagine such a station doing that today?

Laquidara: [Laughs] It’s unimaginable. This was a time before the corporations were allowed to buy up all the media. Once that happened, it became all about the bottom line and the stock price. Corporations have one goal and only one goal: making money. Today, if you want good ratings then you have bad radio. Keep the DJ’s mouth shut, just play the hits.

Q. That wasn’t WBCN.


Laquidara: No. Whenever you have a revolution, the first wave is always the crazies, whether it was the yippies, or the gay-rights marchers in South Boston, or whatever. ’BCN was about the first wave. If we were around today, just imagine how we’d be covering that Occupy Wall Street thing.

‘People would [criticize] us because we’d badmouth our president and tell people not to go off to war because it was a scam. But it was very entertaining.’

Charles Laquidara (left), about WBCN’s heyday. Bill Lichtenstein (right) is trying to raise money to make a movie about the station.

Q. You don’t think Clear Channel is doing an adequate job?

Laquidara: [Laughs]

Q. Bill, tell me about pulling this together.

Lichtenstein: We’ve amassed an enormous amount of stuff - photos, audio, music - and now we’re putting it together. This movie tells the story of a time of profound social change, and it’s going to show people what was happening.

Q. And the timetable?

Lichtenstein: We’re planning to be ready for [film] festivals and PBS next fall. And people who pledge $104 [as part of the Kickstarter campaign] will get an invite to a big celebration we’re having Dec. 3, 2012. Don Law has offered the Paradise and James Montgomery is inviting members Steven Tyler and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, the J. Geils Band, Huey Lewis, Edgar Winter, Jim Belushi, and James Cotton. Tom Rush and the Fools are also scheduled to appear.

Interview was edited and condensed. Mark Shanahan can be reached at shanahan@globe .com.