David Allan Boucher has arrived early for “Bedtime Magic.”
He’s in a studio at Magic 106.7, the Boston radio station he’s worked at since it launched in 1982. Within a couple of hours, he’ll be on the air, delivering the nighttime show he’s hosted for decades.
It will be relaxing. It might be a little bit sexy (although he probably wouldn’t use that word).
The 8 p.m. to midnight shift will bring listeners a mix of Boucher’s deep, soothing voice and some easy listening. He’ll introduce some timeless favorites — maybe Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” or Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love” — and tell everyone that it’s OK to wind down. To relax. To disconnect. With him.
He’s going to tuck us in.
The audience favorite at the moment is Ed Sheeran’s ballad “Perfect,” and one of Boucher’s challenges this particular evening is figuring out how to play the song as many times as possible without it bumping into itself in the same hour.
“That song probably gets the most response of any song we’re playing right now,” Boucher says, and then, for a beat, ponders why. “And, you know, that message is simple, too. You may have all these imperfections, but to me you’re perfect.”
When Boucher says “perfect,” it is difficult not to sigh.
It’s unusual for Boucher to be doing this interview — because it involves answering personal questions and letting himself be seen. In his more than 35 years on air, he has never intentionally shown his face to fans.There are pictures of Boucher’s colleagues Nancy Quill and Mark Laurence on the station’s website, but the image for Boucher shows a man in a tuxedo, his face obscured by a top hat.
Boucher wants to remain a secret as much as he can. He’s kind to fans if they figure out who he is off-air, but he won’t take selfies with them. He says he knows what works for his audience, what’s best for their experience. By remaining a disembodied voice, he can be more calming. More understanding. He can help them decompress at the end of the day.
“I’m whoever you want me to be,” Boucher says.
For many people, he’s just that, with ratings that consistently rank near the top for his time slot.
Boucher’s peers say his success is remarkable in today’s era of radio, which often requires on-air personalities to share more and more of themselves on social media. Fans of Pebbles on Hot 96.9 can stay in touch on Instagram. Followers of Kiss 108’s Billy Costa can see him on TV and at appearances around the city.
“Boston Public Radio” cohost Jim Braude says Boucher’s ability to maintain a loyal fan base with just his voice is “remarkable.” Braude and Margery Eagan host their show at the WGBH studios at the Boston Public Library, where an audience can watch them live from a few feet away. “The more people feel like they know you, the better,” Braude says of success in radio, but Boucher is the exception. “One of the appeals of David is that he’s beyond reach.”
Nightime was the right time
Boucher’s boundaries make it difficult to give him much attention. In an interview, he does not reveal his age or relationship status. He’s clearly uncomfortable talking about himself.
He will disclose that he’s from the North Shore and that his family is French-Canadian. He’ll also say that he inherited his deep voice from his dad.
“I probably got my father’s voice genes. My father had this big thunderous voice, and my earliest memory was, we’d be in church as a kid and he would be repeating the prayers and the whole bench would rumble.”
Boucher started in radio in high school with a part-time job at an AM station in New Hampshire. After college, he made short stops in Providence, Springfield, Manchester, N.H., and at Boston’s WRKO and WROR.
When WMJX, now owned by Entercom, launched, it was Boucher’s colleague Quill who had the late shift. It didn’t take the station long to swap them. Boucher and programming directors at the station began to pay attention to nighttime shows around the country.
Boucher said he’d think about why other shows worked and what kind of mood he wanted to bring to the night.
He’ll talk about this — his work history and his style — with ease, but with other questions, there’s a pause; it seems he’s considering his words so that he doesn’t reveal too much. I ask about hobbies. Who is he outside of the studio?
After a moment, he offers that he likes to cook.
“I got into a soup and stews phase,” he says. He is an avid reader and loves movies. Recently, he’s watched the indie film “Liberal Arts” and the Whitney Houston documentary “Whitney,” and he’s read Jim Gaffigan’s “Food” and Nguyen Cao Ky’s “Buddha’s Child: My Fight to Save Vietnam.”
He tells me he does not go straight to sleep after his shift ends. “I go home and usually make myself a little something to eat. And then I can read till I fall asleep. And I found that I really can’t fall asleep until about 3 a.m.”
It’s the voice
He might sound like a loner, but Quill, who started working at 106.7 on the same day as Boucher, says he’s a good friend and an excellent listener. “We’ve had great conversations about everything,” she says.
She notes that he’s also a deep guy, which comes through in what he does choose to talk about. I ask him what it means to be the last voice people might hear at the end of the day. I ask him why the night shift has always appealed to him and how he’s been successful at it. His response:
“You look out the window and you know night means a void. . . . There’s something called solitude, which is a positive thing, there’s something called loneliness, which is a negative thing, and solitude is healthy every now and then, but a lot of people at night are looking for some kind of a connection. And I was amazed at how often people find the connection in a song.”
But it’s not really the songs that appeal to them, according to his fans. It’s not the lyrics.
It’s the voice; Braude calls Boucher’s “magical and seductive.”
Search Twitter and you’ll find some amusing assessments:
“If I was David Allan Boucher’s wife, I’d want him to talk to me all the time. #bestvoice #bedtimemagic” @CarmenSandiegOh tweeted in 2013.
In 2015, @BlueDream_2008 made this list:
1. Sam Elliot
2. Morgan Freeman
3. James Earl Jones
4. David Allan Boucher
5. Darth Vader
“*Greatest bedtime storytellers in the world*”
It’s the voice — the slow delivery, the fact that he never talks about himself — that has made fans feel close to him. What they describe is real intimacy.
When I tell one publicist in town I am writing a story about Boucher, she looks like she might cry and clutches her heart.
“I. Love. Him,” she says. (She is quick to add that she doesn’t actually know him.)
Another fan is former Globe music writer Sarah Rodman, now an editor at Entertainment Weekly in Los Angeles. When I mention that I am writing a story about Boucher, her jaw drops.
“Did you get to see him?” she asks, and when I say I sat with him for an hour, she is clearly jealous.
Then she demands I quote her in this story. She grew up in Massachusetts, and Boucher was always there.
“As a kid, if I thought of Kasey Kasem as my conduit to the world of pop music, I thought of [Boucher] as my conduit to the wider world,” she says in a text. “Listening to him felt intensely personal, like he was speaking to me, but also connecting me with all the people listening to him. It felt like being part of a community even if I didn’t know the other members. Plus, I mean, that voice, come on!”
That’s something a lot of fans tell me. “He’s speaking to me.”
When I ask those fans what they think he looks like, they get a dreamy look in their eyes. A few imagine a white man with gray hair (like singer Michael McDonald). I had always pictured someone like the singer-songwriter Babyface.
We were all wrong.
But after the interview, when I tried to come up with a description that would satisfy the curiosity of my friends (while respecting his privacy), I couldn’t find words. I found myself silent. Stumbling.
Perhaps Boucher is actually a wizard who has put a spell on me.
Boucher is modest about his deep connection with fans, but he has some theories about why it exists.
One is that he has his own thing, which is for his voice to cocoon the music he plays.
Like pillows. (My words, not his.)
And he says nighttime creates a more intimate bond between him and his listeners. Sometimes he’s the last voice people hear before they go to sleep.
“Through the years, you know, it’s kind of become a multi-generational show. I have teenagers listening. I have college students listening. And I have people who are empty nesters listening. I’ve heard [from] many people — one of them was amusing. She said, ‘We have [the show] on in the bedroom every night.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ And she said, ‘You know why? . . . ‘Well, because I have kids and they’re like, up. I want to have a buffer . . . if anything’s going on in the bedroom.’
“I’m the buffer,” Boucher says with a laugh. “What are mom and dad doing? Oh, they’re listening to the radio.”
He also attributes his success to broadcasting live. So much on radio is prerecorded, but Boucher can comment in real time on what the sky looks like. He even makes mistakes, which lets listeners know he’s really there. Every weekday night, like clockwork.
He has no plans on stopping any time soon.
The interview is over because it is almost time for his show.
Boucher will play Ed Sheeran. Maybe Beyoncé and Adele. He will say their names slowly. Because it’s time to unwind.
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.