New podcast looks back at The Channel nightclub
A new podcast called “Boston Venue: The Channel Story” chronicles the rise — and demise — of one of the most infamous nightclubs in Boston.
If you were of a certain age in the 1980s, you probably heard of The Channel or attended a concert there. The long-defunct (and much beloved) venue on Necco Street was known for booking a wide range of musical acts and hosting well-known artists like James Brown, Roy Orbison, Megadeth, Minor Threat, The Ramones, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aimee Mann, Iggy Pop, Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
The podcast series was created by longtime club operator Harry Booras, who recalls opening The Channel Memorial Day weekend 1980, back when the Fort Point neighborhood was a desolate place.
“I was there from the beginning,” he said.
The first episode opens with law enforcement appearing at Booras’s door one morning in January 2018, when Booras found himself standing face to face with an FBI agent and state police detective investigating the murder of Steven A. DiSarro, who disappeared in 1993.
At the time of his disappearance, DiSarro was managing The Channel, and former New England Mob boss Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme and his son, Francis P. Salemme Jr., had a financial interest in the club. (The fate of DiSarro remained a mystery for years until his remains were unearthed by federal authorities behind a mill in Providence in 2016. The elder Salemme and his associate Paul M. Weadick were subsequently convicted of DiSarro’s murder and sentenced to life in prison.)
The podcast explores these mob ties and more, and Booras said he aims to “correct a lot of misconceptions” about the famed club and how it came to be. For one thing, Booras says, The Channel was never connected to the mob when he was in charge, which was from 1980 until the end of 1991.
“We were approached a couple times,” he said, but “we were never associated with mobsters.”
After The Channel hosted live music for more than a decade, the early ’90s marked the beginning of the end. The club entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Booras and his brother agreed to sell their ownership stake to a group that was headed by DiSarro.
In the spring of 1993, the venue was transformed into an adult entertainment club known as Soiree that featured semi-nude dancers. Soon after the Soiree opened, DiSarro disappeared.
It’s that kind of gritty history that the podcast brings to life, along with fonder memories of successful shows and patrons having plenty of fun (perhaps even too much fun).
The first two episodes take listeners back to the very beginnings of The Channel. Booras recounts tales of prepping the club for the grand opening, getting shaken down by police, and finding bands to play when it first opened.
“There was definitely no shortage of local headliners in Boston at the time,” he said.
Booras said the club had a capacity for 1,600 people, and he’s proud of the club’s history of showcasing all genres of music.
“We did everything from punk to new wave to metal,” said Booras, who noted that VH1 recently named The Channel one of “The Top 10 Most Legendary Heavy Metal Clubs of All Time.”
“We came in at No. 10, but we’ll take it,” he quipped.
The podcast is narrated by John Laurenti and produced by David Ginsburg, Cha-Chi Loprete, and Deb Booras, and episodes will feature musicians who played at The Channel (like Bim Skala Bim, Jon Butcher, and Ian MacKaye, the lead singer of Minor Threat who went on to form Fugazi) as well as people who worked and spent time at the club (like former Globe music critic Steve Morse).
Booras said the first season will have eight episodes, the third of which will be released “within the week,” he said.
He said the third episode will focus on the major players in the Boston music scene, including local institutions like the legendary rock station WBCN, the Boston Phoenix, Strawberries, and concert promoter Don Law.
Booras said he’s been happy with the feedback he’s received from listeners so far.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the ’80s,” he said.
“Everyone was partying” back then, he said. “I was working.”
The first two episodes of “Boston Venue: The Channel Story” are available now on all podcast platforms (including Apple Podcasts and Stitcher) and on the podcast’s official website: www.thechannelstory.com.