Bay State Rock was born in the early 80’s, way back in the days when no other commercial radio station would consider having a local music program. It was born in the days that WAAF broadcasted from studios on Mechanic Street in Worcester, right near the Centrum.
I’ve been hosting the show for 20 years. Before me, it was Russ Mottla who now programs Rock 101 in Manchester, NH). Russ did a great job but had moved on at the time to become Music Director at WAAF. One night at Christopher's in Cambridge, I ran into Jeff Berlin who is the Production Director at KISS 108. Jeff informed me that he started the show back in the early 80's.
When I first arrived Gang Green was one of the most popular local bands on the show. This band shocked those used to hearing mainstream acts like "Til Tuesday" who had recently been signed to a major recording contract. Gang Green's cover satire of Til Tuesday’s somber hit “Voices Carry” was called "Voices Scary." It was crazy. I recall responses ranging from ecstasy to repulsion. The first year witnessed as many hate calls as love calls. Thankfully, though, even the haters stayed tuned in to see what we dared to put on the air next. There was another racy song I played called "God" by the Spores that drew stunned gasps. but Ron Valeri, WAAF's program director allowed it to be played. After a few initial hate calls, the request lines began to light up non-stop for it. An other little known fact is that we played Paula Cole's debut cd for the first time on Bay State Rock. Our listeners fell in love with her music long before she was ever heard on any other station anywhere.
Over the years, virtually every Boston and/or New England-based rock act has performed live on Bay State Rock. Some of these include Godsmack, Tracy Bonham, The PushStars, Meghan Toohey, Rick Berlin, Harriet Street, Robin Lane, Asa Brebner, Merri Amsterburg, Staind, The Sheila Devine, The Gravel Pit, Fear Nuttin' Band, Jim's Big Ego, and countless others. In addition, I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing all the bands who have performed on the show. When Tracy Bonham played we had to supply her with an acoustic guitar because she didn't own one at the time. When Sam Black Church used to visit, they turned our studio into an indoor BBQ, complete with hot dogs, hamburgers, with dog in tow...basically everything but the grill! When Stained played they were beyond shy and polite after a long drive in from Springfield for what I believe was their first live performance on Boston radio. When Godsmack played they were made an easy transition from hard rock to a superb acoustic.
There have also been some embarrassing moments. Like when my late, beloved dobie, Morgan would walk around and poke all the guest performers anywhere he could (sometimes in inappropriate places) with his nose while they were performing live on-air. One time I actually fell off my chair when Clutch Grabwell's horn section loudly kicked in behind me during a live performance. I had no idea they were there because they moved in behind me just before the performance. I believe I startled them just as much as they "floored" me. Another time, I forgot to turn the phone line down and talked to a listener over the air through an entire Jennifer Tefft song. People called me all night both laughing and ragging on me about it...but listening back to it, I later realized it sounded kind of like a cool rap through the song. Our listeners agreed.
The Early Years
It comes naturally for me to program local music and have an open ear to almost anything I hear because I grew up in a chaotic household where almost every different category of music was shared.
My paternal grandfather played music in Irish bands. While on my mother's side, her father and uncle both played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as violinist and pianist, respectively.
Through my formative years, my uncle would give us tickets to the symphony and our family would spend many Friday nights at concerts rather than dying a slow brain death in front of the TV.
My father enjoyed every genre of music. Because he knew I loved rock and roll, we would journey together on alleged car errands to the store and he'd crank the rock. We would butcher it up mercilessly with our sing-alongs... I got good at air guitar while simultaneously foot tapping combo bass/drums. Dad may have abstained from these early road trips had he suspected his girl would grow up to be a music junkie. A daughter hopelessly hooked on scoring new musical fixes at every turn. I try not to imagine that he had delusions of law school for me instead.
My older sisters were heavily into folk, some rock, and anything else they could adopt as hand-me-downs from relatives and friends. I would often "borrow" their musical stuff when they weren't home. In later years, when my older sister went to college in Cambridge, MA, I spent frequent weekends at her dorm and she would take me out to several folk shows in the city. Club Passim was one of our frequent stops since I wasn't old enough for drink back then.
Our family did lots of road travel. Pushing radio buttons in new lands tuned me in to vast varieties of regional music. I used to cozy in between my parents in the front seat of the car during our cross-country travel just to investigate anything and everything the radio. I mean, how often can you pick up vast amounts of delta blues stations or listen to Native American tribal music in the Northeast? Across America the choices are endless if one is not stuck in one genre of musical taste.
This musical diversity from the early years enables me to feel comfortable and confident in programming Bay State Rock. There has never been a fear of playing the many flavors of Boston music over the airwaves. No matter how off the wall it might seem to some, playing quality music of any style always seems to work.
The College Years
I was attending Emerson College and booking bands on the side. Just as today, I was receiving lots of music from bands that wanted a gig. From listening to demos and going out to see local bands, it amazed me that there was so much good music that went unexposed. Commercial radio was force-feeding the masses a steady, limited diet that the record industry dictated. I had given up on mainstream and listened primarily to college radio, where local music was programmed into alternative-format shows. It still wasn't enough for me.
Despite the fact that Emerson had a radio station, I had no desire to pursue broadcasting; I was taking journalism and television courses at the time. Instead of radio, I decided to do the live club spin thing since I was so used to being around clubs and seeing bands. However, my attempt to spin "different music" in clubs that weren't ready for it didn't last long. One night, two big club bouncers escorted me to the street with my bags of music and threw them all over the sidewalk in Kenmore Square. I also don't relish the memory of having beer bottles thrown up to the DJ booth at another club in the South End. Enough was enough.
Damaged, but not broken, I became determined to expose local music to the world. It was then that I confronted the challenge of auditioning for the local music show at WERS at Emerson College. Call it luck that nobody else wanted the teensy unpopular new local show called "Metrowave". I was so proud to get my first local music radio show since nobody else auditioned. I was an awful DJ. I trembled violently every time I had to turn the microphone on and talk. But the local music was great and I wasn't shy about getting the good, under-exposed music out and over the airwaves. There wasn't a better local music show in town at the time. Actually, I'm not sure if there was another local music show in town at all. Even if there was, my little local show was from the heart. It became the place for many burnt out weekenders to listen in on Sunday nights. To this day, I hear of people who still trade some of the old tapes from that local show (I cringe).
From WERS, WBCN offered me a gig, and of course, I jumped at the chance. They wouldn't let me do local music though, so that was tough. Although they didn't have a local show they lightly played some. The few locals that won airplay were bands that were close to getting major record deals or were invited to play at their Rumble. By the time I arrived they had stopped playing the more daring, progressive local underground acts like The Neats, Mission of Burma, Gang Green, etc. (I don't even know if they ever played the Neats or Gang Green). I felt like a fish out of water... a dog without a bone... although I didn't understand at the time. Later, after sending off a resume to WAAF and not hearing back, I decided to settle down and be a mom. As luck would have it, three months into my pregnancy WAAF scouted me out with the offer of being their new Local Music Director for Bay State Rock. They were impressed and appreciative of my chequered past as a local music addict and decided to give me a fix. The rest is history. When I started working at WAAF in 1986, I was shocked that there was a fan base who called me for months wondering where I had gone since doing the local show at Emerson. It meant a lot that these faithful local fans were thankful to have me back doing the local thing.
Programming a local show in the midst of thousands of working bands requires focus, constant research, and the patience to maintain a fresh two hour show each week while maintaining fair, objective, and balanced presentation. Though tempting, I don't work in any other area of the music business...I don't book clubs, work for or own a record label, or, play in or manage bands. Working in one or more of these areas would drain from the quality of the show and create a serious conflict of interest that would prevent me from being objective in my programming. I'd rather focus on maintaining a local program of the highest and most diverse quality. I try to maintain a practical, low profile as a programmer. My role is strictly to program a quality local music show by exposing new, unsigned bands via air-play. This can be both euphoric and chaotic. The euphoria comes from listening to and getting turned on to stacks of great undiscovered music and then sharing my exciting new discoveries with our WAAF listeners on Sunday nights. The chaos has to do with deciding what to play. With the massive stacks of CD's that have to be ciphered through, the questions and doubts are endless...
- What if my favorite song on the cd is the bands least favorite?
- What do I do with the ones I'm not sure about?
- Will I play it at some point?
- Will our listeners like it or tune it out?
- Am I being as objective as a casual listener?
The day these and many other questions and doubts stop, is when one should no longer creatively program. Listening, re-listening, and running the music through your head while attempting to determine whether it gets played and how often, is one of the most challenging, yet delightful areas of the job. Mixing the old with the new while keeping things musically fresh, yet familiar, and always exciting, is constant work, both on and off air.
Local music in Boston is tremendously diverse. I have chosen to work on exposing a wide variety of musical styles and avoid getting stuck in a limited format range. On Bay State Rock, it is not unusual to hear a folk, bluesy, americana, punk, metal, rap, speed head-banger song next to a punk, R&B, or ska song. WAAF has always respected and allowed me free reign on this.
95% percent of Bay State Rock also highlights bands that are playing out during the course of the upcoming week. This helps to bring the bands and their fans together by promoting upcoming club dates. We also provide a listings of many upcoming shows in the New England area. Our listings are not limited only to what is paid print in the newspaper booked in the "big" clubs in town. Because Bay State Rock plays such a broad range of indy music, many of the bands themselves provide listings that include all ages shows as well as shows in alternative venues. Venues that are out of the mainstream and closer to the backyards of music fans across the Bay State. Of course, we promote the larger venue shows as well. The other 5% of Bay State Rock airplay consists of bands that haven't played out yet. The exposure on the show often helps to enable these undiscovered talented newcomers to get booked for gigs with other acts and agents who hear them on the air for the first time.
Basically, Bay State Rock exposes and supports the ongoing work of New England bands who are actively growing and building momentum throughout the region. National bands like Godsmack and Staind are examples of regional acts that were ignored until we got our hands on 'em. Other bands such as; Damone, Bleu, Tracy Bonham, The Push Stars, Sam Black Church, Scissorfight, and Tree all gained a part of their initial popularity through exposure on Bay State Rock. We offer a balance of consistency that enables fans to bond with the bands. Acts that we start playing are never abandoned for the purpose of jumping on a popular bandwagon or attempting to play everything first. At the same time, Bay State Rock consistently introduces yet to be known music from brand new bands that "haven't played yet in Boston." Bay State Rock maintains consistency with bands we've already played while simultaneously breaking new bands each and every week.