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Mark Parenteau on the rise and fall of 'BCN

As I reported on WBCN's ignominious end yesterday, I spoke with a couple of the station's better-known alums. Since I couldn't give their musings all the space they deserve in this week's Phoenix, I figured I'd post them here.

Without further ado, then, here are former 'BCN DJ Mark Parenteau's thoughts--very lightly edited--about how his former station became legendary and what prompted its decline and fall.


It's unbelievable. It's like the death of a friend. My Facebook is full; my email is full; everyone that I've ever know has been calling me. It's sort of reminiscent of what happened two weeks ago with Michael Jackson. Everyone sort of forgot about him for a while, and everyone's forgotten about 'BCN, because they've been in such a suspended state of mediocrity. Nobody really cared. But people felt that as long as the station was still there, maybe it could come back to its former glory. Now it's not ever going to be able to happen.

I attribute ['BCN's demise] to the telecommunications bill in the 80s that let corporations own multiple radio stations. For a long time in America, no one person or corporation could own more than three stations. And then when Reagan-era deregulation changed all that,suddenly you had groups buying up clusters of stations.

'BCN had been independently owned. It was originally a classical station--the "Boston Concert Network." And it was the first stereo FM station in America. These guys at MIT developed the aural exciter, which is an electronic process that splits the signal into two channels, and now is legendary. 

T. Mitchell Hastings, who owned 'BCN, needed to go into the hospital in the late 60s to have a brain operation--to get a frontal lobotomy. And he left control of the station with all these engineers and stuff who worked at MIT. That was like 1967. [NB: Parenteau worked at 'BCN from 1979-99.] There was all this new music--Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, all that was happening. And at the time, BCN was making zero money. The original studios were in Newbury Street, in a brownstone; you had to walk up five flights. So those guys took the signal, and on nights and weekends, they would play rock stuff. They called it the "American Revolution," and during that period, they became hugely successful. There was a whole generation of kids who ended up listening to FM who'd been listening to AM up until then. This new music needed to be heard in stereo, and here was a station with disc jockeys presenting new music in a new way.

So T. Mitchell Hastings got a plate in his head, and when he emerged a couple years later, the station had totally gone to FM rock.The guys he'd delegated control to said, We've got good news and bad news. The good news is that we're showing millions in profit. The bad news is, you don't own a classical station anymore; you own a rock station. When I started working there, Hastings was still the owner, but his brain was muddied; he was a doddering old guy, and I don't think he had the power to argue with the format change. 

As FM stations poppped up and became successful all across the country, 'BCN was one of the original hippie FM rock stations. There were just a handful of them. I remember going to an alt-media conference at Goddard College in the summer of '69. Rolling Stone was there, I think the Phoenix was there, and all the key newspapers and all the radio stations got together while college was out for this psychadelic love-in -slash- conference. It was like, How are we going to handle this new power? All of a sudden the record companies were making millions of dollars; they were changing from 45s to 33s; the concert business was about to take off in a huge way. It all turned into the power base that's now known as FM. 

It was great to be part of that ride. There's nothing like that nowadays. We could be political if we wanted; certainly Charles Laquidara was. In my case, I leaned toward making things funny. I championed all the comedy stuff. I had a comedy segment on my show that became the biggest ratings draw BCN had ever had. Everyone would get in their car at 5 pm and listen, because everyone--old or young, black or white, gay or straight--loves to laugh.

That freedom went away slowly. Corporate radio took over, and stations started getting bought in clusters, and then every decision had to be researched; the boards of directors wanted to know what the stock market was going to do. And DJs were given aliases, so that the stations effectively owned them; when DJs left their station, they lost their identity. A name like Parenteau would never fly these days. They'd make me "Booger" or "Phlegm" or something like that.

I don't think listeners realized the old freedom was ebbing away. At first we were making no money, and we had total freedom. When I left, I was making half a million bucks, and I had no freedom whatsoever.

  • Ron Newman said:

    Wasn't Mark Parenteau sent to prison for child abuse a few years back?  I'd prefer to hear someone else's view.

    July 15, 2009 1:03 PM
  • Gene said:

    Mark, I'm guessing your stretch in the big house really put a crimp in your freedom. I hear the Philippines are popular this time of year. You should check it out.

    July 15, 2009 5:42 PM
  • MIckey said:

    Mark, thanks for what you brought to the "Home of the Hots" 'BCN always had the best radio signal in Boston bar none. Even in the battle days of "45 commercial free minutes of music on WZLX" , WBCN held strong. I mean...who else had Duane Glasscock. As a former air personality...the age of the personality went with the advent of the hard drive. No monster segues, no setting up a killer set with human hands. These were great days and technology killed the radio tiger, Long Live WBCN

    July 15, 2009 10:48 PM
  • Ed said:

    Mark, You hit the nail on the head. Boston radio is now faceless and has no soul. For years, ‘BCN existed in oblivion, a mere shell of its former self, simply blending into the abyss – ambiguously existing in a ratings slot that 20 years ago, would have been their competition’s home . The end was inevitable. Thank you and Steve Strick for letting me be part of it, when 'BCN really mattered! Ed

    July 16, 2009 12:42 PM
  • Peter said:

    Mark P. is right.  The change in the station ownership rule killed good radio.  WBCN died years ago when the corporate committees took over.  Soon they all started to play the same thing, targeting the same audience, and uniqueness was dead.  Too bad, Gen X-ers and later.  You missed out on a great thing.  All you get now is a variety of places to unload your money.

    July 17, 2009 2:18 AM
  • MJ said:

    Ah as an old BCN fan hangin' out in Austin I find the whole thing disturbing. Mark we always knew you were a perve but ya really didn't need to go that far. As for BCN? Well it's sad to see a legend die. I remember Max Ann, Saxophone Joe and Danny Schecter. The Who knew it before I did. Rock is dead.

    July 19, 2009 12:24 AM
  • Ken said:

    Mark is wrong about the Aural Exciter. The Aural Exciter was a process used to make record albums sound better. FM Stereo was invented back in the 50's by several large corporations.

    July 19, 2009 7:34 AM
  • Sexual Abuse Victim said:

    Mark, you were unceremoniously let go from WBCN without even being given a chance to say goodbye. Was this just managerial heartlessness, or did they discover did they find you were victimizing vulnerable teenagers back then and just want to make you disappear before you caused a scandal?

    July 19, 2009 8:46 AM
  • Sorbman said:

    You know what, though?  WBCN had it coming.  Fact is, they turned their back on rock and roll.  They hopped on the trend of the Marcy Playground and Better Than Ezra bands, and declared they would no longer play "dinosaur" acts like Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones.  Bad idea.  Trends come and go, but good rock and roll will never die.  Hey hey, my my, you know what I'm saying?  So, after that failed and WAAF caught up, it was back to playing War Pigs.  Too late.  

    Rock and roll will ALWAYS win.  That's the bottom line.  WAAF knew it, and they've never wavered.  BCN did, with their Howard Stern at night and their Patriots broadcasts, and everything else.  Oedipus strangled it to death with his own pomposity and arrogance.  BCN hasn't meant anything in decades.

    July 19, 2009 3:26 PM
  • aging cynic said:

    Never knew that about TMH. That would explain Duane I. Glasscock's statement: "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy!"

    July 20, 2009 12:05 AM
  • dvdoff said:

    Yes, Mark, so good of your to stroll down memory lane. Why don't you tell us all how you used to raid the promo closet to sell records to pay for your coke habit and then never declared the income?

    July 29, 2009 9:54 PM
  • swordfish11 said:

    Mark was right on the money as for why radio is failing so badly now. It all started with the deregulation, and the gobbling up of smaller local companies by these mega operations like CBS, Citadel, Emmis, CC, etc. They are such greedy, resource-draining entities. It is less about the scarcity of ad revenue, and much more about these greedy, corporations sucking the stations dry. The good news: after they sell many of them off over the next few years, not only will decent talent return, but the smaller owners will allow the FM's in a variety of formats a chance to return. The owners will accept way less, way more realistic revenue, and hopefully good things will come about from the restructuring. We miss you, Mark. That station became a real shell of itself after Mark, Charles, and others left. The comment about WBCN abandoning the old music is also true as to how they ultimately lost their footing in a town like Boston, where you can be in your car and get 10 rock stations on the dial.

    Sad days for sure, but hopefully it'll eventually bottom out and start to ascend.

    July 31, 2009 4:13 AM
  • Norm said:

    'BCN has been gone for three and a half decades.  In 1968 it was about the music, and soft-spoken "record players" who shared the music with us as friends would while sitting around their living room.  It died when the focus shifted to loud-mouthed dee-jays who tried to out-do the top-forty dee-jays (who many of us had flocked to 'BCN to esacape) with junior high school humor.  Certainly there is an audience for a dee jay who sits on his big mattress and make phony phone calls, but many of us who tuned in to 'BCN in the late sixties soon turned eleswhere.

    August 12, 2009 9:33 AM
  • Ex-bartender, Paradise Theatre said:

    Worked at the Paradise when it opened and through the early 80s. Boston had a music scene back then.  Where has it gone?  As for BCN, painfully awful for the last decade at least.  No identity, no good music.  Not gonna miss it.  Really, one of the better stations now is UMB 91.9, but even they pipe in the pre-programmed crap.  Actually, not sure which is worse-- syndicated shows or djs who promote the hype. Maybe video killed the radio star...

    Mark, your five pm comedy and Charles in morning framed my days for years...

    August 12, 2009 5:23 PM
  • dr george said:

    Hey Mark, nice reference to Michael Jackson... The only difference, he got away with it.

    August 12, 2009 9:10 PM
  • Karen said:

    Thanks Mark for all you gave so many of us. I miss the old BCN days, early 80's with Mark, Ken Shelton, Charles, Cosmic Muffin, Culture Vulture, Tank, and that other sports guy who used to call in from North Chelmsford (what was his name?), and of course, I miss the music of that time. Today's music isn't so hot, I rarely listen to radio because it's relatively bad now, but I do listen to WXRV The River (the last of the independents). My father was a DJ once himself, has a great radio voice and back then, used to tell me you were his favorite DJ, had the best radio voice. In fact, my father and mother played Mishegas once, and won, 24 lbs of Ruggles Pizza!

    August 14, 2009 11:46 AM
  • Karen said:

    Oh yeah, the guy who used to call in was Bomber Leclair!

    August 14, 2009 12:40 PM
  • Intern Rich said:

    Mark - You were Boston's greatest! We still love you....even if you are a little creepy....

    August 14, 2009 3:23 PM
  • olive drab said:

    BCN was great, back then.  use to have free lunch at the metro, live music, dogs and beer.

    those were the days.  and as with all shadows of the past, just good memories now.

    August 16, 2009 3:05 PM
  • MJ said:

    Norm I couldn't have said it better. Mark and Charles were not the golden years of BCN. They were the beginning of the end in a sense. They were both egotistical talking heads. It was about them. Before it was about the scene and the music.

    August 18, 2009 7:09 PM

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