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CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER WBCN LISTENER LINE VOLUNTEER

By Yvonne Christian (Uncommon Bostonian) 

 

My first confession is that I never intended to volunteer for free for the Listener Line program at WBCN-FM (104.1) in Boston. I thought I was no longer interested in the radio business because I became depressed and frustrated when I pursued it in the late 1980s. Also, my parents taught me that I shouldn’t work for free, and I had worked at three previous radio stations without being paid. When I finally decided to volunteer, I originally planned to stay at WBCN for six months. However, I stayed there from October 1994 to April 2000.

So what kept me there for a long time? I’m here to confess all.

Life Before WBCN

In the fall of 1993, a year before my WBCN volunteer adventure started, I joined the National Organization for Women (NOW) in Boston. NOW’s Public Relations Committee had done a survey of local television stations. Its results revealed a dearth of minorities and women in the TV industry. At my first meeting with NOW, I suggested that they work on a similar survey for the local radio industry because I, a young Black woman, had struggled for many years with my radio career. When I was at Emerson College in Boston, I worked in news as a writer/reporter/anchor at WERS-FM as well as a disc jockey there. I even worked as a disc jockey at Emerson’s AM radio station, WECB. After graduation, I worked as a weekend disc jockey out in the suburbs until that small station went off the air in 1986. The committee discussed with me that WBCN had not found a new female disc jockey since Tammi Heidi left two years earlier. My fellow NOW members joked if I would intern and spy at WBCN to find out why they haven’t added a female disc jockey for so long. However, my frustration made me reluctant to speak to any radio professional.

Just after New Year’s Day 1994, a female disc jockey at WBOS-FM named Liz Solar called me for some federal tax forms. Since 1987 I was working as a representative for the Internal Revenue Service -- a job I hated for years. However, I needed the job to pay the bills, despite the stress and aggravation I received. After I told Liz that I once worked in radio, she encouraged me to try again because I have a good voice. After I thought it over for a few weeks, I contacted her and networked with her. From that point, I went around town talking to radio professionals. My fellow NOW members were pleased that I was looking for work in radio and reminded me about the spying on WBCN idea.

Eventually, I was in contact with an internship coordinator named Jennifer at WBCN who told me more about the Listener Line Volunteer program. I had previously heard of this volunteer program but thought it was for only college students. Jennifer told me that wasn’t true. When I informed her that I knew one of WBCN’s weekend disc jockeys called Shred when we both worked at WERS, she became interested in helping me. After my conversation with her, I got in contact with Shred to let him know that I was seeking work at WBCN.

In August Jennifer invited me to fill out the applications for an internship and the Listener Line Volunteer program. During that month the disc jockeys were feuding with the Eagles over the high price of their reunion tour tickets. WBCN offered anyone who was dissatisfied with seeing the Eagles in concert to contact them for ticket reimbursement. In retaliation, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey informed people to write to him for a refund if they didn’t like their show, and his fellow Eagle Don Henley told the audience to send WBCN their dirty laundry (a reference from his 1982 solo hit song “Dirty Laundry”).

Before I entered WBCN’s reception area to complete those applications on my day-off, morning disc jockey Charles Laquidara had read his open letter to Glenn Frey complaining about the expensive tickets. Then, Charles asked Glenn about whatever happened to his television show on NBC, “South of Sunset,” that debuted in 1993 and disappeared very quickly.

While I was completing the applications, Charles Laquidara had finished his show and walked into the reception area to talk to one of his interns. I complimented him about his great speech at the New England Broadcasters Association’s seminar in February 1994 and told him that I loved his open letter to Glenn Frey. Then, I told him that I was looking for work either as an intern or volunteer. He asked me to be a newswriter on his morning show if it was okay with my employer and instructed me to indicate that I was interested in working with his morning show called “The Big Mattress.” Unfortunately, the IRS would not change my tour of duty schedule to allow me to volunteer for Charles.

Fortunately, I got a call from Kaye, the coordinator of the Listener Line Volunteer program. In late September I met with her and others for a training session. I asked her to keep the fact I was with the IRS confidential from the disc jockeys because I didn’t want to frighten them. I also informed her that I never liked doing telephone work at all even though I had been doing that for the IRS for many years. Kaye didn’t have any problem about keeping my job a secret. What I didn’t tell Kaye was that I was seeing a therapist for a mental disorder called Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) and taking lithium to control my angry outbursts which I often experienced at my weekday telephone job.

When I told my IRS co-workers about my WBCN position, they told me that I was on a “Busman’s Holiday.”

Meet The WBCN Staff

The following Saturday morning I discovered that WBCN had given one of Charles Laquidara’s producers named Melissa a weekend time shift. I got paired with her and told her that I was a former disc jockey and went to Emerson with Shred. Melissa, a young petite redhead from New York who had been with WBCN for barely two years, welcomed me aboard.

I went into the listener line room which is right next to the big on-air studio. The room had been used as a second on-air studio in the past for the news anchor to do the news when WBCN had a news staff. After their last news director got dismissed, the disc jockeys were allowed to announce the news themselves. The production room was behind me. On my left was the sports production room for Tank, their sports director. The Listener Line studio had notebooks of information regarding nightclubs, restaurants and concert arenas. A huge window above the notebooks had a view of the main on-air studio. Taped on the window was information about contests and special broadcasts as well as upcoming rock concerts. Because sometimes there were two listener line volunteers on duty, on the table before me were two telephones that each had six lines. Three of them were for the listener line for requests and questions about events and music. The remaining three were the contest line which had a different telephone number. When I started, I was sometimes with another volunteer but most of the time I was alone during my time with WBCN. Also on the table was a stereo that was tuned into WBCN and the contest book in which I could write down the names and other information about the contest winners.

On Saturdays, the radio station was mostly vacant. However, I met the promotions director Larry “Cha-Chi” Loprete, whose first job at WBCN was the janitor (no joke). His office was right next door to the Listener Line room. Since Cha-Chi occasionally worked on Saturdays, I could ask him questions about contests and other WBCN promotions. His office had pictures of celebrities displayed everywhere. Cha-Chi was always nice enough to give me movie passes in order to see sneak previews. At the movie sneak previews, I was able to meet and talk with more employees who worked at WBCN. Like Cha-Chi, other employees would come in to do their work and would have their own key to the garage in back of 1250 Boylston Street. The ones who didn’t have a key would have to buzz the Listener Line studio from an intercom located outside at the bottom of a hidden underground staircase in front of the building. I would have to ask Melissa permission to let them in.

The major obstacle when I started with WBCN was contending with an obscene phone caller. When he first called and heard my deep sultry voice, he asked if I were a man. After I corrected him, he asked if I were a very short white woman with long blonde hair. However, I didn’t bother to correct him about my appearance. My height is 5 foot 11 inches, and my dyed blond hair was short at the time. Declaring that he was a WBCN employee, he began to interrogate me about my love life. I put him on hold and asked Melissa about any employees who would call and question volunteers. She advised me to be careful and hang up at the first sign of trouble. When the caller started talking dirty, I promptly slammed the hook down. He called me back several times, and I hung up on him in response. Then he yelled at me claiming that I attracted his attention because of the way I look.

Then, I gave him the truth. “I’m not white, and I don’t have long blond hair,” I confessed, leaving out the detail that I was very tall.

He gasped out in shock, “What??!!”

“So long, Sucker!” I snapped before hanging up.

The following week I hung up on him again whenever he called. Eventually, he gave up calling. I never had any problems like that again.

In December 1994, I tried to arrange one day a week college internship with WBCN for 12 weeks. IRS had offered a four-day work week schedule from January 1995 to mid-April 1995 to its employees. Unfortunately, my employer cancelled the new schedule before I could register with Emerson. Then two months after the semester started, my employer granted me the four-day work schedule for only eight weeks which was not enough time to do an internship. I did the four-day schedule regardless. Luckily, I was able to watch Charles work on my days off. During that time he was doing live broadcasts in and around the Boston area. It gave me the opportunity to meet some of the other disc jockeys who would appear at his live on-location shows.

I met Mark Parenteau, the afternoon disc jockey, when he did a live broadcast from Newbury Comics in May 1995. I simply walked over to that record store after work wearing my glasses and Saks Fifth Avenue business suit. When Mark saw me a week later at the WBCN movie sneak preview for “Die Harder With A Vengeance” at the Cheri, he stared at me because I was wearing contact lenses and casual clothes. I had to jog his memory of how we first met.

At that same sneak preview, a goatee-bearded man who had an earring and wore a white shirt and black pants sat down in front of me. When Shred and his date sat down next to me, the man quietly spoke to Shred about the many phone calls he had received for this movie. I informed the mystery man that I handled the phones for Melissa and asked him if he was a Listener Line Volunteer like me.

“No,” he said, “I’m Oedipus.”

“What?” I asked stunned.

“Oedipus,” he replied as he held out his hand to me.

“The Program Director! I heard your Mother’s Day special last Sunday,” I said as I shook his hand.

Oedipus, whose real name is Edward Hyman, had started out as a producer for Charles Laquidara back in the late 1970s. His radio name is from the Greek play by Sophocles whose title character argued with a blind seer and later blinded himself. The reason for my surprise was that Oedipus didn’t resemble his picture which I had seen in the newspaper last January. Then I realized that he didn’t have a goatee in that picture. After I recounted what happened to Melissa who wasn’t there that night, she had a big laugh and told me he just grew one.

Changes At WBCN During the 1990s

Right after Memorial Day 1995, WBCN said “Good-bye” to its old Rock music format and ushered in an Alternative Rock format with broadcasts of New England Patriot football games. Shortly afterwards, a new weekend disc jockey called Neal Robert (formerly of WFNX-FM) came aboard. In fact, most of the weekend disc jockeys that were hired during my time as a volunteer were male except for Juanita who was hired in 1997, but listeners asked me if she and Melissa were the same person.

The biggest change in WBCN history happened in April 1996 when Charles Laquidara moved to sister station WZLX in order to place Howard Stern’s radio show on in the mornings in Boston. This happened a few months after Melissa stopped being one of Charles’ producers. Remembering the fact that Oedipus kissed me on the cheek and helped me hand out Christmas cards to the air staff back in December 1995, I submitted a new tape to him hoping to get the vacant evening (7 p.m. to 11 p.m.) shift (Howard’s old shift), but I got no feedback or even an interview. I assumed that Melissa would get that position. However, Nik Carter, a young Black man from Cambridge who was working at a Providence radio station, became the new evening disc jockey. Shortly afterwards, Oedipus shaved his goatee. In 1996 I left NOW, who never did the radio survey I suggested to them.

The most shocking change occurred when Mark Parenteau, who had been with WBCN for 20 years, was fired in November 1997 without being allowed to do a final show. Nik Carter was moved to his old afternoon time slot. One of the weekend disc jockeys called Deek ended up doing the evening shift. A short time later, Melissa was doing late night from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. as well as weekends.

Leaving WBCN

Stress at my IRS job started making my health worse from December 1997 to April 2000 and sometimes kept me from volunteering on Saturdays. Melissa knew about my difficulties at work and that I worked for the Federal government, but I never mentioned “IRS” to her. After I finished a year-long certificate program in corporate assistance at Katharine Gibbs Business School in 1999, I set out to find work in the business side of radio but discovered no leads in that area. In early 2000 Melissa wrote a letter of recommendation for me. Although I had strong thoughts about leaving WBCN and was tired of reminding Melissa that I was a disc jockey back in the 1980s long before she became one herself, it was difficult to walk away from volunteering because it had become my habit to go there and it kept my mind off the fact that I was working for the IRS.

On the day I finally decided to leave WBCN, I had a disagreement with my manager at IRS and quit that stressful job the next day. On the following day I went to WBCN to tell Melissa I was quitting WBCN, but Melissa told me via the intercom while I stood outside the building that she had finally learned how to handle the telephone calls all by herself and that I could work with any other disc jockey if I wanted to. Cheerfully, I replied that I had just quit my job and wasn’t interested in volunteering anymore. Then I walked away happily. I was finally free on Saturdays.

Life after WBCN

A few years after my departure Melissa is now doing an evening show with Deek. Juanita is still around, and a new female disc jockey called Thin Lizzy is now part of the weekend staff. After being moved to the midday shift in 2001, Nik Carter returned to the afternoon shift a year later after Opie and Anthony’s syndicated radio show got cancelled because of the St. Patrick’s Cathedral sex scandal. Adam-12 was hired to do mid-days after Oedipus auditions a lot of hopefuls including former WBCN DJ, Dwyane Ingalls Glasscock.

During the whole time I was with WBCN, I never had an angry outburst. In 2002 I learned that my real mental disorder was Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), a mild form of autism. It is a neurological condition that impairs social and nonverbal communication skills (i.e. “face blindness”). When I met with the Board Director of the Asperger Association of New England (AANE), she told me that the radio business and the IRS were definitely not good places to work for an AS person. I totally agreed with her and told her that I am a writer now as well as a temp. Even my doctor told that any kind of telephone work was bad for me.

Although my time at WBCN didn’t lead to anything more fulfilling, I hold no bitterness towards Oedipus. After Joey Ramone of the Ramones passed away from cancer in April 2001, I sent condolence e-mail to Oedipus and signed it using my Internet screen name instead of my real name. In the past, Oedipus never replied to my e-mails, but I felt surprised after receiving his reply e-mail that said, “Thanx, Man.”

No wonder Charles named him Oedipus.

© Uncommon Bostonian 2004 - 2009

Update:  WBCN is now off the air as of August 12, 2009.  It now exists as a web radio station at http://www.wbcn.com