On WZBC's 30th B-Day , AOR is still MIA
By Mike Miliard
A Jesuit institution known for its Irish-Catholic traditionalism and its powerhouse football team isn’t exactly where one would expect to find one of the best and most respected college radio stations in the country. But Boston College’s student-run WZBC, which turns 30 this year and celebrates with two nights of indie rock in Central Square this weekend, is just that. "Yeah, it is kind of ironic," admits ’ZBC promotions director Brian Doyle. "The DJs and staff are kind of a minority among the BC population, let’s say, as far as their musical tastes go. But they would be the minority anywhere as far as their musical tastes go."
That’s reflected in the scope of the bands the station invited to play its 30th-birthday bash. Friday night kicks off at the Cambridge YMCA with the kind of stuff the ’ZBC crew calls NCP ("No Commercial Potential"), courtesy of psychotropic improv weirdos Jackie-O Motherfucker, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Christopher Willits, IDM superstar Hrvatski, and Due Process. On Saturday, Central Square becomes an honorary annex of Chestnut Hill for the night. Downstairs at the Middle East, Sam Coombes and his ex-wife, Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, bring their Beatlesque indie-pop duo Quasi in for a bill with yonic-punk destroyers Tunnel of Love and California avant-indie dancin’ fools Out Hud and Hella. Upstairs, tubular melancholics Bardo Pond hold court with electrorchestral godheads Devil Music, Landing, and Cul de Sac. Next door at T.T. the Bear’s Place, frenzied bass-and-drum wallopers Lightning Bolt break every bottle in the place after sets from the No Neck Blues Band, Nautical Almanac, and Action Quartet (minus previously announced collaborator Thurston Moore).
"I love music," says Doyle, the guy responsible for corralling this impressive stable of talent into one weekend and a few city blocks. And even though the junior history/English double major didn’t score his own ’ZBC show until he was a sophomore, he says he knew from his first days as a frosh that those call letters were his calling. "BC is kind of a conservative place. And if I was gonna enjoy my stay in Boston, I figured I should probably find some people I had something in common with."
WZBC has come a long way since its inception in 1960 as a nine-watt carrier-current AM station broadcasting exclusively to the BC student body. On becoming an FM entity in 1973 (a power boost followed the year after, increasing its signal to a whopping 1000 watts), ’ZBC, at 90.3 FM, joined countless other stations in broadcasting challenging, heretofore unheard music. Three decades on, free-form commercial radio has come and gone. But college stations have carried the torch.
And Doyle says that ’ZBC’s commitment to "NCP" programming and community outreach (nearly 50 percent of its jockeys are non-students) is doubly important these days. "Media conglomerates are getting larger and controlling larger shares of the airwaves, and commercial radio is having less and less options on what to play. A lot of it is determined by the corporate office: what’ll get the most listeners, what’ll get the best ad rates. We’re freer. We can do whatever we want. Every DJ is pretty much autonomous.
"I think we play the most experimental, the most progressive music in all of Boston. And we’ve been known for that for quite some time — in the community and in the music industry. We’re just really cutting-edge."
Tickets for the Friday show at the Cambridge YWCA, 7 Temple Street in Central Square, are $7 and are available at Twisted Village Records, 2B Eliot Street in Harvard Square, or at the door. Tickets for Saturday’s show at the Middle East upstairs (472 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square), are $8; tickets for the Middle East downstairs (480 Mass Ave) and T.T. the Bear’s Place (10 Brookline Street in Central Square) are $10. A Saturday pass good for all three venues is $15; call (617) 864-EAST or (617) 492-BEAR.
Issue Date: September 19 - 25, 2003