Memories of WBRU
in the 1960s
What once was and may still be, for all I know, Providence radio's only brother act. I'm wearing the glasses; David is not.
The picture was taken one hour before kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday 2005 in my home just outside of Philadelphia. Since David still lives in New England, we were on opposite sides of the fence for the next five hours, but no fisticuffs ensued, and I can't even recall any taunting. (He did, however, gleefully watch the post-game show, while I did the dishes and listened to the Flying Burrito Brothers. I think Payton would have approved of both choices.)
Viewers may recognize the Revox A 77 behind us. That tape deck - in more ways than one - contains my most vivid memories of 'BRU. In the Summer of '70 'BRU FM was - with no exceptions I can remember - all progressive rock all the time (except that we were off the air from 2:00 to 7:00 a.m.). And, in retrospect, I think we were a truly great progressive rock radio station that could stand comparison with the FM stations that seemed to be the leaders in that format at the time (WNEW in New York, WBCN in Boston, and WMMR in Philadelphia). We had DJs with pretty good (and sometimes great) taste in music and few limits on their playlists, but who were also able to recognize when a particular song was really in everybody's head; so, it didn't matter if it got played 3 times a day.
Three times a day doesn't seem like heavy rotation to people weaned on Dan Ingram, Joey Reynolds, or (my personal favorite Top 40 DJ) Bruce Bradley, but back then playing a song more than once a week on an FM station was - in some quarters - considered to be a kind of surrender to the dark side (i.e., AM Top 40). But those folks were wrong; there was no iron curtain between the two formats: Bobaloo could be a great DJ in both (was "Some Trust in Chariots" the first prog. rock show ever or at least ever East of the Rockies? I think so.), and so could Bedard, Payton, and Berns. I think the willingness to let Top 40 influence prog. rock programming made us better, and the best example I can offer is from another station, a time when Payton and I drove up to Boston to see if we could visit 'BCN. To my astonishment, they let us in while Peter Wolf (later of J. Geils Band) was on the air. (My memory is that our being 'BRU DJs actually carried some weight. Amazing.) What we saw was a man channeling Wolfman Jack while playing an impeccable prog. rock show. Now that was a lesson.
But back to the Revox. In the Summer of '70 I was on the air playing music from 12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m. weekdays, and David followed me from 3:00 to 6:30. At 6:30 David engineered a half-hour newscast that I delivered after spending his shift pulling together material from the UPI machine, audio feeds from ABC, and very very occasionally my own reporting.
My shining moment as a reporter took place when one of the Berrigan Brothers, I forget which one, turned himself in for some anti-Vietnam-War-act to which Mr. Nixon's henchmen objected. There was a rally on Berrigan's behalf downtown, and I interviewed a nun who had actually visited him in jail. I fed the interview to ABC, and they even ran it a couple of times. In spite of Ralph Begleiter's intercessions (he was at ABC News that Summer), I never got the $25 per broadcast to which I was entitled.
At 1:35 every afternoon, right in the middle of my shift, ABC sent down the wire 15-20 minutes of "actualities" that were the meat of my newscast, and I had to remember to run out of the main studio between songs, across the hall to the newsroom beside the stairway and turn on the Revox there to capture that feed. That Summer, I fell in love with that Revox because it was so forgiving. I could do the stupidest stuff (usually while transferring the actualities to cartridges for David to play during the newscast on my signal), but they always turned out great.
I had a great time doing the music as well. At the end of the Summer I made a list of my favorite segues and spent a day in the production studio recreating them onto three spools of 7" tape. By the early '80's those tapes had started to disintegrate from overuse, but by then I had bought my own Revox (you never forget your first love); so I transferred the first two of the 7" reels to the 10" reel you see in the picture.
Adam Blistein (Posted 2/11/05)