Memories of Jazz Radio in Boston

I was in college when I really started to get heavily into jazz. And the late ’80s in Boston were a pretty great time for jazz on the radio. With college stations like WHRB and  WERS, and public radio’s WGBH, I remember being able to find jazz (and a little fusion) on local radio continuously from 6am until 11pm. (I’m probably missing a college station or two!) And in those days, WHRB’s orgies were uninterrupted. In January of 1990, their John Coltrane Orgy® presented virtually his entire discography to date. Around 100 hours of Coltrane. Non-stop. It was amazing to be able to turn on 95.3 FM that week and know that Trane would be on. So much fun. I even got some of my non-jazzbo friends to tune in.

Many decades later, WERS has completely changed their format at the expense of jazz, but WHRB’s “The Jazz Spectrum” continues to feature great stuff from 5:00am to 1:00pm on weekdays. And Eric Jackson is still doing his thing on “Eric in the Evening”, although on a scaled back schedule from the old days. I suppose it could be worse, but I do miss those old days with so many options. Sic transit gloria mundi.


Any fan of radio knows that commercial radio has always been pretty abysmal about providing details about the songs they play, beyond the artist’s name (and they rarely seem to even do that). But anyone who’s listened to terrestrial jazz radio knows that jazz DJs approach the job much differently than rock and pop jocks. (I emphasize terrestrial, because the DJs on SiriusXM’s Real Jazz channel, are fairly unobtrusive, if you hear much from them at all.) It’s a whole different experience listening to DJs who respect their audience’s intelligence, understanding that their listeners really care about who is playing.

When I started listening to jazz radio in the ’80s, it took me by surprise that the DJ would take the time to identify all of the musicians on every song he/she played. Obviously, jazz fans care a lot more about that stuff, but it’s still sounds pretty unusual the first time you hear it. Somehow, I can’t imagine a similar modus operandi by a rock DJ:

That was “Hot Girls in Love” by Loverboy! That session featured Matt Frenette on drums, Paul Dean on guitar…

You just heard The Go-Go’s and “Vacation” from a 1982 I.R.S. album of the same name. That track featured Gina Shock on drums, Kathy Valentine on bass…

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