The late 1960s and early ’70s were a pivotal time, both politically and culturally, in the United States. And it was during this time that Boston radio station WBCN hit the aiwaves and became an influential force with the music it played and the stories it covered.
And a documentary about WBCN is available to rent online with a portion of the rental proceeds going to one of our own local radio stations – KDUR at Fort Lewis College.
Bill Lichtenstein’s “WBCN and The American Revolution” is available for online streaming for $12 for a three-day rental, and proceeds will be shared with KDUR as part of a nationwide campaign to support community radio, film and media arts organizations during the pandemic and create a public dialogue on how media can create social change.
“A year ago, ‘WBCN and The American Revolution’ launched an exhilarating tour of film festivals and screenings across the U.S., many of which benefited community radio stations. Audiences were uplifted and empowered by the story of how a rock radio station and a passionate community of listeners mobilized to change their world for the better,” Lichtenstein said in a news release. “Now, in this unprecedented time, as we are all facing shared danger but must do so apart from one another, the spirit of community is stronger than ever. I’m thrilled that we’re able to share the inspiring message of the film in this way.”
What makes “WBCN” such a cool documentary is that Lichtenstein knows what he’s talking about – he began working at the station as a volunteer in 1970 when he was 14, and ended up covering news and had his own weekly radio show as a kid. The effect working at the station had on him was profound.
“I was so impressed with both the impact that the station had during that period and also how much change had taken place and the similarities between what is going on now that it just seemed like an object lesson in how media can create social change,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
The film includes first-person accounts from the station’s staff members, as well as both newly filmed and archival material featuring leading political, social, cultural and musical figures of the day, including Noam Chomsky, Jane Fonda, David Bowie, Jerry Garcia, Abbie Hoffman, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, in his first radio interview, and Patti Smith, performing with her band in her first live radio broadcast, the news release said.
And while Lichtenstein said he’s not sure there will ever be another radio station quite like WBCN, there are – and will be – different ways that media can have an impact on communities.
“I think what BCN did has been replaced in different ways by other forms of media, just starting with the fact that you can take your phone and shoot a video and it can create tremendous social change,” he said. “I think that’s the critical piece of it, but community stations really are sort of the legacy of that; commercial radio largely has gotten consolidated under a few very large companies that program them nationally, so you get very little local either cultural or news content. NPR, which I think is fabulous, but it tends to be more of a national scope, you get national news, national programs, national discussions for the most part. But it’s really community stations like KDUR that just, I think, have carried the legacy where people just feel like if there’s something important, then they reach out to the station as a way of engaging the community, and I think that’s just critical.”
And stations like KDUR provide an important link between people and the community , said KDUR Station Manager Bryant Liggett.
“It’s important to support local radio stations like KDUR because it’s radio run by your friends and neighbors. Most commercial radio is programmed by someone from way outside the area of broadcast – not a station like KDUR,” he said. “We’re a station about the community programmed by people in the community – it’s like a lifeline to the town and its people, airwaves that are connected to the heartbeat of the community, an audio representation of that community.”