One of the legends of rock radio, Charles Laquidara was the only man to work for the hippie WBCN of the sixties, the alternative WBCN of the nineties, and the AOR WBCN of the middle. Laquidara is the man who practically invented the rock radio morning show. His "Big Mattress" has been there with Boston listeners waking up since the seventies, and knowing Laquidara's old listeners some of them have probably been asleep since then. Laquidara still maintains a major market presence, anchoring the morning show for BCN's Boston sister station WZLX. Anybody who cares about the history of radio could literally talk to Laquidara for days on end, listening to stories about the beginnings of rock radio and the heyday of BCN. Here Laquidara takes a few minutes to share tales of BCN's freeform past, the reign of Duane Glasscock, and Oedipus' secret record collection. He also speaks openly and honestly about his problems with cocaine, his relationship with former GM Ray Riepen, and his switch to ZLX to make room for Howard Stern in 1996.
Q: How did you get started at WBCN?
A: "Peter Wolf was leaving to form a band, and I had just come in from L.A. I was listening to the station and I heard it, called up and said, hey, you're just like our station KPPC, which is now KROQ. I was working at KPPC, that's why they called it underground radio, a lot of these stations literally were underground. This was in the basement of the Pasadena Presbyterian Church."
I was on the AM part playing opera, and then when they switched to FM, they switched to rock and that was music that I knew. I was working there for about a year and then I came to Boston and I heard this great station and I called up and they said, 'Hey, come on in, we've heard about you, you're the crazy guy who mixes classical music with rock,' Jim Perry said they'd heard about me. So I went over and there's Steven Seigel and all these BCN people, I was pretty excited since they had been on the air rocking for a year. So anyway, they needed a midday guy, and my family was all from around here. They asked if I wanted to work here and I said yeah."
Q: That's how it started, with you doing middays.
A: "Yeah, middays here, but I was doing overnights, the graveyard shift at KPPC. Middays, I started here and then, I put on this record, I said 'This is a great song by Arthur Lee, group called Love, and all these people would call me up and go, 'Get the fuck out of here, go back to fucking California.' Because they had their own little favorite songs they would play here, I mean, some stupid stuff, Jamie Brockett and the 'Legend of the Titanic', real big anti-Semitic song, BCN used to think they were so cool playing. They were playing Barry and the Remains, too. The good thing about BCN was that they weren't touching the Boss Town sound, they weren't touching Ultimate Spinach and Beacon Street Unit, they weren't doing any of that, those groups, you know they were staying away from that, because that was just all record hype. It was hard, but anybody from outside, Boston's always been parochial."
Q: So, the atmosphere in the early days was just really wild and to play anything was fine.
A: "Girls would come up all the time. One girl came up, she called herself Green and she came up and she brought a snowball to me because she liked my show, she had it wrapped in a green ribbon, and I put her on the air. My show was about three hours and during my show we would talk and stuff, and all of a sudden the whole station went off the air. Couldn't figure it out, the engineer, we called him and the snowball had melted and took the entire board off the air. It was like, it was real loose back then."
The station was so hip that it couldn't be un-hip. When disco first come in, we were putting down Steve, what's his name, from Detroit, some big disc jockey out there, for burning disco records. We were putting him down as being racist and we were playing disco; we played the Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever. The original premise of WBCN was to play all of the greatest music, not just the greatest rock, but all the greatest music out there, so we would mix classical with rock, jazz with rock roots, like Charlie Parker mixed up with the Temptations. I was the first person on rock radio to play 'Carmina Burana,' way before Oliver Stone got ahold of it.
So with some records, we'd get in on it and we liked it, like Saturday Night Fever, and then when it would go pop we would get off it. We tried them all for a while just to see how they'd break, because each jockey played anything he wanted. So, consequently -- I mean, everybody, even you, you look in your library, there is some plastic shit in there, shit you'd never want to admit that you owned, that you loved, that you listened to. Oedipus loves Madonna and Barbara Streisand records. I've got Broadway shows, every announcer has his stuff, his closet of bullshit songs that you never want to admit to, but in the early days of BCN you could play those. If you liked them, you played them. And you took a lot of liberty, because you always came back with something great, something that proves the test of time.
And stuff that you thought was gonna go on forever, didn't. In the real early days, Jim Morrison versus Janis Joplin, there was no contest. We all thought Jim Morrison was gonna be over, but Joplin was gonna live forever, she was gonna be the next Billie Holiday. Who knows Janis Joplin, only a few hip people now. Only a few Joplin records get on the radio and once in a while a movie will come out, and Janis will be revived, but basically she's only got one or two songs she's remembered by. And Jim Morrison, on the other hand. But anyway, I digress..."
Q: When did you become program director? You were program director for a while, right?
A: "Probably in '70, '71. I started mornings in '73. I was only program director for a short time, less than a year."
Q: Now did you not like it, you were not into the management thing?
A: "Yeah, I wasn't into the management thing. I didn't like having to tell people that they were doing certain hours and to criticize people. And I wasn't always getting along with Ray Riepen, the guy who was running the station. We had this whole thing with drums, I don't know if you know that story..."
Q: I read the book, Mansion on the Hill, which I know you are not a big fan of.
A: "Did he talk about the drum thing?"
Q: He talked about the drum solo. The DJ on before you [John Brodie] played some songs with a drum solos. Riepen called up and he was really pissed off. This is the story according to [Mansion author] Goldman, but Riepen was really pissed off because he wanted the station not to be too far out there. You went on next and literally played nothing but songs with drum solos for about three hours.
A: "I was tripping, though, I didn't know what I was doing."
Q: I'm sure most people were back in those days. The relationship between you and the management, in the old days, that book does sort of say that it wasn't too good. What's your side of the story 20 years later?
A: "The relationship wasn't that good because the management wanted to make money and we, the staff, we were still living that little utopian hippie dream, that we didn't need to have advertising from oil companies and we didn't want Army ads and Navy ads. These companies were offering a lot of money to be on the radio, and I would turn them down. It's sort of hard to say it now because times have changed so drastically, but it was like we really had convictions and stuck by them. We'd put on ads about picking up hitchhikers, 'Aid your brothers and sisters' and all that stuff and management didn't like it, so Ray Riepen hired Arnie Ginsberg, and he fired me. And then we formed a union.
But the point was, we ruled; I mean, the jocks ruled, we didn't give a shit and we were making them money and so basically, they couldn't fire me. They tried, Riepen tried to fire me, but couldn't. But that book Mansion on the Hill really acts like I was gloating that Riepen was finally gone, and I wasn't. I felt sorry for the guy. I liked that guy. I might have gotten a little more conservative, he might have gotten a little more liberal within the last 30 years or so, but I never held a grudge against him.
Riepen blew it, and none of us were really happy to see that he blew it. It was like he wasn't even in our way, he just was there as the boss. He tried to fire me, he couldn't, he had his own thing going, and we were doing well in the ratings and our ratings kept getting better and better and he wasn't in the way or anything. But at one point he controlled WBCN, The Boston Phoenix, and all the concert bookings at the Tea Party, and he lost it all.
The book also implied that when BCN had their 25th birthday party, at the Hard Rock, we left Riepen out. But everyone was invited. Oedipus, who is in charge now and was in charge at the time, said, 'Hey, who are we leaving out, let's invite everybody, even our enemies.' So we invited everybody, even Riepen. The book implies that I didn't want Riepen to be invited and that I booked T. Mitchell Hastings to go up and make a speech instead. Hastings was the guy who owned the station originally. He started a chain of radio stations, CN, concert network stations, up and down the coast -- WBCN, WHCN in Hartford, WNCN in New York City.
I brought T. Mitchell Hastings because without him, none of the people in that room would have been there. T. Mitchell Hastings and Ray Riepen were responsible for all of us being successful, in spite of them not wanting us to be. So T. Mitchell Hastings got up there and he started making this long speech, everybody was talking and I said, 'Shut the fuck up, if it wasn't for him none of you would be here.' But anyway, he just went on and on and finally he got out of wind and he got off. The book implies that Hastings spoke instead of Riepen because I didn't invite him, but that's bullshit."
Q: So Riepen fired you, but you end up coming back...
A: "I get fired a lot. I get fired by many people, many times, Charlie Kendall, Ray Reipen, Arnie Ginsberg, Lynn Cohen, I mean, I get fired about 11 times. The funny thing, each time I get fired was always on April Fools' Day, and I never could figure that out, so every April Fools' Day I kind of like, you know. That was one of the reasons we decided to make the transfer for me to go to WZLX on April Fools' Day, it was kind of like a little in-joke. And getting fired would never last more than just a few days, usually until the jocks formed another union or something."
Q: So 1973 comes, and the morning show starts. How did you start doing mornings?
A: "Dinah Batrin was doing mornings. She eventually went on to be in city politics, but she was the morning DJ. We were having a meeting one time and we were all talking about stuff and, I don't know what happened, somebody said something and she goes, 'Well, how come women are always the oppressed ones around here?' And somebody asked her to clarify that at the meeting, and she said, 'Because we all get stuck with the fucked shifts. Why am I doing the morning shift?' I might have been the program director at the time, because I don't know how else this would happen unless Norm Winer was, but I said to her, 'There is no bad shift, anything on the air is a privilege.' She says, 'Well, then you take it, fucker.' I said okay."
A: "So then I walked out, I was walking out with Andy Bovine and I said, 'What did I just do?' He goes, 'I don't know, man, but you got mornings.' And mornings at the time had no ratings at all, there were no numbers. The nighttime was when WBCN ruled, starting at 6:00 pm, people listened to the radio at night. They weren't heavy into TV at the time, they'd be making their rice and stuff, smoking dope, and listening to BCN at night."
Q: People say that you invented the whole rock morning show thing, but it probably just started with you and records in the morning.
A: "No, what happened was, I was taking over a morning shift that had no ratings at all. I'm not sure I invented [the rock morning show], but I think I was the first to do it. We started making fun of AM radio, because we had already started the concept that UGLY radio was dead anyway, but that was mostly for nights and afternoons and prime time. We decided to make fun of morning radio, Arnie Ginsberg, sound effects and ridiculous crap, and I said, 'I can do that shit.' So we just did it and we did take-offs on it. I mean, we just made it even work, we just kind of goofed around, we called the Big Mattress, we just didn't take anything seriously, goofing on anything. There was nothing sacred, we'd make fun of the pope, all the Boston icons, the mayor, the president, you know, 1973, wasn't that Cambodia? We were calling the White House and getting the Secret Service tracing our calls, and the FBI coming in, it was pretty heavy shit."
Q: Is there a story behind the name "The Big Mattress?"
A: "Yeah, it's a hippie thing. It's like, 'Oh, everybody's waking up, let's pretend everybody's waking up on this big mattress and people in Salem are waking up and they're saying Hi to people, and Providence, Hi Providence, good morning, we're all water, we're all brothers and sisters, on this big mattress.' You know, we're all getting laid and we're fucking each other's wives and girlfriends and you know, it was just wonderful, it was just like future utopia, like this big fucking mattress."
Q: Who else was there doing the show with you back, you know, when it started out.
A: "Nobody to my knowledge, I think it was a solo thing. I don't know."
Q: When did people start coming aboard, like the news guys?
A: "Well, the news guy was always there, Danny Schechter the News Dissector, the news guy was really good. His only competition in the United States was a guy called Scoop Nisker out of San Francisco, between Danny and Scoop there was some good news going on. We were pissing off Nixon's people and Reagan's people, it was pretty heavy. I mean, when Nixon invaded Cambodia -- I don't know if I was in mornings then, because I don't remember doing this in the morning, I remember doing this at night. When Nixon invaded Cambodia, I went on the air, because Berkeley had just gone on strike, and somebody said it would be BU next. BU was voting as to whether to go on strike or not. I knew all the BU students were listening, so I said, 'Well, we just got this in Berkeley went on strike,' and I named a bunch of other schools on strike, you know, Kent State, Ohio State, 'seems like every major school in the country's on strike except for BU.'
I just fucking made it up, and then boom, BU went on strike. That's how it started in Boston, starting trashing Harvard Square and doing all that shit, Harvard went on strike too. We had a lot of influence, I did some crazy shit. Like one time I did an ad for Project Place to try to get the media to assist some doctors and get some secretarial work done and stuff, and I didn't know what the fuck I was saying, I said, 'Well look, if you're a doctor they need you and if you're a chick and you can type, you know...'
"And all these, these people from Bread and Roses, this big militant women's organization came and they dumped baby chicks on my boss's desk. That's when he fired me, because they said 'These are chicks, we are women,' you know. And then another time I had everybody just flush their toilets at a certain time and it did some kind of thing to fuck up the sewers, I don't know what happened but I think the VP called and shit and complained to us that we had done something by everybody flushing toilets all at the same time. It's stuff you can't do now, I don't think. I think you get into trouble if you do it now."
Q: Well, there certainly isn't any hot political stuff these days.
A: "Can't do it, all my listeners turned conservative, they all got mugged or something. I'm the only one out there that still thinks Clinton's okay."
Q: He was just trying to get a chick to type, I guess. So how did things develop during the '70's? How did the show just go from you doing goofy stuff and trying to make fun of AM radio to "The Big Mattress?"
A: "The show just caught on because it was so different and so unique and it was so sacrilegious. Basically though, we were playing great music. We could do so much with music, you could grab everybody by their balls by playing the Doors' 'Five To One' and in the background the sound of some kids getting shot at Kent State. I mean, you can do that with a whole lot of stuff, you can make that music just kill you, just hypnotize you. The truth is, people still get sucked in by the music in a major way. The problem is they're so hit oriented that they won't stay and listen to it. There are songs out there that I could really grab people with, but people won't stay. If they don't hear a familiar song, they push the button and go somewhere else."
Q: It wasn't like that back then?
A: "No, because they had no choice. They knew that if we played some obscure song that in five minutes we were gonna come back with something that would just blow 'em away, like 'Still On' by the Yardbirds, or something like that."
Q: You were still picking all your own music on the morning show?
A: "Oh yeah. And a lot of different shit, too, a lot of different shit."
Q: By the mid seventies most of the classical and Ravi Shankar was gone, but you still had the free form as far as rock music...
A: "We still played it, but we were losing listeners. I guess I can say this, and I'm sure somebody could prove me wrong, but I honestly believe that today you can't have great radio and great ratings. You want to have great ratings, it won't be great radio, if you want to have great radio you won't have great ratings. The early BCN that everyone talks about, 'Ah, the good old days of BCN, the great days of BCN,' was when BCN wasn't getting any numbers. When I was doing mornings and we were kicking some ass, we were getting a lot of publicity because it was different, it was unique. But as far as ratings go, the big stations were still WBZ, WRKO [at the time a Top 40 AM station], they were still kicking our ass. BCN had the hipness, so while the RKO jocks would play the Top 40 songs, they were listening to us on their headsets, they were calling us and requesting songs. BCN could do no wrong because we were hip. God, when we first started, you weren't even allowed to say your name. 'Don't say your name, it's an ego trip, man.' Eventually people would find out who you were, but you couldn't talk about it a lot."
Q: As the seventies went on, how did the station change as far as the music that you could play and the stuff that you could do on the morning show?
A: "What they were finding out was that, as we needed more and more things -- more production equipment, higher salaries for the jocks, more people to service the station -- there was a need for more money. More money could only come from more revenue, more revenue could only come from higher ratings, and higher ratings could only come from more mass appeal, so little by little it creeped in. Each program director would succumb to something: let's take the oil company ad and let's take the Army ads now the war's over, let's do this. Hey Charles, if you want to make this much money, we gotta do this, hey Sam, if you want to make this much money, we gotta do this, we got to take these ads and you can't just play Pharoah Sanders back to back with Frank Zappa and get ratings.
They started dividing the songs up into P's, for songs that everybody could relate to, that everybody knew, and O's, which were optionals, you got one or two of those an hour, to X's, which were songs that no one would know but they were great music. This made some kind of sense; if you're gonna go try to get the ratings, these formulas would pretty much work. A listener today, they hear one song they don't recognize, one fucking song, they're just not gonna give it a chance. Bam, they're off, because they have so many choices they're going to another station where they'll hear a song they know. Maybe they'll come back to your station. If you're not playing a song they know next time, two or three times, you're off their button.
Q: Now I've read that at one point you went back to L.A. for two years, from 1976 to 1978
A: "Two years in L.A.? That wasn't in L.A., that was in Lala Land here. I took two years off here because I developed this tremendous cocaine habit. The radio station was getting in my way. My job was getting in the way of my coke habit and I decided that this was fucking me up - 'I don't want to do this radio, I want to go do more coke.' So I just quit radio.
I had this great last show. I had such a great last show that I taped it because I didn't want to tell anybody. I just said I was going on vacation. I said, 'This is my last show,' and the audience thought I was leaving, but the people that worked with me, they knew that it was just me going on vacation. But they didn't know, they were wrong. I picked all my favorite songs of all time. It was one of the best radio shows ever in this country, ever. I not on an ego trip, either. People were calling up and saying, 'Charles, I'll really miss you,' and all my favorite music.
I was so anxious to get out of the station that I did the last two hours of the show on reel and left early, I just let it play. I got in my car and drove to Vermont, and just lit up this huge joint. And I'm driving and smoking this gigantic joint, and thinking, 'Man, who is this DJ, this guy's got the greatest taste in music.' I pull off to the side of the road because the music is so good, and I'm bopping my head, totally getting into it. Then I realize that it's me."
Q: So what were you doing for two years?
A: "I lived up in Stowe for two years, acting and stuff. I had this friend who sold cocaine and I just watched his house all day.
And then Tommy Hadges became the program director. He wanted to have lunch with me and I didn't want to have lunch with him because I didn't want to see anybody, you get a little agorophobic on cocaine. Finally I said okay, so he came and got me and we had lunch. I had my little vial of cocaine and said, 'Is this gonna take a long time?' 'No,' he said, 'but I want you to come to BCN with me. I just want to chat with you.'
So then he takes me out to BCN and he says, 'We want you to come back,' and they had the comptroller and the station owner there. They were sitting around telling me how they wanted me back on the radio and how BCN had really missed me the last two years and I said, 'Why, I didn't have any ratings, you've got ratings higher than that now.' And Tommy said, 'No, you were a motivator, everybody knows you. You've got the highest recognition factor ever in morning radio.' And then I said, 'Hold on.' I go in the back and snort up and then I came back and I started playing around. I said, 'Okay, I would want eight weeks a year vacation.' He said, 'Yeah, we could do that.' 'Alright,' I say, 'I'll be right back.' Go to the restroom, toot up again, I come back, I say, 'Well, I don't want to use my real name.' 'Okay, you don't have to use your real name.' 'Okay, I'll be right back.' So I go to the restroom and I come back, and I say, 'Look, I really don't want to do this you guys.' 'Charles, what else do you want?' 'I want $500 a week.' $500 a week, you have to understand, was a lot of money in 1976. $500 a week was like $5,000 a week now, it was a lot of money. And they said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Clear,' $500 after taxes. 'Yeah, okay, we can do that.' I said, 'And I just want to work Saturdays.' And they said, 'Yeah.' I mean, everything I asked for, they gave me.
So there I am, back in radio, that I don't want to be in, with a new name. It started as Charles Faux Pabiday, and then I changed it to Lowell Pinkham, from this high school kid that was kind of nerdy. Then I asked this friend of mine, 'Who was the goofiest kid you ever had in your class,' and he said there was a kid named Duane Glasscock, so that became my name, Duane Glasscock. People thought it was Duane Glasscock, nobody knew for years it was me."
Q: So when you come back in the late seventies, what time are you on?
A: "I think I was just doing Saturdays as Duane, then eventually they talked me into doing mornings again and so I'd get on the mornings as Charles and Saturdays as Duane Glasscock. Duane Glasscock would do all these un-PC things that Charles could never do. Duane would have a segment called 'Belly Watching,' where all these chicks file up and lie over him. Duane called Japan when Paul McCartney got busted and he got ahold of the cops. This was when you didn't need permission to put someone on the air. Paul McCartney was in jail, and Duane said, 'Listen, for American music, you have to do us a favor. Save American music, keep him there.'
Anyway, one time the ratings came out and I guess we got the highest ratings we ever got, but we got beaten by COZ and by some other stupid station and Duane goes on the air Saturday morning at 10 and says, 'There's this company called Arbitron Research Bureau. These people, you don't know anything about them because it's like a secret service organization, like a CIA thing, but these guys are all big, fat guys that drive around in limousines smoking cigars and they're the people who decide what you listen to. They don't even pay attention to you, what they do is, they make three phone calls and they find out what people are listening to and then they'll tell everybody this is what it really is and they screw all the really hard working disc jockeys out there that are working their asses off for you listeners, and these guys are really so bad, they're like the bad guys and here's what I want you to do for me.'
'I mean, look,' Duane says, 'I've got a 13, okay, but right outside the window right now are 12 people, and I have three people on hold, so that means that's already a lie, I got a 15 at least, they said I got a 13. So that means these people are lying, so here's what I want you to do, I want you all to take a bag of excrement, feces, a bag, put it in a plastic bag, and, if you don't want to use your own, you can use your dog, reindeers, rabbits, it doesn't matter, chicken crap, anything, put it in a bag and send it to this address, Arbitron Research Bureau, Box whatever, Maryland.' Every 15 minutes during the entire show, Duane Glasscock was having people send bags of shit to ARB, which is the most powerful research company in radio. Well, ARB is so big and so powerful, they never mentioned it. They never talked about having bags of shit delivered to them by angry BCN listeners, nothing.
Monday morning I come in to do my show. Klee Dobra, who was the PD at the time, he comes in and he says, 'Charles, I want to talk to you after your show.' I go in his office and he's stirring his cup of coffee with his finger and he's so pissed off he's scalding his fucking finger and he doesn't even notice, and he says, 'Charles Laquidara is a very talented man,' and he's sipping his coffee and I can see it scalding the roof of his mouth, and he goes, 'But Duane Glasscock is a fucking asshole.'
I said, 'You can't fire Duane, he's got like the highest numbers ever in the history of the station, you can't fire him, that'd be crazy.' He said, 'Why do you call him Duane, why do you call him in the third person, are you fucking losing it?' He said, 'You are Duane and Duane is fired.' I said, 'Wait a minute, if I'm Duane, and you're accusing me of this shit, how come you fired Duane and you kept me.' And he said, 'That's beside the point.' So anyway, two weeks later Duane came back, because the people kept writing letters and sending telegrams and threatening to blow up the station and all this shit. So Duane came back. But Duane was quite a character."
Q: So what happened to you when WBCN finally got sold to Infinity?
A: "Well, they're Infinity now, but right then it was Hemisphere. And they paid an exorbitant amount of money for it, T. Mitchell Hastings cleaned up. I don't know what night I started doing coke, because my friend Dave had just come in with a new shipment in his grandfather's golf bags, of all this cocaine. The shipment was so clean and so pure and so incredible that we started on it like Wednesday morning.
This is no sleeping, very little drinking, so by Saturday morning I didn't even realize what time it was, I'm just fucking snoring away. All of a sudden I get a phone call, 'Charles,' it's my producer Martin, he's calling up, he's going, 'Hey Charles, where are you, what's happening, where's Duane,' and I was like, 'What time is it?' He said, 'Charles, you got to be on the air in five minutes. What do you want us to do, you want us to play a lot of records,' I said, 'No, no, no, I'll just do it from here. Just keep the phone open.' So I did the whole show through the telephone. Now, you know how bad this sounds, up for like three days without sleeping, totally like out of control, not making any sense, ranting, and they didn't exactly have Gentner boxes back in 1978.
So the people who had just bought the station decided they were going to come and take their families to visit, drop in on a Saturday morning on a station that they spent 50 billion dollars for. So it's Mike Wiener and his wife and their kid and Jerry Karas and his girlfriend, everybody, all the big, all the big mucky-mucks from Hemisphere, from New York who had just bought BCN. They come up to the 50th floor of the Prudential on a Saturday and where's the fucking disc jockey? Well, that's him up in those speakers, it's like this ranting and raving shit, and they were going, 'What the fuck kind of station did we just buy?' It was just on the phone, and they knew. And within three weeks they had come in and fired the entire staff, that's when we had the big strike."
Q: Tell me a little bit about the strike, from your point of view. You actually weren't fired for once.
A: "They didn't know what they were getting into. Most stations could fire an entire staff, but see, first of all they made the big mistake of not firing the DJ's. They fired most of the office workers, all of the sales department, and a few key DJ's they kept, like me and Parenteau. So they kept us and they wanted us to stay on, while our fellow co-workers were out in the street. So we voted to strike. And so, I don't know who made the strike speech, it was me or John Bodie. I think John Bodie was on the air and I made the strike speech. I just called in and I said, 'We are now on strike, the real BCN will be gone from now on, we're walking in protest until they give us back our radio station.' It was the only strike of all the strikes in radio that anyone ever won, because we had all the advertisers backing us."'
Q: So they strike gets solved, now we're in the eighties. Tell me about what you thought about punk rock, how that affected the station and your show.
A: "Well, there was this new kind of rock coming in, it actually started I think, with this fucking crazy kid from Boston, it's the guy that's in Something About Mary."
Q: Jonathan Richman.
A: "Richman, it started with this 'Roadrunner' thing, it was like, 'Whoa, what is this shit.' This guy comes to me, he's got this colored hair and he wants to work with me, a weird guy named Oedipus and I let him, I was always opening my show up to people and I said he could write for me. He had his own little show and we decided we'd give it, we were open to all kind of stuff, anyway, BCN would never close its mind to anything, you know. This is what was happening out there, there was this whole scene out there that was putting down all the stuff that we were standing for, they were just outraging us, which was weird, because we were supposed to be outrageous. Oedipus was one of the leaders of this group."
Q: Tell me a little bit about how the show developed. In the eighties, the station gets more and more formatted, less and less free form. At what point did you stop picking your own records in the morning?
A: "I never really stopped picking them, I just started trusting people that knew the music better than I did, and knew about the research better than I did. Again, if you want to get the ratings, then there are certain things you have to do that some people might construe as compromising or selling out
All the shit that I was brought up to believe in, everything's changed. Just as an aside, I hear all this stuff about how the media is so liberal, and that is the most incredible lie that I've ever heard in my life. The media has done something with us, and there is no left in this country. They call it liberal if it's moderate. The left would be what communism is, you know, somebody blowing up a nuclear plant. The left is somebody saying nuclear plants are killing all our kids and the TV news showing meltdowns and Mitsubishi tearing apart all of the rain forests in the world. The real left would be talking, but there's no fucking left out there, you don't ever see that shit."
Q: And as things developed you couldn't really talk about politics on the air as much.
A: "Right now most of my audience is conservative, I don't know who they are anymore. I don't who I'm talking to, I would be like a fossil talking if I tried to tell them about all the nuns in South America that are getting killed and all that stuff."
Q: Your last big political moment was probably the Shell Oil boycott.
A: " Shell Oil was the major supplier, they fueled the apartheid machine in South Africa. Through the whole apartheid period, Shell Oil was in their tanks, Shell Oil was in their cars, and Shell Oil has always been one of the worst corporations. So I decided to just go after Shell. The Shell Oil boycott made Time Magazine and everything, it was pretty big. Anytime a major person would come into town, whether it was Guns 'N Roses, Roger Clemens, Mayor Ray Flynn, the governor, whoever the governor was at the time, we had them all do IDs saying 'Boycott Shell.' We wanted to get 104 Shell credit cards, we ended up getting 3,004 credit cards and we just cut 'em up. There was a picture of me with all the cut up credit cards in Time Magazine. Shell Oil dropped about $60,000.00 a year worth of advertising, and now anywhere I go, Shell Oil will not advertise. They dropped they all their advertising from ZLX the day I was hired."
Q: Tell me about some of the other guys who were on your show.
A: "Billy West just kept coming in and he'd do voices for us and eventually he started doing characters and his genius was apparent from the start. There was no question about it, we were just lucky to have him. We kept him as long as we could, we kept giving him raises until eventually his time came to move. He's now doing all these voices, he's doing every cartoon character out there. He was the voice of Ren and Stimpy. Tank was the sports guy, he still is. I wanted a guy that wasn't some talking head. I wanted some guy mouthing off about how fucked up Bill Parcells is, someone to talk like a real person.."
Q: Tell me about some of the trademark bits on your show.
A: "There was the Big Mattress Song of the Week, we'd take one song and play it at a different time every day and break a lot of songs that way. We had one segment called 'Moonlight Grok', based on a Heinlein novel, Stranger In A Strange Land. It was like a dating game, before the dating game, listeners would come on and talk about each other and then decide whether they wanted to go out. One night we decided to put two guys on and Oedipus stopped it, he said, 'You can't run it anymore.'"
Q: Someone tell Nik Carter.
A: "Well, Oedipus changed."
Q: What was Mishegas?
A: "Mishegas was about 15 minutes of what they called the funniest 15 minutes in radio, it would be me and Billy West and whoever was coming on afterward, whether it was Tony Hazard or Ken Shelton or Matt Seigel and we would just say 'Okay, we'll take calls today from Everett, anybody in Everett.' Somebody'd come on and we'd talk a little bit and screw around. Then we'd ask them questions, and if they get it wrong they gotta do a dance called Funky Chicken and if they got it right then they'd a lot of prizes. "
Q: Tell me about the station when it started to transform in a new, modern Alternative. What was your opinion on the whole situation?
A: "The alternative medium to me was a real welcome point in radio, in music, because I was waiting for something different to come in than the same old, same old songs. A lot of the classic artists were dead, or they were getting older and you just wanted to know what the new thing was gonna be. It was refreshing to hear and I was really enjoying playing that stuff, but our audience was not picking up on it at all. As a matter of fact, when I left BCN I found a lot of listeners that I thought were still listening to me at BCN weren't, they'd gone over to ZLX because they played classic rock.
The problem with the new music is, because of MTV and other reasons, it became what Oedipus calls disposable. I'm not sure he's completely right, but the point is there are a lot of one-hit wonders. You have a CD of one-hit wonders from the seventies and eighties because there's so few of those, but you could put out a CD a month now. I'd be taking trips, Florida or California or wherever my family would be at the time, and I had to study because there were so many of the groups and I had to learn who the members are of each one and Oedipus said, 'Don't do it, because these they won't even be here next month.' Those groups that played at Woodstock that you don't even fucking know where they are now anymore, like the Spin Doctors. I mean, there's millions of them, and I would try to learn them all like I knew who the members of Cream were and who was in the Jimi Hendrix Experience and all the members of Zappa, you know, you try to learn all that shit, but then with these new groups there were just too many of them, plus they only had one song, then they'd go and other people would come on.
I like the sound of alternative, but it wasn't fitting with most of my audience that liked me, that grew up with me. They were all gone to WZLX, so I'm not so sure how many people I was really talking to at WBCN."
Q: Did they come to you first with the idea of you moving, or did you go to them?
A: "Oedipus came to me. I had asked Tony and Oedipus a year before that. 'Howard is on at night, that's crazy,' I said, 'The guy's a morning guy, is there any way we can get him on in Boston.' Oedipus said, 'We'll wait until we buy more stations, and then I'm sure they'll figure it out.' Around March 15th, Oedipus calls me saying he wanted to talk to me and so we met in Brookline. He's got three shots of my favorite single malt scotch all lined up on the bar when I get in there, and I said, 'Uh oh, we're gonna be talking about the move,' and he goes, 'Yeah, have a drink.' So we just started talking about it. He said, 'You know, most of the people that love you and that know you are over at ZLX, they hate this music. I know how much you love the music, but it doesn't fit. The top morning guy in the country can't get in the door in Boston and Infinity owns five stations here. Where should we put 'em, should we put him on ZLX, put him on [AC WMJX 106.7] MAGIC?'"
And he was right, unless we put him on AM radio, and even then Imus is on [all-sports] WEEI and Stern wouldn't work on [all-news] WBZ. I said, 'Oedipus, this is crazy, it's crazy the way I feel, like I just got my heart torn out of me, but I know exactly what you're saying.' He said, 'If you want to stay at BCN, we'll do it, I don't even want to put pressure on you going,' but he said, 'You tell me what you think we should do, because Mel Karmazin thinks that it would work, that you should go to ZLX and we'd become number one there, that 25 to 54 audience, because that's where they all are. Howard comes to BCN and he'd become the morning leader 18 to 34 and we'll be doing the job we're supposed to be doing.' And it made so much sense, it really did.
'It just was so devastating to leave, but what else am I gonna do? I mean, I can stay there and say, 'Oh yeah, hi, this is Charles, I'm gonna play Green Day now, Presidents of the United States,' but everybody knows I am a guy that's a lot older than their fucking father. The fathers, the grandfathers and the kids are all listening to the same show, kids hate that. Even my daughter would say, 'Dad, why don't you go work at another station.'
And it turned out to be a really great move because when I got over there, it was like everybody was waiting for me. The audience would keep calling, 'Charles, about time you come over, why you playing that shit over there,' and I'd try to explain to them that it really isn't shit, that it's great music and how you sound like your father did with you when you were listening to Hendrix and I tried lecturing everybody, but after awhile I just gave up, they just don't get it. They didn't want to hear that music, and I can still listen to the music myself, I still take my kids to shows. I was able to get backstage and took the kids to meet Marilyn Manson. It's like the best of both worlds, you know."
Q: So you have now been at WZLX for three years. What do you see as your future?
A: "Right now my job is to just to get ZLX up there in the ratings, so they're competitive and doing what they are supposed to do. I'm trying to change all the time, like I was at BCN, trying not to get stale. The people just don't want to let go. Duane, we had to let go of Duane. We got rid of Mishegas a year and a half ago, people thought that was awful. Mishegas was such a staple bit, but it just got tiring after awhile. You gotta keep moving, it's almost like you can't let them get a target on you.
We dropped the Big Mattress name. Most people don't know that, but now it's just the 'Charles Laquidara Radio Hour.' We stole that from the 'National Lampoon Radio Hour.' 'National Lampoon Radio Hour' only was a half an hour, they thought it was gonna be an hour but they couldn't sell it so they only made it a half hour. And we're focusing the ratings for 5:30 to 9:00 instead of from 6:00 to 10:00 because most people go to work at 9:00. I think [WXKS] Matt Seigel's off at nine, I think Howard stays on but everybody else is gone at nine. So my show's 5:30 to nine, after nine we just play a billion songs in a row and do a lot more music.
WBCN articles copyright 1998 The Album Network