A First Class Ticket

Arnie Woo-Woo Ginsburg, the General Manager of WBCN, was 46 when I met him in 1971. His suit could not have been silk, because it was January, but it was very well fitting, and slightly shiny. Woo-Woo was, and may still be, a handsome man. His nose was long, and his hair gray. He wore horned rimmed glasses, as he had during his days as a Boston disk jockey. He moved fluidly in his suits. His voice was round and his speech well formed; mellifluous. He knew mathematics. He loved firecrackers. He had worked in all aspects of radio: sales, on-air, programming and technical.

I took the T from Somerville to 312 Stuart Street in Boston, near the Combat Zone, to apply for a technician’s job at WBCN, a job dignified with the name “Engineer”. I had a First Class Radiotelephone License with me, freshly stamped with the signature of the issuing FCC Officer: Vincent J. Koczinski. I entered WBCN’s dingy third floor offices. I had never been in a radio station before. Woo-Woo did not keep me waiting. He emerged from his manager’s office and cordially greeted me. He looked at my license. He asked me a few questions, which were easy to answer, since I had only ever had one job before, as an AFDC caseworker for a few months. I was 25.

I knew WBCN because it was the only station worth listening to. It was not Top 40. Its disk jockeys talked like normal people; low, quick and intense. It had a woman, Maxanne, on the air. Most important, it played music that meant something to me. Blues, rock, jazz, folk. It was very refreshing. Charles Laquidara, the night DJ, would even play classical music. WBCN was against the Vietnam war. It was the only broadcast station in Boston that was identifiably against the war. It was so good, I couldn’t believe it. Only problem was, I could not listen to it regularly because I didn’t have a radio.

Bul I did have a soldering gun. – how or why, I can’t remember now. I didn’t have anything else. No winter coat. No car. (I had a motorcycle but it was too cold to ride). No radio. No money except my fifty dollar a month General Relief welfare check, which was constantly in jeopardy.

I was staying with Steve Leech in his tiny apartment in Somerville. One afternoon in November 1970 he leant me his Volkswagen and I drove to Allston to the big Radio Shack there. I spent a precious dollar on a Grab Bag. I had carefully felt and squeezed the bag so I knew what was inside: a Radio Shack Weather Radio. Back in Somerville I turned on the Weather Radio, a plastic cube with a built in speaker and antenna, about 4 inches on a side, and carefully studied it. Its reception frequency was 162 megacycles. (this was before “megahertz” became current). A few quick calculations, and I knew how the coils in the Weather Radio would have to be enlarged to receive WBCN on 104.1 MHZ. Out came the soldering gun, and an hour later I had replaced both the oscillator and the RF coil. First time, it worked. I was listening to Maxanne Sartori, loud, and not too clear. The Weather Radio was designed for a deviation of 25 kc., and commercial FM broadcasts, I knew even then, used 75 khz, I mean, kc, so there was some clipping on loud passages. But it was good enough. I could lay on Steve’s day bed, smoking a tiny, thin, joint and dreaming, listening to WBCN.

I studied a little bit and got my first class ticket. I needed money. I figured I might be able to get a job reading meters in a TV station. I had a B. A. in English, which didn’t help much. I went on a job interview at an an electrical panel wiring outfit in Cambridge. No luck. Times were tough then, too. And cold. Then I saw the ad in the Boston Globe for a radio engineer at WBCN.

After the interview Woo-Woo wanted to come to my house. I still haven’t figured this one out. The man’s physical presence was very intense, and made me uncomfortable. I told him where I was living, with Steve, on Broadway, Winter Hill, in Somerville. “Yeah, that’s across the street from Pal Joey’s”, he said. “Do you know Joey?”. I can’t remember now how we got there. Probably we drove in Woo-Woo’s car. But I do remember sitting at Steve’s dining room table – his only table – and showing Arnie Ginsburg my soldering gun, coils, and modified Weather Radio . I got the job. Can you believe it?

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