I’ve been hooked on radio forever — from transistor radios to incessant button-pushing in cars, from table-top models to Walkmans to boomboxes to online streaming, from Top 40 to “underground” FM programming to an array of sub-genres. Like LL Cool J, I couldn’t live without my radio — a constant soundtrack, a sound salvation.
But great radio isn’t just about great music. In many ways, it was the first interactive medium — you form a bond with the personalities on the other side of the speaker who are talking to you: the DJs who push your emotional buttons with the magic in the music. (Bonus: they take requests and give away tickets too!) These days many people opt to listen to the files on their phone or computer-generated/preference-based playlists. But the human touch — the vital connection — enhances the listening experience.
WBRU has been providing that vital connection since 1966. I’ve been listening for most of those years, from the days when Dr. John the Night Tripper and “Peaches En Regalia” and It’s a Beautiful Day and the Firesign Theatre and Andy Pratt were in regular rotation through today’s playlist staples [Cage the Elephant is on as I type these words]. There were decades of pleasure in between: ‘BRU was the go-to at home, at the NewPaper/Providence Phoenix offices, and blasting outta dashboards [‘BRU has always been the #1 preset]. ‘BRU was truly local, presenting the Rock Hunt and Home Bru’d and the Summer Concert Series and giving young bands treasured airtime. And the student DJs were a delightful and ever-changing crew, from the budding pros to the endearing oddballs. But that over-the-air presence is about to be a thing of the past, following the sale of the FM signal to a Christian music network.
When he signed off today’s morning show, Wendell Gee played a supercut of station IDs by dozens of artists [Mike Mills of R.E.M., Tori Amos, Green Day…]. It was a poignant tribute to the station’s long and glorious run, its breadth and industry clout. And strictly speaking we shouldn’t be using the past tense, because ‘BRU is streaming and “making the exciting transition from a traditional radio station to a broader, more modern media organization,” as they state in this Facebook post. But when the signal flips tonight at 11:59 pm, we’re going to lose another beloved Rhode Island institution — at 95.5 FM.