J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, February 10, 2020

Looking Back on Jay Talking

I’m writing this on Sunday night. I don’t plan to respond to answers to the 1770 Quiz until after the last entries arrive.

Here’s something else I’m not doing tonight: preparing to go on the radio. As of the beginning of this year, I was scheduled to spend the hour after midnight talking to Bradley Jay on WBZ radio.

In November I went on the Jay Talking program and talked about the Boston Massacre. This conversation was going to be about the ground-breaking trials that followed. But in mid-January the station ownership canceled Bradley Jay’s show.

When I grew up in greater Boston, WBZ was not only the dominant AM news radio station, it was a pillar of daily life. Its signal was so strong that we could often pick it up at my grandparents’ house in Philadelphia. During elementary school winters, that was the place on the dial for school closing announcements. I still remember the names and voices of the men (and they were all men back then) who announced the news, weather, and traffic (“Joe Green in the ’BZ copter”).

Bradley Jay also grew up in New England. After several years as a music deejay on WBCN, he shifted to talk radio. He hosted the after-midnight shift on WBZ for more than a decade.

Bradley has a particular affection for history, so he brought on guests like Peter Drummey at the Massachusetts Historical Society and Bob Allison at Suffolk University. I was lucky enough to be added to that list in 2017. Well, lucky if you were comfortable staying out late since Bradley did his interviews live at WBZ after midnight.

When I first visited Jay Talking, WBZ radio still had its studios on Soldiers Field Road, just like when I was a kid. For last year’s interviews, that meant going to a cavernous office building in Medford, a sign of changes at the station after the iHeartMedia corporation acquired it in 2017. (The acquisition was the result of antitrust concerns, which of course are an upshot of consolidation in broadcasting.)

Last month iHeartMedia cut costs at WBZ by reducing local content, replacing several familiar voices with shows produced elsewhere. I can’t speak to the business side of that decision. Our news and entertainment media are changing dramatically, and AM radio isn’t the same business it was fifty years ago or twenty years ago.

Technology has given us listeners more control over what we choose to hear and many more choices of what to hear. For people who like to hear historical conversations, there are lots of dedicated podcasts. I must admit I probably have more hours of history podcasts queued up than hours I’ve listened to live radio this month. (To be sure, some of those podcasts are archives of radio shows.)

I think we lose something, however, in the move away from a big news radio station like WBZ or a big daily newspaper like the Boston Globe. Those broad-based news sources expose their audiences to topics we wouldn’t choose to pursue on our own—because the topics don’t seem interesting, because we don’t even know to inquire about them. Maybe that exposure helps us develop new interests. Maybe it just gives us a wider perspective on what we do focus on.

Bradley Jay brought people onto his show to talk about history because he thought the field was interesting, and that interest came through in his voice. Some of his listeners may have regularly tuned in for other topics entirely and gotten an hour of conversation they didn’t seek out. I hope my visits were stimulating enough for that hour, perhaps even stimulating enough to inspire a few people to learn more. And I hope I don’t forget to keep my eyes and ears open to topics I wouldn’t seek out, either.

Here are links to my visits to Jay Talking through Radio Public. The recordings are also available on other podcast platforms.
And it will be interesting to see where Bradley Jay’s interests next lead him.

1 comment:

THOMAS BRAWLEY said...

Listened to the first podcast about the lost cannon...excellent....going to list3n to the second one now..tyvm