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In October 1969, WBCN hired 21-year old Brooklyn native and Brandeis student Norm Winer on the strength of his impressive knowledge of music. But, there wasn’t much work to be found at the station since all the DJ shifts were filled. Winer remembered, “They tried to find me something to do; since I read the New York Times every day, they hired me to be the first News Director.” In a department numbering only himself, Winer tore into his responsibilities with enthusiasm. “When all the demonstrations and protests were happening, I would bring a tape recorder with me. I’d get arrested, then reveal my press credentials at the last minute so I could get back to the station and broadcast the news!”
After leaving for a six month stint at CKGM-FM in Montreal, Winer was hired back at WBCN as its Program Director. Now the boss, Winer realized that if he ever wanted to do a normal radio shift like the others, he’d have to develop an alter-ego. “I needed a different identity so people wouldn’t apply for jobs or critique the station when I was on the air.” Winer became ‘Old Saxophone Joe,’ nicking the name from Bob Dylan’s 1969 song “Country Pie.”
Winer’s laid-back personality disguised a quick-wit and organizational skill that guided WBCN through five years of transition from an on-air hippie commune to a money-making operation that moved up to spacious digs on the 50th floor of Boston’s Prudential Tower. If the musical philosophy remained the same, certainly the business demands shifted radically to the right during that time, placing enormous pressure on the Program Director to hold it all together. This Winer did until 1976 when he exited Boston to accept an offer to join KSAN-FM, the iconic underground radio powerhouse in San Francisco. Winer’s most famous gig would eventually be as DJ and boss at Chicago’s WXRT-FM, where he helmed the fledgling alternative-music station from 1979 to 2016, acquiring nearly every award and accolade a radio legend could possibly take home in those 37 years. He currently runs his own consultancy firm.
(by Carter Alan)
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(by Carter Alan)
Carter Alan is a former WBCN DJ now heard on WZLX-FM in Boston. He is the author of Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN (University Press of New England, 2013), available here as well as from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.