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As a hippie entrepreneur and cultural prophet, Ray Riepen left a lasting impression with anyone who worked at his start-ups: the Boston Tea Party and the Cambridge Phoenix. He also envisioned and established rock music on WBCN. “[He was] an extremely intelligent man with a fair amount of W.C. Fields in him,” DJ Joe Rogers recalled. “When I met him he was living in an apartment in Cambridge with a mattress on the floor and a stack of books almost up to the ceiling. The man had one three-piece lawyer’s suit and a couple of shirts: that was it. In the back of his Lincoln Continental was his laundry…in the trunk.”
Ray Riepen was a bright attorney who hit town from Kansas City to pursue a Master’s degree at Harvard Law School. By 1966 the seeds of the counterculture had been sown and Riepen caught the buzz of the changing times, launching the city’s eventual preeminent rock club, The Boston Tea Party. He also looked to the FM radio dial to establish an underground rock music radio station. He approached WBCN-FM, a struggling classical music outlet and talked the ownership into allowing him to experiment with his concept.
After the March 15, 1968 try-out succeeded, Riepen became WBCN’s general manager, loosely shepherding a ragtag group of hippie DJs until September 1971 when they organized themselves into a labor union. By that time, though, a power struggle wasn’t worth it to Riepen, who had also been dealing staff disagreements at the Tea Party and Phoenix. The enigmatic businessman sold his interests in all three ventures and within days he vanished. Riepen shuttled in and out of Boston in barely six years, yet his tenure indelibly altered the city’s cultural landscape even if his name is often overlooked today.
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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.