WAAF Boston, 107.3, helped create my love of hair metal, grunge, and alternative rock
I mean, sure, I took a few years off when music died circa 1997, when bands like Limp Bizkit, Korn, System of a Down, Nickelback, Seether, and all of that other crap hit the airwaves. Oh yeah, and Linkin Park.
But deep down, WAAF Boston was always the one source of musical truth. It was the guiding wind of all hair metal voyages in the 80’s and very early 90’s. It stayed the course through grunge and the alternative rock sound of the 90s. I bought their CDs (Unusual Suspects, Royal Flush), I listened to their shows (TNT, Ozone, Opie and Anthony), created mixtapes off their programming.
Those tapes, which are probably still in the attic, were filled with songs from Orange 9mm’s Failure to True Believer by Lillian Axe, and of course, all of the 80s hair metal and 90s grunge staples in-between.
WAAF introduced me to Dream Theater via Pull Me Under, and my how the world changed.
The best of maxing mixtapes off of WAAF was that they, the DJs and On-Air Personalities, would become ingrained with how you remembered every song.
About WAAF Boston
What frequency does WAAF use?
WAAF uses the fm frequency 107.3 in the greater Worcester/Boston area. For a decade (2006-2017), it was 97.7 Boston as well.
When did WAAF acquire its call letters?
In 1967 when Chicago’s WAAF changed format. The station itself had been in existence for some time, but it acquired the WAAF call letters in 1967 and changed its format to rock radio three years later in 1970.
In 2009, it became Boston’s longest tenured rock radio station.
What broadcast range did the station have?
Most of Massachusetts, including major cities like Boston, Worcester, Lowell. Beyond that, WAAF could be heard in Southern New Hampshire and Vermont, and Northern Rhode Island and Connecticut.
With the internet, the broadcast range is unlimited now (obviously) due to WAAF.com and things like I Heart Radio, live streaming, the WAAF podcast, and WAAF online.
The History of WAAF Boston, and the freedom to play the real rock of the 80s
Over the years, WAAF has typically featured rock bands in the broadcast. There isn’t too much derivation from that path (except the Summer of 1974). In the pre Twitter, pre Facebook, pre-streaming music on the internet days, this was how kids discovered new music.
Just as musical styles change, so did the ownership and management of the FM Radio Station. This often led to revolutionized playlists, formats, and band/album/song choices.
The “Freeform” days of “WAAF Worcester, The Rock of New England”
On air talent and personalities were given autonomy to play rock and roll hits. This featured classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, bands still played on WAAF today.
Additionally, the station played Steve Wonder, Chicago, Sly and the Family Stone. While fantastic in their own right, these bands don’t thematically align with future WAAF motifs, like “Rock of the 80s” or “Untamed Radio”.
From AOR to Arena Rock to Heavy Metal
Arena rock acts like Boston, Journey, Kansas, Foghat, and Foreigner were staples of the Album-oriented rock era along with Yacht Rock favorites like Fleetwood Mac and The Doobie Brothers.
The end of the 70s brought Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Rush, and Van Halen to the station. Volumes get turned up.
WAAF Boston Cranks It Up with Non Stop Rock of the 80s
It was during the 80s that the moniker “classic rock” started being applied to the bands from the Freeform and AOR days.
AAF also goes Jekyll and Hyde during the decade (80s), playing Genesis, Huey Lewis and the News, and other 80s pop rock stars exclusively by day, before setting up the Marshall double stacks and melting faces at night with Iron Maiden, Ratt, Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard.
Hyde eventually wins this battle and hair metal is ushered into the rotation in the mid to late 80s. The sounds of Sunset Strip are all over the airwaves. If you moved the dial to 107.3 from 1983 to 1988, you heard the very best glam metal songs mainstream radio had to offer.
- Guns N’ Roses: Welcome to the Jungle and Paradise City (Appetite for Destruction),
- Def Leppard: Photograph (Pyromania),
- Bon Jovi: Living on a Prayer (Slippery When Wet) and Bad Medicine (New Jersey)
- Whitesnake: Here I Go Again (Whitesnake),
- Poison: Talk Dirty to Me (Look What the Cat Dragged In) and Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Open Up and Say … Ahh!)
- Mötley Crüe: Shout at the Devil (Shout at the Devil) and Home Sweet Home (Theatre of Pain)
- Ratt: Round and Round (Out of the Cellar)
- Winger: Headed for a Heartbreak (Winger)
“Rock” of the 80s was anything but …
Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls, and Culture Club began seeing airtime on 107.3 in the spring of 1983. Wait, WAAF Boston moved from all of those glorious hits to that crap?
Failed experiment. Moving along.
“Untamed Radio” plays Hair Metal (bands)
The “Untamed Radio” era, from 1989 to 1991, was all hair metal, but hair metal as it’s mascara was running, it’s teased coifs falling limp, and its leather chafing. That doesn’t mean that AAF played junk, far from it. The second wave of hair bands were debuting between 1989 and 1991.
Bands like Skid Row brought a gritty, hard rock sound to hair metal, with outrageous vocals on songs like 18 and Life and Youth Gone Wild (Skid Row). Warrant carried on the hair metal visage in white leather, with the power ballad Heaven (Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich) and Cherry Pie (Cherry Pie), a song (and MTV video) drenched in sex.
Albums like The Great Radio Controversy (Tesla), Trixter (Trixter), Lean In To It (Mr. Big), and FireHouse (FireHouse) helped broaden the typical hair metal sound.
WAAF Boston still annihilated the airwaves with The Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood album, playing Kickstart My Heart as frequently as possible.
And, that’s when on-air stalwart, Greg Hill, of The Hill-Man Morning Show, joined the crew at the station, remaining there to this day.
Alternative rock, grunge, and the only station that really rocks!
WAAF Boston, like most other rock stations, quickly threw out their Aquanet and replaced it with copious amounts of flannel. Similar to the non stop rock of the 80s, if you turned your radio dial to 107.3 in the early 90s, you heard the very best grunge and alternative rock songs mainstream radio had to offer.
- Pearl Jam: Alive (Ten) and Animal (Vs.)
- Beastie Boys: Sabotage (Ill Communication)
- Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nevermind) and Heart Shaped Box (In Utero)
- Stone Temple Pilots: Plus (Core) and Vasoline (Purple)
- Soundgarden: Outshined (Badmotorfinger) and Black Hole Sun (Superunknown)
- Smashing Pumpkins: Today and Cherub Rock (Siamese Dream)
- Nine Inch Nails: Closer and Hurt (The Downward Spiral)
- Temple of the Dog: Hungerstrike (Temple of the Dog)
- Rage Against the Machine: Killing in the Name (Rage Against the Machine) and Bulls on Parade (Evil Empire)
AAF even played tunes off of soundtracks (Singles, The Crow, and Judgment Night), and grunge and alt compilation albums (MOM: Music for Our Mother Ocean, Home Alive: Art of Self Defense).
Real Rock: The early years and the death of good music
The early years of the Real Rock Era is really more like the early year or two. Bands like Weezer, Cake, Bush, Our Lady Peace, Sponge, The Nixons, and Live were great following the 90s bands directly above. Though not the best album released by the aforementioned bands, Wax Ecstatic by Detroit’s Sponge showed a depth instrumentation not found in 80s hair metal and most of 90s grunge.
Unfortunately, music died. Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Staind, and Korn hit hard on WAAF. I checked out.
Everything that rocks, emphasis on everything
The beginning of this era (mid 2000s) still kept me at bay. System of a Down and Nickelback are just unlistenable. The station felt like a new girlfriend who spent every hour of every day checking out photos of your last two girlfriends, Ms. Hair Metal and Ms. Grunge/Alternative, and talking about how they suck and how she is better in every way, only to have every friend and family member tell you that she is TOTALLY not right for you.
107.3 WAAF: Boston’s Rock Station, and the death of WBCN
2009 marked a major shift in Boston rock radio with the end of 104.1 WBCN. The death of WBCN, WAAF’s largest competitor, allowed WAAF to own rock (classic, hard rock, heavy metal, grunge, alternative, hair metal, glam, nu metal, hardcore, etc.) across Massachusetts and parts of New England.
And with that shift, I tune back in for good after a decade off.