Dialed In: Radio Contact personalizes the story of Boston radio for new Harvard exhibit


The story of radio is one far from completion, but at relative odds with itself. On one hand, the internet has proven that the saga is ever-evolving, with a future that's promising but completely uncertain, but on the other, there's a real sense of finality to the era of FM (and even moreso for AM's long-gone appeal and reach).

Ian Coss, a PhD student at Boston University, radio journalist, and local musician, set out to tell the tale of Boston's involvement with the growth and success of radio over the past several decades with Radio Contact, an audio oral history of the Boston airwaves with an exhibit that opens tomorrow, March 11, at the Collection of Historic Scientific Instruments at Harvard University (1 Oxford St. in Cambridge). It's presented as part of a special exhibit on radio technology and culture.

Billed as taking "a broad view—covering everything from music shows and propaganda broadcasts to ham radio transmissions and Internet radio algorithms," the series includes discussions with '60s radio icon Arnie Ginsburg, longtime Boston Red Sox radio voice Joe Castiglione, and Spotify developer Paul Lamere of the Echo Nest. Seven of the interviews can be heard below.

Coss, who worked with editor Julie Caine of Bay Area public radio station KALW on the project, says Radio Contact has family roots.

"[It's a] personal connection, for one," Coss writes via email. "My grandfather and great-uncle (Paul Coss, one of the oral history stories) were both broadcasters in the city going back to the '40s. I was familiar with the museum from some previous work, so when I heard about the upcoming radio exhibit I pitched the idea of an audio companion that would provide a more personal and local perspective. This is really just a sample of course; Boston has such a long and rich radio history, but maybe I'll have a chance to expand on it at some point."

Listen to a few of the interviews below, with bios provided by Radio Contact.

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Paul Coss: “We were a propaganda group”

Paul Coss was born in 1934 and grew up in the “Golden Age” of radio — listening to live serial dramas and music broadcasts from the living room radio set. As a child he worked in the record library at the AM station WHDH, fetching albums for the disc jockeys and even helping to write jokes. Coss’ broadcasting career began in earnest while he was in college at Holy Cross in Worcester; where he started working weekends at a local station. Coss later moved to WCOP in Boston, where he hosted a regular music show eventually became the station’s program director. Over a long career in broadcasting, Coss has moved from radio to television and from coast to coast. He currently lives in Carmel, California. During the late 1950s, Coss was drafted into the army and served as part of the Loudspeaker and Leaflet Company. He recounts his experiences broadcasting in Japan, where he had to walk the line between entertainment and propaganda.

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