“For the last five months, I’ve been working as an unofficial archivist for Northeastern’s student-run radio station WRBB,” Camino 84 tells Vanyaland. “Although the glory days of radio are far behind us, from the mid-’70s through mid-’90s WRBB was an important staple in the Roxbury community — playing funk, disco, hip hop, and house long before commercial radio was hipped to those styles.”
Deep within Boston folklore is the word that WRBB was the first station to play “Rapper’s Delight” in full back in 1979, and Bobby Brown writes in his autobiography that the station was the first place where he heard his voice on the radio, for New Edition’s 1983 hit “Candy Girl.”
During his work as WRBB archivist, Lucht cataloged nearly 7,000 vinyl records, digitized dozens of old tape cartridges of promotional material and radio bumpers, and dug as deep as he could into the college’s vaults.
His work was inspired by a story Boston hip-hop archivist, historian, and writer Dart Adams told on Twitter not to long ago. “He was recounting a conversation he had with Stones Throw label head Peanut Butter Wolf back in 2014 when the Stones Throw documentary was being toured at the Brattle,” Lucht says. “Apparently both Dart and Wolf listened to WRBB as kids, and I had to jump in and be like ‘hold up, wait…. you mean Northeastern’s WRBB?’ I had a show on there like all music nerd freshmen, but it was kind of just an average college station for fun and I had no idea it had historical significance.”
Lucht adds: “I’m a crate digger at heart, so when I saw a music library of 7,000 records that I could freely lock myself in and dig through, offering to catalog the collection was a no-brainer… I got to hear thousands of great songs it might have taken me decades to find otherwise, learned about the chronology of different labels and scenes, found a few really valuable records and plenty of rare but forgotten ones, too. I’m buckled in for the long haul in terms of establishing myself as a crate digger, but I think this mix is a pretty solid start. There’s plenty of well-known favorites, but also a few gems that I don’t anticipate anybody independently ID’ing for a while.”
The mix kicks off with station IDs from Common, Biggie, Ozzy Osbourne, and Mobb Deep, then jumps into the music, with other clips from the likes of Jon Stewart and Dennis Miller weaved into the next two hours.
Fire up the mix below, and scan down after the Soundcloud jump for the liner notes penned by Adams.
Rare Gems & Killer Grooves from the WRBB Archives liner notes, by Dart Adams:
When people think of quality urban radio they rarely mention Boston. This is odd considering Boston radio played a big role in the city being a Jazz mecca as well as pushing the hugely important talent show era where acts like Donna Summer, Tavares, The Energetics, Jonzun Crew, Owch! (PKA 9.9), Planet Patrol, Prince Charles & The City Beat Band, The Superiors, New Edition, NYNUK (PKA New Kids On The Block), Picture Perfect, etc. came up through the ranks dominating the circuit then ended up attracting the attention of major labels. Boston radio is where Bill Adler first heard “Rapper’s Delight” in full (on WRBB, no less!). A young Peanut Butter Wolf fell in love with music listening to Boston area radio. Wendy Williams began her career in media but learning the ropes and cutting her teeth on WRBB radio.
WRBB was a crucial part of my upbringing since they’d actually play Rap in addition to the R&B, Funk & Soul I was used to hearing on other area radio stations. Jammin’ Joe Johnson at WILD was NOT a Rap fan and Sunny Joe White at Kiss 108 FM played it sparingly if ever. In 1982, WRBB switched to 104.9 FM & became “Boston’s Spice”. It made sense that a rapper emerged from Boston called MC Spice who became the first rapper signed to Atlantic, even before MC Lyte. We’d hear the echo chamber effect “W-W- R-R-B-B… BOSTON! BOSTON!” between tracks and mixes played on the radio. It was even more mindblowing because WRBB was located right in my neighborhood.
I’d listen to Reggie Lewis’ basketball games on WRBB then keep it locked for the music again. They’d play local acts in the rotation alongside major label artists. On WRBB they’d play The Clash, The Police, Duran Duran, David Bowie, ABC, Level 42, Human League, Peter Gabriel, etc. mixed into the regular playlist. First time I ever heard Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” was in this epic mix on WRBB back in Summer 1985. I stared at the radio in disbelief as I heard this beautifully haunting song blare from the speakers.
One of the first places I ever heard Jonzun Crew or Arthur Baker’s new productions was on WRBB. One of the first places I ever heard play a New Edition song was WRBB. We’d just put tapes in our box, hold down PLAY, REC & PAUSE then wait for a jam to come on that would make us run the length of the room to press the PAUSE button so we could record the magic we heard broadcasted over the airwaves that day so we could relive the experience over and over again. Looking back, the bar for my expectations in terms of music discovery is so high because of my time listening to Boston radio as a kid.
This is a two hour collection of songs I remember from my early childhood (including the voting song that was mentioned in the July 1981 “20/20” national feature story on Rap) that got burn on the station that proclaimed We Rock Boston Better, WRBB. The era where the convergence of Soul, Funk and Disco occurred is well represented in this mix. The energy and amazing musicianship takes center stage and another overlooked fact is Bostonians Tom Moulton and John Luongo were the first master remixers and engineers for Disco and Soul/Dance during this era, helping to define the sound of it.
Enough words, listen to “Rare Gems & Killer Grooves From WRBB Archives” mixed by Camino 84. Enjoy!