Saturday, February 29, 2020


After a 50-year run, Boston rock radio station WAAF 107.3 has abruptly gone off the air.

Indeed, the news broke on Tuesday, February 18th, that parent company Entercom sold the station for $10.7 million and, by midnight Friday, just three days after the news of the sale, AAF was off the air. Just like that. In its place was a Christian Rock station called K-LOVE that nobody will ever listen to.

The news was met with much sadness. Some anger, too. WAAF had been rocking Boston for 50 years. And, within three days, it’s just gone? Forever?


I was sad like the rest. But I admittedly felt ashamed, too. With the exception of tuning in here and there during desperate circumstances, I had basically abandoned WAAF years ago. Over the past decade or so, podcasts and Pandora had seduced me away from the radio waves. Plus, AAF played music I was no longer very interested in (no offense, but I could only take so much Disturbed, Sevendust and Godsmack).

So it’s not like I was really saddened by the fact that a radio station I barely ever listened to (anymore) went off the air. It was more like I was depressed because WAAF represented something to me. The past, I suppose. A piece of my childhood. No, this wasn’t about a radio station going off the air. It was about a good chunk of my childhood going off the air and disappearing into the airwaves, never to be heard from again.

When I think back on it, WAAF was the station that can be credited with giving birth to my love of music. Previous to the sixth grade—1994 or so—I admittedly wasn’t into music very much and my knowledge of what bands were out there was limited to what my older brother listened to at the time. I had a few cassette tapes I played in my Walkman here and there…mainly Skid Row’s “Skid Row” and Aerosmith’s “Get a Grip” come to mind…but also EMF’s “Stigma” was thrown into the mix (mistakenly bought because I thought their hit single “Unbelievable” would be on it—it wasn’t); but, overall, I was a music ignoramus, a tween more interested in playing Super Nintendo or reading GamePro magazine than anything else.

By sixth grade, however, I was on a mission to be cooler. I wanted to know what music was hot out there. So, I thought the only proper thing to do was to tune in to Boston’s “only station that REALLY rocks”: WAAF. 107.3.

Throughout sixth and seventh grade, I went to bed every night at nine-sharp, hid under my covers and tuned my Walkman into WAAF’s “Top Nine Tonight” (aka TNT). This was an hour-long countdown of the day’s top-nine requested songs, starting from #9 and ending with #1.

Songs that made a frequent appearance on Top-Nine-Tonight were Soundgarden’s “Spoonman”, Alice in Chains’ “I Stay Away”, Stone Temple Pilots’ “Big Empty”, Pantera’s “I’m Broken”, The Offspring’s “Come out and Play”, Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”, Green Day’s “Basket Case” and many, many more.

It’s no coincidence that among the first albums I ever bought (on CD) were Soundgarden (Superunkown), Alice in Chains (Jar of Flies), Stone Temple Pilots (Purple), The Crow Soundtrack (which also featured STP’s “Big Empty” but soooooo much more good shit, holy crap), Offspring (Smash) and Beastie Boys (Ill Communication). Top Nine Tonight basically dictated what albums I should purchase. I would hear a good song on TNT and say, ok, that’s the album I should go out and buy this weekend with my paperboy money.

In high school, I remained faithful to AAF. There’s this vivid memory I have from freshman year, setting my digital (you know, the one with the red digits) alarm clock so I would wake up to WAAF each morning. The only song I distinctly remember blasting out of the radio alarm clock was Stabbing Westward’s “Shame (How can I exist without you?)”. Those beginning guitar riffs to that song sounded so siiiiiiiiiiick at 6 o’clock in the morning. Who needed coffee when you had that? Oh God. I’m getting emotional.

Imagine waking up to this in the morning? It was great.

Now, you have to remember: there was no Internet back then. No social media, either. Tuning into a radio station like WAAF was the only way to make you feel connected to popular culture. Okay, I guess you could watch MTV, but this wasn’t always convenient (plus, you needed cable). Tuning into WAAF was how you tuned in to what was happening in the world of the cool kids. You would get word of bands touring, new albums being recorded, breakups, reunions, drug overdoses, rehabs and album release dates. Radio singles would be released before albums came out and even before videos on MTV premiered. The only way to hear these singles would be ON THE RADIO. You had no choice but to tune in.

Case in point: the Beastie Boys’ single “Intergalactic” in 1998. The song was released a full month or two before Hello Nasty even came out. I was a mega-fan of the Beastie Boys by this point (read my book BEASTIE FEVER HERE) and was sure to tune into AAF to hear the Beasties’ first single from their new album—that was the only way. WAAF didn’t make it hard for you. “Intergalactic” was practically played twice or even thrice every hour.

Things changed for radio, however, once the millennium came about. By the time I was in college in 2000, Napster emerged and you could download pretty much any song you wanted to hear, for FREE. There was suddenly no longer much of a need for a radio station. Throw mp3 players into the mix and I was basically married to my Rio Mp3 Player all throughout college (even though it only had enough memory for about six songs at a time). Then, came the iPod and iPhones, which seemed like pieces of alien technology that resembled the monolith thingy the apes worshipped in 2001: A Space Odyssey (did Kubrick foresee our worshipping of these devices?). Forget about it! These Apple devices could hold hundreds of songs at a time. Who needed radio at that point?

Not long after iPods, music streaming came along. With Pandora, and YouTube music…Spotify and Amazon music…iHeartRadio…the only time I listened to AAF was while I was shaving at the bathroom sink (I keep a battery-operated radio on the shelf beside the vanity) or driving in the car (I drive a 1999 Corolla that doesn’t even have a CD player, let alone a way to plug in an iPod or smartphone).

So, I guess WAAF’s demise in 2020 was, perhaps, inevitable, whether or not one likes to admit it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, though. Due to that pesky emotion inherent in the human condition called nostalgia, we all want a radio station like WAAF to live on, forever…even if we hardly ever tune in….

And, that, my friends, is why it was so depressing to hear WAAF officially go off the air on Friday night, February 21. Part of me wanted to forget any of it was happening and move on with my life. But, no, I knew I had to experience the death of AAF first-hand. It was kind of like witnessing a loved one die on their death bed. As heartbreaking as it may feel, you need to be right there with them, holding their hand as they cross over into the light.

So, at 11:30pm, I found myself sitting on my basement couch, sipping strong IPA, staring at my old-school, battery-operated radio…and I “tuned in” one last time:

…WAAF disc jockeys Mistress Carrie and Mike Hsu are all alone in the studio at this point, very emotional, and they’ve hardly processed what is even happening. It all seems more surreal than real…

…then, they announce that Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” will be the last WAAF song ever. It seems fitting for many reasons. Not only is the song about 50 years old (like AAF), but it’s also the ultimate heavy metal anthem and a big scrahew-a-yoooooo middle finger to the Christian rock that will take over afterwards…

…the intro to the song starts, the DJ’s tell everybody that they love AAF fans so much and they chant, “A-A-F…A-A-F…A-A-F….” Then, their voices fade as they “hit the post” like the pros they are…and Black Sabbath plays in full…

…Is it the end, my friend?
Satan's coming 'round the bend
People running 'cause they're scared
The people better go and beware
No, no, please, no…

…after the song…ghostly dead air. This lasts for five or six seconds. It’s the most depressing dead air you’ve ever heard. Then, the Christian Rock from K-LOVE fades in. Ugh. No offense to Christ or Christianity, but who listens to this shit? Puuuuuuuuuuuke.

Just like that, WAAF is gone. Forever. And, with it, goes a piece of the past. A piece of our childhoods.

The official end of an era.

WAAF stickers I accumulated from over the years, mostly from the 1990s…


MATT BURNS is the author of MY RAGING CASE OF BEASTIE FEVER, JUNGLE F’NG FEVER: MY 30-YEAR LOVE AFFAIR W/ GUNS N’ ROSES and I TURNED INTO A MISFIT! Check out these books (and many more) on his Amazon author page HERE.