Part of The Sound Salvation series
“Late Risers’ Club” has been on the air in Boston since 1977. The show has both represented and helped usher in a variety of changes in the punk music landscape in the city. Because “Late Risers’ Club” airs every weekday and is hosted by a rotating cast of DJs, the radio show is very different than most punk rock “specialty shows” (to use college radio lingo) that air once each week. Joanie Lindstrom has been one of the DJs on “Late Risers’ Club” for more than three decades. She describes some unique changes that have happened in Boston and why listeners remain dedicated to the station at a time when streaming has chipped away at radio listenership.
Daniel: How did you get into punk rock?
Joanie: I’m older than dirt [laughs] and I grew up in a nowhere town called Springfield, Vt. This was before punk rock. You either didn’t care about music, you listened to the Grateful Dead, or you liked heavy metal. Me and my brother were on the heavy metal side. We listened to a lot of Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, and Aerosmith. Anything that was pretty rocking. I would work in Brattleboro, Vt. in the summertime. My father worked there and I could scoot in for a job between college years. There was an awesome record store where I bought the Dolls and Iggy Pop. And I was reading Trouser Press, and Creem, and Circus. So it started with more hard rocking stuff and then moved into punk rock.
As soon as I could, I’d go to see bands. I was at UMass Amherst and I would go to the few shows by myself. The Cars played there, way back. And I had my two punk rock mentors at school. One was this guy Phil Milstein, who’s pretty well known and still writes. (He handled tape loops for Uzi—among other bands—and is the founder of the Velvet Underground Appreciation Society.) The other guy, Dana, worked at The Rat. He would tell me these stories about being there. We’d listen to records. Those two—and another friend named Peter—we went to see the Iggy Pop—with David Bowie on keyboards—and Blondie show. That was pretty awesome.
Then I moved as soon as I graduated. Was down to Boston within a month or so, smack dab in Kenmore Square, across from The Rat. I lived there for about thirteen years. I found WMBR. At the time it was called WTBS. And I started listening to it pretty much from day one. I wasn’t involved at that point, but I knew a lot of the people and it’s been my standby radio station for a long time.
Daniel: Let’s chat about the station itself. Were they doing punk rock programming at that time?
Joanie: Yeah, we make the claim that we are the longest-running punk rock radio show in the world. That started in May 1977. It was kind of a hodgepodge. You would hear UFO and other hard rock, but whatever people could get their hands on, that was getting played. Then more and more things started getting to the station. It always surprises me how many bands were on major labels. Those records were all getting sent. But there was also a lot of record store buying. There were a couple good stores that people would go to and some of those records would make their way into the library from people’s personal collections. I think you’d be hard pressed to find another show that is still going since 1977.
Daniel: And the show had the same name back in ’77?
Joanie: Yep. It’s always been technically a college station (broadcasting from MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), but we’re more of a community station. Back then, there were hardly any students who cared about doing radio. “Late Risers’ Club” was four hours at the time. I can’t remember the exact hours but maybe 9:00AM–1:00PM. Then it was three hours, but ever since I’ve been doing the show, it’s been two hours: 10:00-noon every Monday through Friday.
Then a show that was mostly students, called “Breakfast of Champions,” came along three or four years later. They took the early morning: 8:00AM-10:00AM. At that time, they were more punk rock, but they’re pretty much total indie rock now. That was definitely student oriented, and then during the day, it was more hodgepodge, but not nearly as many hours filled up. Back then, it was two or three hour shows for everybody. Now you’re lucky if you get a one-hour alternating weekly show. That’s almost not even worth it, as far as I’m concerned. If you look at the schedule you’ll see a crazy graph of people who are barely doing radio. But “Late Risers’ Club” was kind of grandfathered in, as were a few other shows, with longer timeslots.
Daniel: What year did you start doing the show?
Daniel: You said it’s a hodgepodge of programming. Does that mix include other alternative music programming? And how does WMBR more generally—and “Late Risers’ Club” more specifically—fit into the Boston radio market?
Joanie: There are a few long-standing shows at MBR. On Saturday afternoon, a couple of those gals have been on for thirty-plus years as well. This woman, Sara, does a show called “Gorilla Got Me” that’s been on for quite a while. We concentrate on new stuff with a good hunk of old, but she tends to play old punk rock and stuff. So, if you looked, you’d see a fair amount of good music, but it’s sad to say that most of the students don’t even seem to want to play music. They seem to do a lot of talk shows.
Back in the old days, the Emerson College station—WERS—was good for a while and then they sucked. They got rid of punk rock, local music, and heavy metal. Rumor has it that they took all those records and just put them out on the street. Now they’re just a breeding ground of people trying to be professional DJs. Then Boston College has WZBC. They’ve been on a good long time; their blocks are much longer than ours and not as scattered. They have rock shows all during the daytime hours. And they have “No Commercial Potential,” which is industrial and experimental. They’ve been doing that a long time. And then WHRB, the Harvard station, does punk rock pretty much every weeknight from 10:00PM to 5:00AM.
Daniel: What inspired you to go from listening to WMBR to doing a show?
Joanie: It’s pretty unusual, but my friend who suggested that I might be good for doing radio—which my boss regrets ever saying yes to—I took over his slot on Thursday and I’ve never moved. It’s hard to do that, but I think I’m grandfathered in at this point, too.
Daniel: One major difference between what you’re describing and some other very early punk radio shows is that many of the others are often isolated; the hosts do the lone punk show amidst other types of programming. That situation can lead to problems with management.
Joanie: If it wasn’t for “Late Risers’ Club,” nothing was going on at that radio station and they (the first wave of “Late Risers’ Club” DJs) helped make the station known. But then the student activities people said, “Well, you can’t do this without any students.” So, for a while now, we’ve been trying to make a 50/50 ratio. The only real issues have been when we get a jerk who has become general manager and decides he’s going to put his stamp on things, which makes it a pain in the ass for some people. But there’s never really been a thing with the punks versus the other people, because “Late Risers’ Club,” in some ways, put the station on the map.
Daniel: Because you’re in a marketplace with a lot of other punk rock radio, what’s your sense of the ways that the show, in general, and your weekly show, in particular, fits within the scene? And does the station reach different parts of the city?
Joanie: MBR is 720 watts. Within Boston the reception is fine. If you go north, I think you have better luck than when you go west.
I think that we could be friendlier with the other radio stations. Not that there’s bad blood, but I feel like I used to hang out a lot more with the ZBC DJs. I know a couple of the DJs, but a lot moved on. I knew a lot of the HRB DJs in the mid- to late-’90s, but they tend to be students. They’re in and out, so I’m not going to make as big of a connection. But for whatever reason, at that time we were all friendly. In fact, I poached a few of them to be “Late Risers’ Club” DJs. One thing that really kind of shocks me—I don’t listen to either of those stations as much as I used to—but it’s how the three of us can play such completely different things. It really is shockingly different. ZBC tends to be the lighter of the three, although I’ve come across some DJs who play much louder music. HRB will bang out this crazy, screamy emo, although some of their DJs aren’t as intense as they used to be. I don’t know, you just won’t find a whole lot of crossover.
Daniel: What would you say is the central sound for your personal show, if there is one?
Joanie: When we talk about it on the air, we just say that it’s loud rock. I can go from garage to hardcore to oi to goth to pop punk, old proto punk to the old bands that everybody knew. It’s all relatively loud. Our little thing on the program guide says: “Your punk rock alarm clock for thirty-four years” or whatever it is. If that doesn’t wake you up, I don’t know what will. [Laughs]
Daniel: There are five different DJs. Is there a different DJ on the air each day?
Joanie: Don’t get me started on that. I used to be the person in charge, the “producer,” but I’ve gotten fed up because it’s hard to find people to fill that slot. If you’re working then you’re working from ten until noon, unless you have an understanding boss. [laughs] And sometimes random DJs aren’t the most dependable, or people’s situations change, or we have a student for a while, but his classes change. So it’s a huge pain in the ass. But there are five DJs, even though I’ve been filling in sometimes lately.
Daniel: I think your description highlights one of the tensions that exist in various punk-related forms of participation (running a label, booking shows, doing a radio show, making a zine): it’s a lot of work and most people aren’t getting paid/making a profit. Therefore, those folks need to balance their contributions to a punk scene with other parts of their lives, including their jobs.
But to go back to your comment about having a producer for the show, many punk show DJs are on their own to bring in records, or they do that in combination with some historical stuff that might be in the library stacks. What’s the setup for “Late Risers’ Club” when it comes to access to music for the show, especially given the general student interest in talk shows?
Joanie: Some people just buy their own music. We have a huge library. There’s actually never a need to bring in your own music; you just need to do a little digging. We still get serviced by a ton of labels, but it’s more of a pain now because we don’t have a digital playback system, so we’re still downloading stuff onto a CD. There are still some labels that will send records or CDs, but a lot comes digitally.
I’m the Loud Rock Director, so I get punk and metal things sent to me. I’ll listen and consider if this is going to get played, whereas before everything got checked in. It’s very freeform, so anybody can play whatever they want to play, but I still preview to see if this is worth our time and if I think anybody will play it. Lots of people do their show in advance; they’ve got a playlist all set up on their computers. Then there are people like me, who might know the first song that’s going to be played at five minutes before 10:00AM. But because I’ve been doing it so long, I can throw it together and you’ll never know. Well, you’ll know sometimes. [laughs] I’m embarrassed to say that I still make mistakes. [laughs] Sometimes I’ll have a song going and it’s the wrong one or I haven’t listened to a CD before and I just don’t like it. “Uh, enough of that one.”
Daniel: Those are the joys of college radio: dead air, wrong speed, didn’t catch the profanity so the song needs to be faded out. [laughs]
Joanie: Until 2004 and the infamous Super Bowl, when Janet Jackson got her boob exposed, nobody cared. We were playing some of the most blatant things you could imagine. And then people decided we had to be careful. It’s next to impossible because if the songs aren’t marked in advance, nobody has time… it’s impossible to know about profanity. I try to be good, try to listen, but it’s really impossible. I even got suspended when the aforementioned GM, who was a putz, heard an F-bomb go across the air, which was right after this new rule started. Take a week off. [laughs]
Daniel: Because you’ve been doing this show for a long time, you’ve experienced a lot of changes in punk and also in radio. Young punks—and old punks—historically discovered punk through college radio and zines, but now many people are listening to streaming platforms and reading blogs. What’s the place of college radio in the current punk rock media environment?
Joanie: Obviously, lots of people say that radio is a dying medium. I think our listenership is on the older side, but there are new people who discover the show. I’m always kind of bummed when I meet people in bands, and they have no idea we exist. There’s a local music show and our show features a lot of local music, and the bands seem to be oblivious. Maybe they should be sending us their records. So the people who know it, love it. I’m looking for rock music, so I’ll jump around; there’s a station I listen to in Melbourne, Australia and one in Cleveland. I’ll bounce around to find the style of music I like, but so many of our listeners put on MBR and stay there all day.
Daniel: I think we’re in a golden age right now for some subgenres of punk (especially hardcore and dark punk/death rock), so it’s great to hear that “Late Risers’ Club” is a show that crosses genres, time periods, and that the DJs aren’t stuck in the past, which can sometimes happen with older punks. I assume that’s why the show is so popular with listeners.
Joanie: Maybe. We definitely play a lot of new music, so it kind of surprises me that—yes we definitely throw in classic hits here and there—but for a show that does so much new music it kind of shocks me that the people who listen that might be older and have families. But, at the same time, I give away so many tickets and it feels like lately that nobody calls. I tried twice to give tickets to see Plague Vendor. Granted, it was a Tuesday show, but it’s kind of sad when you go to a show and there’s nobody there. On the other hand, there are certain shows when you’ve barely heard of a band and the thing is almost sold out. “How did this happen?” It really swings from one extreme to the other.
Daniel: Is hosting a show still as exciting as when you started?
Joanie: It is. I say it all the time, I’m surprised when different people leave the station: “Oh, I just can’t do it anymore.” It’s two hours to play what you want! I still go out and see a ton of bands; I went to two clubs on Tuesday. A couple weeks ago I went to four clubs and saw nine bands. I also get pissed when people my age only go see bands that were around twenty-five or thirty years ago.
There’s a band called Plague Vendor from L.A. I play their CD quite a bit. They were in town and it was early in the week—but I was going to see Red Kross and the Melvins and it was right in the same area—so I’m gonna check it out. They were jaw-droppingly amazing. This just reiterates why I like what I do and thankfully a lot of other people do, too. We pull in a lot of money during fundraising. I raised $11,000 dollars two years ago. And we’re not WBUR—Boston’s NPR station—so that’s pretty cool, you know.