It’s been 10 years since Bradley Jay hosted the very last show at WBCN (104.1 FM).
Jay didn’t want his final shift at the legendary rock station to be a sad affair.
“I didn’t want to be weepy, melodramatic, or maudlin,” Jay said. “It was just going to be a celebration of the whole thing.”
When choosing the music for the station’s send-off, he played tracks that he thought would resonate with WBCN’s audience, including “Roadrunner” by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (a well-known anthem with the catchy refrain, “I’m in love with Massachusetts”).
“I played stuff for everybody. . . I played Journey, The Clash. . . a complete array for everybody,” he said. “But the big task was to choose the last song ever to be played on ’BCN.”
Picking the closing song wasn’t easy. It couldn’t be “too trivial, too niche. . . or too cliché,” he said.
“I needed something that would appeal to all, but have the gravitas without being too obvious. . . and then, then it struck me.”
“Shine on You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd.
It capped off his career at the station where he’d worked for 27 years, and closed a chapter in Boston rock history.
Looking back, he’s grateful for having the opportunity to do that farewell show. “It was a much bigger deal than I realized,” he said. “It even chokes me up to think about it now.”
The demise of ’BCN marked a turning point in Jay’s career. In the decade since the station went off the air, Jay has transformed himself from a rock-n-roll DJ to a successful talk show host at WBZ NewsRadio (1030 AM).
His overnight show “Jay Talking” airs weeknights from midnight to 5 a.m. and has a loyal following of fans who tune in every night. Topics of discussion can range from cars to crime to theology to travel, as well as irreverent subjects that occasionally spark lively debates (e.g. what’s the best power ballad?).
Jay’s guests run the gamut from to college professors to financial experts to historians and authors (full disclosure: I was on his show earlier this year to promote a book that I wrote).
Going to WBZ was a big change for Jay. The two stations couldn’t have been more different. WBCN was an FM station that played rock-n-roll and alternative music, WBZ is on the AM side of the dial specializing in news and talk.
WBCN’s longtime program director, Oedipus, said Jay made the transition well. Not many people can talk and keep a lively discussion going for long stretches of time, but Jay makes it seem easy. When you put him in front of a microphone and let him talk, said Oedipus, “you enter Bradley’s world.”
“Bradley’s a unique personality, very enigmatic and iconoclastic,” he said. “He’s an amazing conversationalist.”
Oedipus said Jay marches to the beat of his own drum, and that’s what makes his talk show so entertaining.
“He has that unique talent,” Oedipus said. “It’s been great to watch him develop at WBZ.”
Jay says he goes out of his way to steer the conversation away from politics. As he sees it, “the United States is in a cold civil war,” and he views his talk show as “an island of good will in a sea of conflict,” and a place where people “can put down their arms and interact as human beings.”
In polarizing times like these, “Jay Talking” is a welcome respite for early risers, insomniacs, overnight shift workers, and others who are awake in the wee hours of morning to hear Jay talk about his latest travels or adventures from his days at WBCN.
“Sometimes I’ll just tell a story for an hour, perhaps the story of a trip to Cairo, or the time I accidentally jumped on Steven Tyler’s back during ‘Walk This Way’ at the Worcester Centrum,” he said.
His legion of devoted listeners includes people from all over the political spectrum, and Jay says he makes it a priority to really get to know them. He has a knack for getting people to open up and share intimate details about their lives on the air.
“I invite everybody in,” he said. “I don’t want to know what you think about the president. . . I want to know what’s going on your life. Are you retired? You live alone? You’re married? Got kids?. . . Who’s your favorite kid? You never know.”
Listeners are limited to one phone call a week, and frequent callers become a part of the show. There’s Jimmy the Milkman, Father Brian the priest. Another is a grandmother who lost her daughter and son-in-law to opiates, and she’s now raising her grandchildren.
“Each time she calls in to address a topic, I make sure that we get an update on how she is holding up, how the grandkids are, if the grandkids are having a tough time in school because of the stigma of having lost parents to opioids,” he said. “Other callers shout out to her, wish her well, and it really makes a difference.”
His listeners are quick to offer helpful advice, too.
“I often ask for advice rather than give it, with questions like ‘If I become a vegan, how do I get my protein?’ ” he said. “The advice calls come pouring in.”
Jay explained how one listener, who recently lost a loved one, had a crush on a waitress, but wasn’t sure how to take it to the next level. Another person felt trapped in a loveless marriage. Other “Jay Talking” listeners chimed in with their suggestions and words of encouragement.
“There are all these ongoing dramas of real people in our community,” he said.
And he’s there to listen, as is his audience.
“Rather than being simply ‘callers,’ members of the ‘Jay Talking’ radio family actually care about each other,” Jay said. “Night can be very lonely, and the ‘Jay Talking’ community is always there to be a friend.”Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.