Wednesday, May 31, 2023

WJIB AM 740 (RIP Bob Bittner)

On the Facebook group "Friends and Lovers of WJIB", there was a post requesting songs people had learned by listening to oldies radio station WJIB. The poster wanted a song "that you did not know before" hearing it on WJIB. My mind immediately went to the song Faraway Places, performed by Vera Lynn.

WJIB is a radio station up here in New England. I first learned of it at a barbershop I used to go to back when I lived in Arlington, MA. The barbers there were primarily old Italian men, and I enjoyed their banter while I got my hair cut. One time I noticed the music playing in their shop and I asked where it was coming from. They told me it was WJIB.

WJIB plays music from a different era, one that I realized was primarily crooners and big swing bands, from the 1930s through 1950s. I am not a regular listener. Instead, I'd go on WJIB whenever I wanted to listen to something new and different. And instead of venturing into today's music, I'd venture into the distant past.

One day I heard Faraway Places on WJIB, and I was instantly smitten. It was sung by such a beautiful voice, and the lyrics were wistful and captivating:

Those faraway places
With the strange soundin' names
Are callin', callin' me

I liked its slow and gentle beat. I sang the chorus to myself a few times so that when I got home I could look it up. I found it on YouTube: Faraway Places. I wrote this comment: "WJIB (Cambridge, MA, AM740) brought me here. Thanks Bob!" Bob is Bob Bittner, the owner-operator of WJIB.

Since that comment from 2016, I learned that WJIB is an ad-free station that is entirely operated by just Bob. He would be the only DJ I'd ever hear on that station. One time I heard him requesting donations just like an NPR station! It was easy to become a fan of his unique and individual style.

Fast-forward to last week. A poster on the WJIB Facebook group announced that Bob Bittner had passed away at the age of 73. The group began to fill up with many reminisces from people who knew Bob well, but also many posts of admiration from plain old listeners. I read an article by Scott Fybush that revealed the extent of Bob's operation and individuality.

Music comes from many places. Nowadays, I pick up songs from Twitter and YouTube and Spotify. Bob represented the older way of discovering music: plucking songs out of the air, as if by magic. Thank you Bob for broadcasting Faraway Places all those years ago. RIP.

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