WBZ 1956 publicity piece featuring the station’s new “Live Five” lineup.
WHAV’s Open Mike Show Tonight Features 2015 Bassett Interview
John F. “J.B.” Bassett, a fixture in local broadcasting, who also helped usher in Boston radio’s rock and roll era, died Dec. 27 at age 92.
Bassett, of Milton, served as general manager of WCCM from 1973 to 2008. During the summer of 1956, however, he became one of WBZ radio’s five original personalities when the then-Westinghouse station broke its network affiliation. In a telephone interview last year on WHAV’s Open Mike Show, Bassett explained the transition to “live and local.”
“They called us the ‘Live Five’…It was a lucky break for me because, at that particular time, ‘BZ—which was an NBC radio affiliate—had decided to go totally independent and create their own programming.”
Bassett joined Carl DeSuze, Alan Dary, Bill Marlowe and Norm Prescott for the precedent-setting radio lineup. He was first known as “Mr. Inside” of WBZ’s “Program PM” newsmagazine, beginning at 8 p.m., weeknights. Bassett would later be heard overnights.
Early in 1959, Bassett moved from WBZ to a 2 p.m. afternoon slot at WORL, Boston. Several years later, he joined WHDH radio, setting him on a path that would eventually lead him to the Merrimack Valley.
“I did color with Johnny Most on the Celtics games and with Bill Harrington on the Bruins games,” he said. He eventually moved into management of the radio station where he oversaw another great name in sports reporting.
“Long story short, he made me the program director, and I was actually Curt Gowdy’s boss because Curt had—in addition to doing the Red Sox—he was doing a sports radio show on WHDH.”
As program director of WHDH, then a largely easy-listening music station, made it clear his obligation was to the public. In a 1964 interview with Billboard magazine, Bassett was quoted as saying, WHDH has “responsible broadcasting built around middle road music, news, weather, sports, skyway patrol and community service, because we long ago accepted the premise that responsible programing attracts responsible listeners.”
Gowdy bought WCCM, then in Lawrence, in 1963. A decade later, he asked Bassett to manage the station and its FM counterpart, WCGY. Bassett recalled he knew little of Lawrence, but made it his mission to become one of the city’s biggest boosters. He eventually served on the boards of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce (now Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce) and the local Red Cross chapter.
Bassett said he was also proud to discover local talent.
“I hired Danny Roche, a kid right out of high school in North Andover, and look at Danny Roche today.”
Affectionately known as “J.B.,” he also played a role in WHAV’s recent history. WHAV and WCCM became sister stations during the mid-1990s. After the original WHAV’s AM frequency was assigned to WCEC, he agreed in early 2004 to allow WHAV’s identity to move back to a new internet incarnation of the station. The internet station is today’s 97.9 WHAV.
On tonight’s Best of the Open Mike Show, WHAV rebroadcasts Bassett’s interview. The program begins at 6:30 p.m.
Bassett was the son of the late George and Rose (Restieri) Bassett. He leaves his children, Lisa A. Bieling of Cohasset, Andrea M. Smith of Pasadena, Calif., and George J. Bassett of Littleton, Colo.; seven grandchildren, Allie, Rachel, Cameron, Caroline, Cole, Sam and Maya; and nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
Visiting hours take place today, from 4 to 7 p.m., at Dolan Funeral Home, 460 Granite Ave., East Milton. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at Saint Agatha Church, Adams Street at Brook Road, Milton, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 10:30 a.m. Burial takes place in Milton Cemetery.