Friday, May 18, 2012

Broken Radio

Another nail was driven into the coffin of Boston rock radio this week when Phoenix Media announced it was selling its pioneering alt-rock station WFNX (101.7 FM) to Clear Channel. Most of the staff has been laid off already, with longtime DJs like Julie Kramer saying their farewells over the last few days. A skeleton crew will run things until the FCC approves the sale; there are reports that Clear Channel will turn the station into a country and western or Spanish talk station. The station had long trumpeted its independent ownership, but obviously it wasn't bringing in the kind of revenue needed to keep it that way.

The sale follows the abrupt August 2009 end of WBCN (104.1), one of the first and most powerful rock stations in the country, which was converted to a "mix" format of mom rock; it actually swapped spaces on the dial with Mix 98.5 and now exists as The Sports Hub, a sports talk station and home of Bruins and Patriots games. That was especially shocking since WBCN was such a major figure in Boston rock, but it illustrated the transient nature of radio these days.

FNX has been around since 1983, the same year we moved to New Hampshire from Washington state. It started out as "Rock the Boat Radio," playing the college rock sounds of bands like R.E.M., U2 and The Cure. I didn't listen to it right away because I was more into the AOR and hard rock found on stations like WBCN and WAAF, but gradually I became aware of FNX. For me, FNX became must-listening after I graduated from college and got into so-called alternative music, moving away from much of the hard rock and metal I grew up on. I listened to FNX all through the '90s and into the '00s, even as BCN tried to compete by going alternative in the mid-90s. While I was working at Webnoize, I started listening to WMBR, the MIT student station, because we had it on in the newsroom and continued that for a few years after leaving.

But once I got an iPod in 2004, I pretty much stopped listening to radio, partially because I was listening to music and podcasts regularly but also because I was sick of hearing the same songs over and over on all the stations. In recent years, I would only listen to FNX on occasion but had no use for the constant repetition of bands like Mumford and Sons and the Killers.

Still, I have to give FNX credit for introducing me to oodles of great bands over the years and having terrific DJs like Kramer, Morning Guy Tai, Neal Robert and more. Like WBCN, FNX represents a great part of my musical education and will certainly be missed. Who's left? WAAF is still at it, playing hard rock and classic rock; WZLX is the main classic rock station in Boston; WXRV plays mellower rock but is still independent; and 92.9 was converted a few years ago to a DJ-less "Mike FM" format that's heavy on the '90s hits. In other words, I'm sticking with my iPod.

Dig the old FNX commercial poking fun at WBCN's adding the Howard Stern show in the mornings (featuring a young Maria Menounos):

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