WFNX (101.7 FM) based in Lynn, Massachusetts has been sold to Clear Channel. The station is still on the radio as I write this, but it will cease to exist once the FCC approves the sale which should be some time in the summer. It is a sad day for radio in Boston and it is a sad day for terrestrial radio in the United States. This station was one of the first alternative rock stations in the nation (playing bands other than The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones amongst others). They were a model for other radio stations which started to copy them and their funky playlist.
WFNX is an independent station that played a lot of new and unique bands over the years. Many other Boston radio stations would eventually catch on to the bands WFNX was playing and started playing them themselves. There have been multiple times in Boston when WFNX would play songs months ahead of the competition, even months ahead of many Boston college stations. You hear it even today as other stations start to play these songs once they get a bit of popularity and play on WFNX. But unfortunately, the Phoenix Media Group, based in Boston, has sold the 101.7 frequency to Clear Channel.
I am sad. While growing up in the 1980’s, I listened predominantly to classic rock with maybe a little jazz and blues mixed in. This was the soundtrack to my high school years. But once I got to college, the classic rock of youth started to evolve into what was popular now. The Boston area had many stations where you could hear lots of different music; WFNX stood out amongst them and always seemed to break a new “alternative” band either from another part of the US or from Boston.
When you are a college student, the world is at your fingertips so to speak. You are no longer under the weight of your parents, and so you have freedom to explore life in a new way. This includes exploring music too. One way to explore music in the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s was to listen to what WFNX was playing at that time. You could be ahead of the curve on bands like The White Stripes. WFNX was a listening playground for many people.
Boston is a fertile ground for alternative rock at both a national and local level. Because of the many colleges and universities in the Boston area, college students listen to a wide variety of music and WFNX was one of those stations that helped to mold their listening moods. A lot of kids were introduced to the station and then never left the area, and with the announcement that it is being sold, many of these kids, who are now adults, are sad and annoyed that this station is disappearing.
However, lots of young people don’t listen to radio anymore; there is a lot of the “that’s for my parents” mentality. This is the unfortunate nature of commercial radio today, as so many young adults today need music at their fingertips, playing music on their iPhone, iPod, PC or another device. They need their music real time, so a lot of them listen to websites that stream music as well. They don’t have time for commercials. They want their music now, which is too bad, because the WFNX soundtrack is and was definitely something unique that other stations had yet to pick up on or maybe would never pick up on. WFNX no longer really has any competition in Boston, as WBCN (104.1 FM), which was its closest competitor, went off the air in 2009 as a terrestrial radio station. The other stations in the area do not classify themselves as purely alternative stations and they predominantly play different types of music. There will be a hole in the Boston radio market when WFNX goes off the air because the uniqueness of their playlist will be lost and gone forever.
Many people will emigrate to other music avenues if they have not done so already. The likes of WFNX will not be seen again. The DJs will not be heard again in the same manner. Commercial radio is losing the personal touch in Boston and removing WFNX from the airwaves will be one further lost gem of a station not only for its music but also for its DJs and sponsored events. WFNX has been sponsored and been involved in lots of events over the years either from their concerts to their sponsoring of beer events to many others. Anyone who believes a DJ is unnecessary has not heard WFNX’s DJs. They have great knowledge and provide great amounts of detail of the bands that they play. Also, they have ties to the area either having grown up here, gone to college here or have worked for the station for years. It just would not be the same experience to listen to this same type of music without their input. Stations without DJs are not very enjoyable. There is little difference to listening to music on iTunes. The DJs at WFNX have been family to lots of people and a lot of well known DJs have gotten their start at the station.
This is not the first independent radio station to be sold or to change formats. Lots of other stations have either disappeared or have changed, even here in Boston where WBCN which had been in business since 1968 as a rock radio station closed down in 2009. As mentioned in The Big Takeover‘s #68, Spring 2011 in an article by Stevyn Polk, this has also happened recently in San Francisco. Although it is not exactly the same thing, since the station purchased in San Francisco was a college station, it is very similar. The bottom line is money, and if you are not making any, then owners of these stations want to get out. It is unfortunate since these are the types of stations that are playing what a lot of us want to hear rather than the same playlist over and over again.
Interesting music, in my opinion, can be difficult to find on the radio, but once and awhile you could find something good such as on WFNX. Now unique commercial radio is disappearing and the stations are becoming cookie cutter stations or stations that none of us want to listen to. What can be done to stop this change? If listener’s habits don’t change, then more terrestrial stations will disappear. Bands will change how they present their music and record sales will continue to change and diminish. Certain bands will become popular while others will wane. Radio will no longer be as important to bands’ success. Terrestrial radio and WFNX specifically have played an important role in the culture of music and I will miss it.
For more about WFNX, its demise, and people’s memories about the station, its music and its DJs, please go to the following website