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Listening to WFNX 1983-2012

Celebrating the live and times of 101.7 FM, Boston's only true alternative radio station
By PHOENIX STAFF  |  July 24, 2012

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APRIL 15, 1992

A two-pronged Best Music Poll gigs had both Bjork — with the Sugarcubes — and Matthew Sweet at the Orpheum, although the hottest part of the ticket was back across town. Two days after the release of Check Your Head, the Beastie Boys headlined a Lansdowne Street show that nearly ended in a riot. "I booked the Beasties to play right before Check Your Head came out," music director Kurt St. Thomas recalled. "The Bosstones opened the show. I have never seen a pit like this before. The roof felt like it was going to blow off of Avalon. The band was amazing. I was hanging in the upper loft, watching the bodies fly off the stage. It seemed like everybody knew every word of the Beasties' songs. One of the best concerts I have ever seen."

PLAY WFNX: Before taking the stage, the Beasties' Mike D hung out at WFNX and recorded this interview, which also featured friend-of-BB Ricky Powell.

SEPTEMBER 29, 1992

The WFNX Birthday Party at Avalon, Axis, Venus de Milo, and Bill's Bar on Lansdowne Street, with the Breeders, Juliana Hatfield, Mary's Danish, Green Magnet School, Material Issue, Too Much Joy, Michael Penn, Kitchens of Distinction, the Mighty Lemon Drops, Wailing Souls, and Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.

1992

WFNX PREMIERES A GAY AND LESBIAN TALK SHOW, ONE IN TEN

It's hard to imagine now just how seismic it was when WFNX became the first commercial FM-radio station to offer a permanent slot to a queer show. The inspiration struck PM/CG chair Stephen Mindich after a friend drove through upstate New York and heard a gay-themed college-radio broadcast. Mindich knew immediately that this idea needed a bigger forum, and, in the words of One in Ten host Keith Orr, he decided to use "his power of the media to get this done." Long before Ellen came out, before the Internet made communities out of bedrooms, before Will & Grace won an Emmy, Mindich asked no-nonsense lesbian communications professional Mary Breslauer and clubby gay boy Michael Smith to fill three and half hours of nighttime air with topics related to homosexuality.

In the beginning, it was a sprawling show conducted in a tiny space. "It was an enormous time slot [10 pm to 1:30 am] to fill," recalls Breslauer, "so it was incredibly free-flowing radio." But the first studio was a shoebox of a room, where the long and late hours led to a kind of "insanity, 'cause everyone was so friggin' tired." The format involved news headlines followed by lengthy single-topic segments, and then phone calls in the wee hours. The first show included the director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, comedienne Lea DeLaria, and staffers from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt about as heavy-hitting a queer line-up as you could imagine in 1992.

And from the beginning, it struck a chord. In addition to its powerhouse guests, One in Ten offered an outlet for callers to ask questions about gay and lesbian sex, an experience which Breslauer describes as being "like the gay Ann Landers." (Up till that point, the topic of gay sex was relegated to every fifth or sixth question on Dr. Ruth's Sexually Speaking.) And it provided a distinctly open forum for talking about AIDS, as Smith was candid about his status as an HIV-positive man. At a time when other local media figures didn't dare be so honest, Smith gave a brave, funny, human voice to the epidemic and the issues surrounding it. "He was a very public face of HIV," says current co-host Sue O'Connell, "and came in week after week while dealing with it." [Orr, a frequent guest, took over the slot full-time when Smith died in 1995; O'Connell came on in 1997.]

AIDS wasn't the only hot topic being dealt with frankly on the show. One issue that reared its head around the time of the show's first anniversary was "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the flawed Clinton spin on gays-in-the-military policy that has since yielded more annual sexuality-based discharges than at any time since the Reagan era. DADT, Breslauer recalls, was "this awful thing, but incredibly powerful in its outcome. We had fighter pilots and midshipmen telling their stories — as awful as it was, the images America received turned out to be very positive in the long run."

Though they're not licensed therapists, the hosts nonetheless have to be prepared for despairing calls, often from teens, no matter how light the subject matter at hand. "When kids call in with problems, it changes the show dramatically," O'Connell says. The hosts try to help put an optimistic face on the situation, but they also actively work to connect troubled callers with resources like the Fenway Community Health Center's Peer Listening Line. Simply hearing another gay person answer their call is a potent experience for many who dial in.

-- David Valdes Greenwood, writing in the Boston Phoenix, July 26, 2002

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