Celebrating the live and times of 101.7 FM, Boston's only true alternative radio station
JULY 18, 1997
Before his death, the great American poet Allen Ginsberg had told friends that he'd like to see his poem Howl performed on the radio. Long recognized as one of the Beat Generation's signal works, the poem stayed off the commercial airwaves due to the FCC's "Safe Harbor" laws, which in theory protected the public from gratuitous vulgarity, but in practice had prevented the dissemination of anything with curses in it — including great literature. WFNX decided to challenge the "Safe Harbor" clause by broadcasting Howl — with the full knowledge that an expensive court battle could follow. During the 1997 Best Music Poll, 13 readers — including WFNX founder Stephen Mindich, punk godfather Willie Alexander, the poets Frank Bidart, William Corbett, and Patricia Smith, the poet and gay activist Charles Shively, and rock-and-roll wild man Peter Wolf, recorded a reading of Howl. "We believed it to be a First Amendment issue, and it was part of an effort to [convince people] that it was a piece of serious literature, not a vulgar piece of art," recalled WFNX's Henry Santoro. On July 18, at 6 pm (believed to be the first time any radio station dared risking the poem during daylight hours), the broadcast went off without a hitch — and the FCC blinked, declining to bring a suit against the station, and marking a significant victory for the First Amendment.
LISTEN: Listen to WFNX's historic live broadcast of Allen Ginsberg's Howl in the "Best of 1997" playlist at wfnx.com/ ondemand.
APRIL 11, 1998
WFNX CELEBRATES ITS 15TH ANNIVERSARY
WFNX stands literally alone in America as a true champion of alternative music. And while everyone seems to define "alternative" differently, it's no secret that radio stations and record labels here in Boston, and around the country, watch the WFNX playlist closely to try to get a handle on what might be the "next big thing."
When 'FNX first began, there were very few radio stations giving any airplay at all to alternative music. It was too "weird" for Top 40 stations, too "underground" for rock stations, and not thought capable of drawing a big enough audience to support a commercial radio station. WFNX was one of just a handful of stations that were daring enough to play artists like the Smiths, the Cure, and the Clash. Those artists may not seem so daring these days, but commercial radio generally wanted nothing to do with them. And yet these artists won fans, released amazing music, and became some of the centerpieces of the early years of 'FNX.
As alternative radio faced increasing competition, and as an aging rock station in Boston became a direct competitor to 'FNX, large corporations began buying up most of the radio stations in America. Since large corporations don't have the tendency to be particularly progressive or groundbreaking, most alternative stations took fewer and fewer chances, and the "corporate radio mentality" began to take hold. Most stations became more musically conservative; some switched over entirely to formats that were easier for the CEOs of the big conglomerates to explain to their stockholders.
So as WFNX celebrates its 15th anniversary, and as I celebrate the beginning of my second year as its program director, we are also celebrating our independent ownership. We are not a part of a large, publicly held corporation. We are not under pressure to be more conservative, or to toe the line of a board of directors who don't understand why the station would play songs by some weird band called the Afghan Whigs.
-- Cruze, WFNX program director, writing in the Boston Phoenix in 1998
Film festivals screen Captive Audience — a film written and directed by WFNX's Kurt St. Thomas and Mike Gioscia, shot in the WFNX studios, and featuring cameos by a legion of past and current staff.
PLAY WFNX Watch the trailer for Captive Audience.