Again, The Sandbox crew offers a similar, if slightly less tactful, opinion. "We don't suckle at the breast of Clear Channel," says Special Ed, "and we don't play awful music. As a whole, I don't think this radio station treats its listeners like idiots. You listen to Top 40 radio, and the DJ talks to you like you're mildly retarded and like soft, furry things."
As Kurtz points out, the presumed death of radio stems from the fact that much of radio is syndicated celebrity gossip or repetitive CHR (contemporary hit radio) pop, therefore indistinguishable from media like MySpace and the Internet that are twitching to replace it.
Drivetime DJ BIG JIM MURRAY, born and raised in Melrose, has been working at the station for 10 years and is what TheSandbox guys describe as a "raging New Englander." "Everyone here [in New England] loves a battle, he says. "There's something to be said about the built-in bitterness. Maybe it's the winters that break down people's souls, but there's an edge here. It's occasionally bad, like with traffic or fights breaking out at bars, but there's a realness here. People will tell it how it is.
"Boston's a great radio market because a lot of people want someone they can relate to. Like, 'I was listening to this CD while I was in the drive-through at Kelly's,' something like that. The local aspect is important."
"It's the reason a lot of us work here," says WFNX Marketing Director MIKE SNOW. "When we get an idea and want to put it on the air, there are only two people we need to approve it with."
And if the DJs ever need extra validation, they need only twist the dial. Fletcher laughs, "The fact that KISS 108 in Boston — the 10th biggest radio market in the US — syndicates Ryan Seacrest, and their midday show is a woman in New York who doesn't even live here, is hilarious to me. 'FNX is of the people, for the people. It's what a radio station should be, not what they've become."
Keep on keepin' on
"There was a time when radio was theater of the mind," Santoro explains. "It's taken a complete turnaround now. . . . We're not just about the music anymore, we're about sports, pop culture, and news. You can't do a radio show, especially in this town, without looking at politics. And if you don't talk about sports, you're screwed."
Santoro does the news for TheSandbox and has been a part of WFNX for 25 years. As such, he is in a unique position to consider both the ways the station has changed and what the future holds. "I think the future of FNX," he says, "the future of radio in general, is if you don't spread your wings, if you don't branch out and incorporate other forms of media, you'll get left behind. Until a year ago, we were very isolated. We isolated ourselves from other media, and I think we realized we didn't have to do that anymore." As the news director of WFNX, Santoro offers the news, and also invites journalists from the Boston Phoenix, the Boston Globe, Blender, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and more on to the show to discuss their stories.