Radio, it's rumored, is a dying industry, falling behind the new-media Zeitgeist like an asthmatic jogger. It's not. Like print journalism, radio faces significant competition, and it may be hard to imagine that it can fight a three-front war against iPods, satellite radio, and the Internet. Asked about all the doomsaying, GARY KURTZ, General Manager of WFNX, grumbles.
"Reports of radio's death have been greatly exaggerated," he says, noting that radio listenership is actually increasing. According to Arbitron, the radio ratings service, 235 million people tune in to radio every week — that's more than 75 percent of the US population — up three million per week from last year.
People have been forecasting the death of radio since the invention of broadcast television. Eight-tracks and cassettes were also supposed to kill radio, as were CDs, so now that satellite radio and MySpace have stepped up to the plate, staffers at the WFNX offices in Lynn are wary, but not overly concerned.
"When you're in your car, you're not going on MySpace," says JULIE KRAMER, midday DJ and assistant music director. "You want someone you can have a coffee with, someone you can identify with, someone you can wake up with." SPECIAL ED, CHARLIE, FLETCHER, and HENRY SANTORO, hosts of the WFNX morning show The Sandbox, agree with Kramer, albeit in stronger terms.
"You can have a great voice," Charlie says, "but you can still either be an asshole or an idiot or have no personality. You can have any voice in the world, but unless people can identify with you and you can identify with them, you can be an absolute disaster."
One in 301
When WFNX went on the air in 1983, its purpose essentially was to put the Boston Phoenix on the air, to attract a young, educated crowd with new music both local and national. A quarter-century later, this foundation has remained largely unchanged. Music Director PAUL DRISCOLL, Kramer, and Fletcher, still listen to everything that comes into the station, looking for hidden gems. And they constantly comb the music blogs looking for meaningful hype — a search that requires a particular talent.
Radio has always been a kind of music filter, but in a world of more instantly available music than any human being could ever listen to in a single lifetime, the filter has had to become significantly more acute. "For every good band, you'll find 300 bad ones," says Program Director KEITH DAKIN. "Radio filters it out. Radio is a great way to introduce people to new bands, before you get it online."
"We play a lot of new music, a lot of music that people won't otherwise hear," says Kramer, who's worked at the station for 20 years. "We're locally owned, so we can take a lot of chances on music." After a moment, she adds, pleased, "And we don't answer to Clear Channel."
Of the people, for the people
Radio is a fundamentally local medium, a concept that is the axis upon which WFNX swings. "I think the reason there's a perspective that radio is dying is because it has become a Wall Street business," explains Kurtz. "With radio being owned by CBS and such . . . I feel very proud to be associated with a company that's still independent."