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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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MARCH 15, 1983

PRELUDE

WLYN-FM, a 3000-watt station in Lynn, develops a reputation for breaking new acts and playing New Wave — if you can hear it, though most listeners in Boston can't. The DJs include a woman who goes by the name Crass, and a young woman named Randi Millman, who will become better known to generations of bands and Boston clubgoers as the longtime booking agent at T.T. the Bear's Place. On this day, shortly after WLYN's purchase from Puritan Broadcasting by Boston Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich, for the reported sum of $1.2 million, a new lineup takes over and declares a new era by playing the Cure's "Let's Go to Bed." That song will serve as the opening fanfare on all subsequent stations in the WFNX Radio Network. Years later — in another century — when the Cure's Robert Smith is informed of this trivia, he scoffs and says that "Let's Go to Bed" was just "pure dumb pop music" meant to counter the impression that his band were a bunch of goth depressives.

>> READ: What did WFNX mean to you over the years? We asked, you answered <<

APRIL 11, 1983

WFNX MAKES ITS OFFICIAL ON-AIR DEBUT AS "BOSTON PHOENIX RADIO"

By the time 1983 came around, the Boston Phoenix, after 17 years of being in business, was pretty solidly established. We had survived an alternative newspaper war with the Real Paper, which had folded, as well as the incredibly harsh economic turmoil of the preceding few years. So when the opportunity to acquire the WLYN-FM signal presented itself, we were able to buy it at a price that we could afford. However, what we failed to fully understand at the time was that what we were getting was a Class-A 3000-watt FM radio station. Despite the broker's pitch and an independent engineering study that confirmed that the signal could be "substantially improved" in its ability to reach into Boston (this was technically true), WFNX, as we had renamed it (as a phonetic representation of Phoenix Radio), would forever have a more limited signal than all of the Class-B 50,000-watt FM stations in the market that we would be competing with for loyal listeners.

Undaunted — clearly out of fortunate ignorance, because if we had known better we probably wouldn't have gone ahead with the purchase — we passionately dove into the world of commercial broadcast radio, creating from scratch a crazy patch-quilt of programming that combined an eclectic mix of music including in regular rotation rock, reggae, and jazz. In addition to this non-traditional music mix, we also stopped the music regularly to broadcast a spectrum of two-minute-plus-long non-music features. A diverse number of topics were covered, among them film, theater, and other arts reviews, political and social commentary, and hourly reports on upcoming events. It was all conceived of as a "music and more" radio station, programmed for smart people: the same kind of people who read the Phoenix. Of historical importance, it also turned out to be the beginning of what evolved into the ultimately very popular "alternative radio" format.

Although it took about five years before the station stopped losing money, the eclectic programming, with some serious fine-tuning by a lot of wonderful programming people (especially, in the beginning, program director Judith Brackley, a very special lady who shared the vision) had started to attract a group of equally passionate and loyal listeners. Even the limitations of the signal's power didn't discourage people from tuning in. In fact, on air, we boldly acknowledged our signal's deficiency and actually offered to send people an antenna to attach to their receivers to help bring in our signal better.

The 'FNX journey has proven the marvelous truth that despite financial and technical obstacles — and with committed and hard-working men and women of vision, passion, and talent — that which is deemed by naysayers to be unachievable, is not only achievable, but is exquisitely achievable . . . Yes, it is also true that the road along the way has had its rough and deep potholes — and to deny the dark days would only diminish the many more glorious ones. It also needs to be noted that the environment of today's world of commercial broadcasting is radically different from when we were fortunate enough to start WFNX. I am disheartened by merger after merger and consolidation on top of consolidation that have compromised the current radio business. Not only has this trend made the independent broadcaster a nearly extinct species, but as part of it, the opportunity has essentially disappeared for creative people to take a chance on the radio medium.

Unfortunately, given the current leadership at the FCC, it looks as if consolidation and the homogenization of the medium — indeed of the media — is going to get worse before, or if ever, it gets better. In addition, as these giants continue to grow through acquisition and the assumption of more and more debt, the need to feed themselves with more and more revenue increases exponentially, as does their use of highly suspect business practices to achieve those revenues and drive out competition.

-- Stephen M. Mindich, writing in the Boston Phoenix, April 2003

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