When I was growing up a skinny punk kid in suburban Maryland, there was really only one radio station my brother and I ever liked listening to: 99.1 WHFS, “The True Alternative.” HFS was legendary in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area for playing new rock music that other, more mainstream stations hadn’t put on their playlists yet. The first time I ever heard Franz Ferdinand’s first big single, “Take Me Out,” was on HFS, several months before the “mainstream” station DC101 started playing it.
HFS was taken off the air in the spring of 2005, and I was heartbroken. Luckily, it came back for a few years on a Baltimore-based waveband, but it wasn’t the same. Upon moving to Boston, I desperately longed for a radio station that would play the kind of music I loved hearing growing up, and would supply me with new rock music that I could fall in love with. Even though Boston College had WZBC (which I still enjoy listening to), I wanted more. What I found was WFNX.
In 2009, WFNX was broadcasting on 101.7 out of Lynn, Mass. It had been a pioneer in the alternative radio industry since 1983, mainly for being the first station to play artists like Nirvana. Former FNX program director and DJ Kurt St. Thomas, along with being one of the only people Nirvana would let interview them, famously played their multi-platinum album "Nevermind" on the air in its entirety.
Since then, WFNX was known for giving new, great artists airplay, like the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Mumford and Sons, Foster the People, and Florence and the Machine among many others. They had a massive cast of DJs including Adam 12, Kurt St. Thomas, Mike Gioscia, and Julie Kramer.
The 101.7 waveband was sold to Clear Channel, and ownership of FNX was taken over by The Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly magazine dedicated to Boston’s culture, music, art, and nightlife, that had been around since 1966. When I heard that FNX would not suffer the same fate as HFS, I was ecstatic. WFNX would continue in an all-online streaming format, albeit with a smaller crew of DJs including St. Thomas, Gioscia, Sabrina Boyd, and Phoenix Music Editor Michael Marotta, who became known for his uncanny ability to scout fantastic new Boston indie rock talent for his “Boston Accents” show.
I had been reading The Boston Phoenix since sophomore year to get the lowdown on concerts in the Boston area, but as I flipped through those pages, I started to learn even more about the culture of a city that I had planned on leaving after graduation. One of the things that convinced me to stay in Boston after May was The Phoenix.
Being a writer and caring more about music than about my own family, I applied to intern at FNX this spring. I was hired by Mike Gioscia and Sabrina Boyd in January, and I learned more about local music and different bands than I had in my whole life of listening to rock and roll. It was amazing. I’m pretty sure I seriously annoyed most of my friends after I got that internship.
However, on Thursday, Mar. 14, it was announced that both The Phoenix and WFNX would cease operations – The Phoenix after 47 years of publication, and WFNX after 30 years of airtime. It was a crushing day in the world of Boston culture and music.
Why should you care? Most people nowadays listen to music purely on their iPhones, computers, and tablets, or have satellite radio in their cars. The idea of tuning your radio to an FM wavelength and sitting through commercials? That’s crazy, right? And a print magazine? Everything’s online now, so why waste the paper?
I don’t know the exact reasons why The Phoenix and FNX got shut down. I was a mere intern – even lowlier than our robot DJ, DJ 3001. What I can tell you is that a huge part of Boston’s cultural and music scene was broken, if not lost, with those shutdowns. Why shouldn’t there be a magazine showcasing things you wouldn’t find in a mainstream newspaper, especially in a city as culturally active as Boston? Why shouldn’t there be a radio station that plays songs you won’t hear on MTV or other “top 40” playlists? There was a great integrity to the work done by the staff of The Phoenix and WFNX, and they did that work proudly. Even after the shutdown, the WFNX/Phoenix staff who were in Austin for the South By Southwest music festival kept reporting and broadcasting. They never strayed from what they loved.
Boston deserves publications and radio stations like The Phoenix and FNX. It’s part of who we are as a city. It makes us unique. The reason many huge bands got to where they are today is because of airtime they received from WFNX and from publicity they got in The Phoenix. It’s the reason small restaurants in Southie have people lining up to eat there, or why bands stopped by the station and the MFA to play intimate acoustic sets. They are Boston traditions, and they should be kept alive.
Follow Gavel Media and Adam Parshall on Twitter: @bcgavel and @parshallythere