Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Terminated Alternative : WFNX 101.7 is sold to radio giant Clear Channel as the pioneer alt-rocker soon to be silenced

Lynn-based WFNX 101.7, one of the best-known alternative-rock music stations in the country has been sold to the largest radio operator in the country for $11 million. WFNX's sale was announced this morning to the station's staff by the teary-eyed Stephen Mindich whose Phoenix Media Communications Group has owned the station for over 29 years. Mindich acquired a hard-rocker WLYN 101.7 for $1.2 million from Puritan Broadcasting in February 1982. A couple months later, he converted it to "Boston's Rock Alternative" and what eventually became one of the pioneer signals in radio industry's alternative rock genre.

WFNX's sale to Clear Channel, which already owns market's Top40 giant WXKS/Kiss 108, Rhythmic Top 40 WJMN/Jamn 94-5, Talk 1200 and Tropical Mia 1430, is contingent upon FCC approval. A format change is planned once Clear Channel takes over the station. A Thank You message posted on WFNX's website states that Phoenix Media will fully retain all of the station's intellectual property which may or may not lead to its rebirth as on-line radio station.

According to the Boston Business Journal report, 17 of the stations' 21 staffers were let go this morning, including midday and Leftover Lunch hostess Julie Kramer and morning newsman Henry Santoro. Program director Paul Driscoll was retained during the transition. Afternoon drive host Adam 12 tweeted that tomorrow (5/17) would be his farewell show at the station from 2pm to 7pm. Also, station's program director Paul Driscoll announced during afternoon drive that Julie Kramer would be doing her final show from 10am to 2pm on Friday(5/18).

The iconic WFNX was truly one of The Last of the Mohicans. Not only was it independently owned and operated, but the station has been battling to survive as the growing list of alternative and modern rock stations around the country succumbed to a declining younger music listeners' base and sharply falling revenues amid the continued onslaught of the digital listening devices and smartphones. 

Among those modern rock players who had disappeared in recent years was, of course, Boston's own WBCN 104.1FM as it made room for new sports FM talker the SportsHub in August 2009(BRW 8/7/09). While NY Times had technically declared the alt-rock format dead and buried back in 2005, Boston's WFNX and its parent company continued on the fight to survive. WFNX even increased its transmitting power from 3,000 to 6,000 watts in April 2006 as it moved its antenna from Medford to the top of One Financial Center in downtown Boston.

Looking back now, in many respects the formula that had brought WFNX its success also brought it down today. When WFNX first came on the scene in the early 80's, the alternative rock genre absolutely exploded. The success of WFNX probably peaked somewhere in the mid 90's as other much bigger signals like WBCN and WAAF started to pay attention and copy the music by playing a lot of the same top artists. WFNX's market share eventually got plucked away by the big players so by the time 1996 rolled around WFNX was resorting to short-lived programming gimmicks like Radio Anarchy and, of course, its revolving door of program directors, morning drive shows and afternoon drive hosts.

To its credit, in recent years, WFNX and Phoenix Media battled back,  tried to stay afloat and continue the fight with its core of radio personalities -  veterans Henry Santoro(morning news man) and middayer Julie Kramer, afernooner Adam 12 who arrived shortly after WBCN bit the dust and program director Paul Driscoll.

Let's face it, the end of WFNX wasn't entirely unexpected. Actually,over the years many constantly wondered why it was taking so long. With that in mind, there are some truisms in radio. Stations come and stations go, but somewhere the spirit lives on.

So long, 'FNX.


Anonymous said...

Maybe they should have sold advertising on the NH simulcast station, WFEX, instead of just running endless PSAs.

Anonymous said...

It's my guess that Clear Channel will replace WFNX with a Spanish-language music format aimed at young Hispanic adults under the age of 40.

Besides, Clear Channel's existing Spanish-language station, WKOX-1430, goes from 5,000 watts day (with a good signal for that frequency) to a very directional 1,000 watts after sunset that misses large parts of the market. Having 101.7 will correct that.

It's a fast-growing demographic in Boston, and I think it could make such a station among the ten most popular stations in Boston (both in 12-plus and key young adult demographics) within six to twelve months of it's launch.

Boston has long needed a Spanish-language FM station, but not at the expense of WFNX.

MikeB said...

Not that its anywhere near the same market, but it makes you wonder how much longer a station like WCCC out of Hartford will last being non-corporate.

Anonymous said...

haven't listened to WFNX in many, many years, but i remember visiting here from Philly, where i was living in the early 80's, when that dial spot was WLYN, and they were FANTASTIC in those days...enough to make me move up with a drummer i was playing with, to ply our wares here in Boston.....i keep wondering if it will become a talk station-Howie Carr is hinting about his impending move, so.......

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