97X...The Future of Radio?
Last week I posed the question of whether the future of radio might, in fact, be on the Internet via streaming audio. Yes, even with all of the great independent stations we have here in Chicago, sometimes I still can't find exactly what I'm looking for on the FM dial. However, the Internet is quickly becoming an essential alternative to traditional radio, since you can not only listen to great college and community stations from other cities, you can also find some great internet-only stations that cater to even the most obscure niches. As I teased before, we have some good internet stations based right here in Chicago, but in honor of the big traveling weekend coming up (aka Labor Day), I thought I would start off the "future of radio" series with some of the best internet stations based in other parts of the country. 97X (BAM!) The Future of Rock and Roll Based in Oxford, OH (about 30min north of Cincy), 97x started as a locally-owned, small town mom and pop radio operation. In 1983, the station adopted an "alternative" rock format to cater the young progressive minds at the town's local university, Miami of Ohio. 97X was one of only 6 commercial stations at the time to adopt this format (keep in mind this was some 10 years before "alternative" became an MTV fad) and soon the station became a local cult favorite around Oxford and the greater Cincinnati area. In fact, when producers came to the 'Natti to film Rain Man they caught wind of this local favorite and used a station jingle in the movie. Remember the Dustin Hoffman character repeating it endlessly after it came on the radio??(97x...BAM! The Future of Rock and Roll!) Yes, this is THE 97X from the film...it wasn't a Hollywood creation and that was a real station jingle that they used. Of course, the Rain Main plug was the station's primarily claim-to-fame for years. However, this soon changed in 1998, when 97X went nationwide via streaming audio. Soon, 97X was picking up national recognition from the likes of Rolling Stone and Spin, in addition to their usual accolades in the local Ohio press. By this time, local FM radio had become victim of government deregulation and corporate homogenization. The late 90's were also about the same time that rap-rock and teen-pop took over the musical spotlight, effectively killing the brief popularity of independent and alternative music. However, while 99% of the local radio owners in the country had now sold out to the big media conglomerates and all of the "alternative" stations were now playing Limp Bizkit and Hoobastank, the owners of 97X stuck to their guns and retained their independent credo that they established back in 1983. Hungry music fans disenfranchised with their local stations, soon found 97X on the web, and the station became a phenomenon almost entirely by word of mouth. Unfortunately for the local Ohioans, the owners of 97X finally sold their beloved 97.7 FM broadcast earlier this year to an out-of-town radio company. However, the owners of the station vowed to continue the format and legacy of 97X as an internet-only station. After a couple of months off the air due to funding problems, 97X returned in July in a brand-new, internet-only incarnation. Retaining three of the station's weekday DJs, the new version of 97X broadcasts live from 9a to 11p (EST) Monday-Friday. During the overnights and weekends, the station runs an automated playlist...however, current song IDs are always displayed on your Winamp player and playlists are archived in real-time on the homepage, so you'll never have to scramble to Allmusic.com to figure out what just played. While part of me misses the small-town charm of hearing local commercials for Kroger, Meijer and the Oxford book exchange, 97X actually sounds better than ever. While they used to throw in an occasional mainstream alt rock track from someone like STP or Everclear (as to not completely alienate the local rock fans I assume?) , 97X now plays nothing but true alternative and underground releases. New tracks from the likes of The Faint, Interpol, Belle & Sebastian, Clinic, Spoon, etc, etc. are combined with classic altrna-staples like R.E.M., Elvis Costello, The Cure, Pavement and local heroes Guided By Voices...it has really become the ideal commercial "alternative" station. Now more than ever, 97X is easily my favorite station right now (internet or otherwise)...and probably one of my favorites of all time. But, as always, don't take my word for it...check it out for yourself at: www.woxy.com PS: If you are leaving town this weekend and will be embarking on a long road trip, here's a quick tip for finding the good tunes on the radio. If you're heading into a large metropolis or a small college town, start your dial at 87.7FM and scan the dial up to 91.9. That area of the dial is allocated for non-commercial use only, which means that is where you'll always find the local community or college stations. You'll usually find the true independent stations at 88.1 to 88.9, while the more mainstream "NPR-type" stations seem to be at or above 89FM. Of course, some "NPR-type" stations actually do air progressive music and news programming, but these are few and far in-between. It seems most cater to the mainstream...sticking to the usual formula of combining "Morning Edition" with classical music or un-offensive jazz.