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WFNX, Birth of Alternative Radio 1983-2012

Boston alterative radio station WFNX took it’s last breath today after nearly 30 years on the airwaves.

Dicky Barrett of the Bosstones and PJ Harvey were some of the bands I was really excited to cover for the Boston Phoenix.

I was shocked to hear the news visiting my friends in Somerville this week, and yet it seems like everything from independent brick-and-mortar shops to photography and it’s tangibles (photo albums and record albums) have vaporized into the virtual world.  When I come home to Boston in the summer I always love to treat myself to things I can’t get or do in California: Dunkin Donuts almond iced coffee, never lugging a sweater and scarf with me at night and going to the beach to actually swim in the ocean to cool down. Driving to the beach I’ve always had my radio tuned to WFNX.

When I was in high school in the internet Stone Age, there was one Long Island station that played what was called “alternative”music (“alternative to what?” the kids ask these days.) Back then it was considered “non-maintstream”, sometimes “new wave”, “goth”, “indie” and  just plain “weird” music  by the “normal happy kids” that thought “Careless Whisper” by Wham should be our senior prom theme song (and sadly it was.) The one short-lived WLIR was a rare station that played Depeche Mode and the Cure regularly, but it had to be a clear day with a full moon and you had to put tinfoil in just the right spots on your radio antenna to get the signal. If you were lucky enough to have cable tv, MTV had a show called “120 Minutes Into the Future” and “The Cutting Edge”, airing bands like The Sugarcubes and Midnight Oil way before they were ever in the top 40. The show aired on a school night at what seemed like 4am to me, and I would stay up to get the VRC ready to tape it and edit out the commercials. Music was a precious thing that didn’t exist to steal on the internet, you had to actually go into your local record shop and spend your $7.99 allowance money on the latest Echo and The Bunnymen cassette. (Wow, I sound like a bitter Grandpa Simpson, so what if I’m reminiscing about some of the good ol’ days. Will the next generation know what the saying, “you sound like a broken record”means? These questions keep me up at night cowering under my afghan.)

When I headed to Boston to attend art school back in 1987, I found my nirvana (before Nirvana!) Boston was an easier city to manage than NYC, there were punk kids hanging out in front of the BPL and Harvard Square, my college roommate was a dead ringer for Siouxsie Sioux (even wore her black eye makeup to bed.) Then I discovered WFNX radio and it the was the cream in my Boston cream pie (sounds kinda dirty and delicious, hee hee.) Years later I became freelance photographer  for ”Boston’s alternative newspaper” The Boston Phoenix (owned and managed by WFNX radio.) There was one DJ that was like the mentoring wiseass sage big sister I always wanted, Julie Kramer. In between songs she would dish about her day, what band members that came to studio she wanted to bone and who was rude to her. I also discovered  that she was a rock-n-roll photographer and did some really cool portraits some of the bands that would come by the WFNX studio. I remember a great photograph she did of Mick Jones from the Clash in a 50’s car looking up without a smile and cigarette dangling, the colors so vivid and contrasted. Julie was one of my influences to become a rock photographer and eventually a wedding photojournalist with a rock-n-roll energy. She was one of the longest running DJs and stayed til this year and running my favorite show “Leftover Lunch”, alternative music that was played in the 80s’ and 90’s, bring back great memories of my college years dancing at ManRay with my multi-colored Flock of Seagulls shellacked hairdo and wearing all black (as if we art students were protesting daylight and color?) “Let your freak flag fly” was one of her saying I loved. Living in Boston in the late 80’s, some of the best local bands were launched on WFNX to become nationally known soon after. Some of my favorites Boston bands: The Pixies, Morphine, The Mighty Mighty Bostones, Til Tuesday/Aimee Mann, Belly, The Breeders,  Letters to Cleo, Guster, and Luna to name a few. There’s one special musician whom I’ve followed since I was 16 and  one of the many reasons I moved to Boston as a college kid (and later to San Francisco after he did. Yes, a bit obsessive and stalkerish.) Considered one of the early 70’s godfathers of punk/alternative (when it was considered rebellious for men to wear their hair short, being proud of not getting high and proclaiming your respect for women.) Jonathan Richman’s early songs were covered by other bands, and the classic “Roadrunner” always makes me think of driving around the suburbs of Boston singing along to my favorite songs on ‘FNX. It’s a song that’s timeless and pure fun, often a favorite on “Leftover Lunch.”

It’s rumored that the radio slot for 101.7 will be filled with the likes of conservative talk radio, almost a slap in the face by Clear Channel (who bought the little station that could for 14.5 million.) Clear Channel will wipe everything that was artistically progressive and bring it back to the dark ages. I live in San Francisco now and  will always have WFNX blasting from the speakers on my computer, so it will live on in a different medium I suppose, but it’s still the end of an era. ‘FNX, you will always be in my heart and part of my great memories of all the clubs and shows in my Boston years. I’m imagining the Jeff Buckley song (and his sad untimely death), “Last Goodbye”,

I hate to feel the love between us die.

But it’s over

Just hear this and then I’ll go:

You gave me more to live for,

More than you’ll ever know…

I was paid $25 a photo by the Boston Phoenix in 1996 to cover the band Kiss and their Kiss Army fans. I loved getting backstage to so many shows and having photo access.

B-52’s Cosmic Tour circa 1989. I didn’t have my press pass and when security discovered me taking pictures, they made me take the film out and expose it! Try doing that with pixels!


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