Good radio leaves me remembering the past fondly, and these last few weeks with WFNX have been good radio.
WFNX, a local Boston independent radio station, was sold to Clear Channel in June and most of their staff was laid off when the sale was announced; that’s sad. But since then, each week has become progressively more interesting as the station has moved more and more towards free-form radio. It’s become a college station with a 1.7kW transmitter.
Their last day (according to their ads) is tomorrow and tonight is apparently their last night show. The entire day has been an incredible run of eclectic radio: one hit wonders, b-sides, local acts made good, local acts that never went anywhere, and songs that have maybe never been played on anything but college radio. I’ve spent at least 4 hours today listening to this sad, sad batch of last shows and every song feels like I’m 12 years old and trying to squeeze a little more volume from the little CD player boombox my mother gave me while moshing (or doing what I think moshing is, because at 12 I’d never been to a show) alone in my room.
Back then, I was living in a trailer south of Albany, NY and Clear Channel had just started a Modern Alternative station called The Edge (simulcast on 103.5 & 103.9!). This was the year punk broke so they were heavy on Green Day, The Offspring, Weezer, Bad Religion, et. al., about 6 months before most stations would touch punk (pop or otherwise) with a ten foot pole.
Heaven forbid those stations have actually played Ten Foot Pole.
But almost immediately, I discovered WCDB and WRPI. Classic college radio: different programs every day, each with a different theme and big on requests from the listeners. College radio introduced me to the concept of a b-side and an import.
Careful tuning then led to 102.7, WEQX! Broadcast (gloriously!) from an old house in Vermont, WEQX is an independent station that was playing all the music I was just starting to discover; they were playing it long before it was popular and long after the bloom was off the rose.
Here’s why this matters.
Radio changed my life. I’d never identified with songs before this happened; I enjoyed music immensely but it was always primarily for the melody or the rhythm. Pop music lyrics are vapid and meaningless, and until the radio introduced me to the concept of “left of the dial” I’d never felt like someone was singing to me or about things I’d experienced. After the radio I was suddenly living in a world full of quirky, loud, urgent music, written by people who cared about the music they were making. Intelligent lyrics! Metaphor! Narrative! All new, and all amazing.
Every vocabulary word I’ve ever learned, I learned from a Bad Religion song.
The radio led me to live music, and live music saved my life. Imagine being 14 years old, and in the span of one year seeing Violent Femmes opening for They Might Be Giants! The Riverdales opening for Green Day! The Rentals opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers! The Ramones in Lincoln Park, with D-Generation opening the festival bill! That horrible Lollapalooza that Metallica headlined!
That Lollapalooza actually had a great lineup with a shitty headliner, by the way. I met my first girlfriend there. Coincidentally, we lost our virginity to each other that day, stone cold sober. TRUE STORY. Maybe Soundgarden and Metallica were banal, but Rancid played a ska-heavy set and I saw Ben Folds Five for the first and only time that year. That would have never, ever happened without the radio shows, alone or with friends, in my room in those heavy days of the early 90’s.
If you ever trash that Lollapalooza tour in front of me, get fucked; I’ll skank on your grave, motherfucker.
Back on track here.
I tell this story not to mourn WFNX or the radio in general, but to celebrate them both. WFNX might not have been the station from my childhood but in its last great hurrah, the guest DJs and free-form shows have brought me back to a part of my youth I’d forgotten about; it’s so easy to focus on the depression, the disappointments, and the heartbreak that you forget the great times ever happened: the little joys, the revelations, and the world being new and exciting and novel for the first time.
WFNX dies tomorrow, but it does not go gently or quietly. It leaves us raucously, joyously, and at the very end, begrudgingly. I’ll miss WFNX, but I’ll try not to forget that at the end WFNX brought back some of those little joys that I thought I outgrown.