Tuesday, September 05, 2006

BAM! The future has no future


Last week brought the genuinely sad news that woxy.com will be shutting down for good on September 15th, barring a last-minute sponsorship of extreme proportions. For non-Midwesterners, the station was made infamous in Rain Man as Dustin Hoffman repeatedly shouted the catchprase "97X - BAM! The future of Rock n Roll!" At the time, WOXY was an FM radio station in Oxford, Ohio. Innovative programming is expected on the east and west coasts, but to have a legitimately "cool" radio station in the Midwest was frankly baffling, and apparently too good to be true. 2004 brought the failure of WOXY as a radio enterprise, unable to compete against the Clear Channel and Emmis giants. 2 years as an internet-only enterprise have once again failed to pay off, leaving WOXY no choice but to shut down their broadcasts for good, failing a miracle last-minute benefactor. It bears mentioning that WOXY was rescued at the 11th hour from an identical fate in 2004, but the odds of lightning striking twice are quite slim.

While spending my college days at Flyer Radio at the University of Dayton, WOXY served as a constant source of inspiration. My freshman year, we were an AM radio station that couldn't even be heard in certain dorms, so on-air content wasn't a major worry. After getting an FM transmitter that allowed us to carry through the city and suburbs, WOXY was our guide to a good product. They provided the proof that people would listen to bands like Guided By Voices, Swearing at Motorists, Sunny Day Real Estate, Elliott Smith, At the Drive-In, Belle & Sebastian, Roni Size, and Modest Mouse on the radio. Looking back, I naively thought that any station could have the impact that WOXY had on it's community, if the people working there were willing to take a shot. I had it all planned out - once I got out of school, I could work for a radio station, work my way up, and eventually put good music on the air that people wouldn't hear otherwise (much like WOXY did.) As it was, my cruel introduction to the world of actual radio came in my first post-graduation interview, where a WFBQ promotions director asked me (with a straight face) "What would you do if you were working on a remote, ran out of giveaway items, and were being berated by a drunk guy who demanded a Q95 keychain?" In that distressing moment, it became clear to me that stations like WOXY are few and far between. It also became clear that I wanted nothing to do with employment in the radio industry - a sentiment that is confirmed twice every day as I stroll past the Emmis building in downtown Indy walking to and from work.

As an internet-only venture, woxy.com apparently didn't fare any better financially than their FM incarnation. Upon reading their "end of days" announcement, I wondered if theirs is a business model that is just simply irrelevant in today's society. There are a number of particularly well done music blogs on the net nowadays to serve a purpose of introducing new music in downloads that people can choose to listen to at any time. While I still listen to woxy.com occasionally, I must admit that I listen to my iPod more (which is increasingly filled with mp3s procured from said music blogs), and I'm sure I'm not in the minority in this method. Yet there's something different about the information and flow that Barb, Mike, and Shiv had on-air that made listening to them much more exciting and ear-opening than listening to your own pre-determined playlist. While all these blogs and podcasts are worthy in their intentions, there can be no doubt that they have played a part in tearing down the remnants of a station and format that probably motivated them to start their blogs in the first place.

The bottom line is this: the legacy of WOXY is that they were a radio station that mattered. Many businesses succeed, and many businesses fail, but how many businesses are truly important? Hardly any. WOXY was important, and the people behind the station know that's was matters in the end.

1 comment:

Brian Woods said...

That's too bad. I had seen the WOXY streams and never gave them much thought because, like you, I have an iPod, plus I have Sirius which fills the gap for me. I pretty much gave up on terrestrial radio when Y100 was killed in Philadelphia, but there were enough people interested and Jim McGuinn is well liked enough that after going it on the internet for 18 months after their format was dumped, WXPN picked them up for three nights a week of alt/indy rock. That means a happy ended for Philadelphia and the stations that retransmit WXPN.

If we can have a happy ending here, hopefully midwesterners can, too.