Two more modern rock stations died this month: 94.7 the Buzz in Oklahoma City switched to a harder-rock format, while 99X in Atlanta went Top 40 on Friday.
I grew up in Oklahoma City, and I remember how excited my friends and I all were when we first got 95X in the mid-‘90s. It didn’t last long, and switched to a lite-FM format, then came back as 94.7 the Buzz around 2002. In its second reincarnation, it was a fairly generic station (at first, it didn’t even have DJs), but it did have the “March Bandness” competition, which was a good way to support local music. It also had the good fortune to be around when the All-American Rejects and Hinder were taking off nationally.
99X is a much bigger loss. Considered one of the “tastemaker” stations of alternative rock in the 1990s, along with WHFS in Washington DC and KROQ in Los Angeles, 99X broke the Cranberries and Silverchair in the U.S. and launched the careers of Collective Soul and Shawn Mullins, among others. They hosted some of the original all-day festivals, later copied by lots of other stations, called Big Day Out. When I was living in England in 1998-99, I listened to 99X on the Internet to get my fix of American-style alt-rock.
What happened to 99X is similar to what’s happened to a lot of modern rock stations; the ratings started to decline around 2000 as fans of ‘90s stuff were turned off by Limp Bizkit, Korn, and their followers. Then when those bands imploded, stations tried to get the old listeners back by playing more and more ‘90s songs. One of 99X’s last DJs estimated that by the end, only one-fifth of the songs they were playing every day were new: that’s roughly three new songs per hour. As this happened, the station became less and less known for breaking bands. In addition, Atlanta became a hip-hop city: Outkast, Ludacris, TI, Lil’ Jon, Usher, etc. The last superstar rock act from the ATL was Collective Soul, and the last rock acts to have any hits were Shawn Mullins and Sevendust, both almost 10 years ago.
Most of the DJs at 99X were fired summarily two weeks ago, but a skeleton crew kept the station going since then. It is staying on for now as a “visual radio station” on the internet. You can listen here. As the individual DJs signed off Thursday evening, they each played little “fuck you’s” to their corporate overlords: the afternoon guy signed off with REM’s “Radio Song”: “It’s that same same song, DJ sucks… Makes me sad. I tried to turn it off, but damn that radio song… hey hey hey.”
At 4:50 a.m., according to the excellent Radio Talk blog (‘cause I wasn’t up), the final DJ gave a nice goodbye to the station and 16 years of music. The final half-hour of 99X consisted of:
Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
REM, “Radio Song”
Stone Temple Pilots, “Dead and Bloated”
Nirvana, “All Apologies”
Soundgarden, “Fell on Black Days”
Pearl Jam, “Black”
Jeff Buckley, “Last Goodbye”
At 5:25 a.m., they played Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of your Life),” then at 5:30 sharp, it went into Beyonce.
Atlanta joins Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., all of which have lost their modern rock stations in the last few years. If you live in Georgia, your choices now are an “active rock” station (think Linkin Park, Korn, or Flyleaf) or a “classic alternative” station (read: maybe you’ll hear the new Foo Fighters if you stick around long enough, but wouldn’t you rather hear “Big Me” again?).