25th reunion show of Morning X reminds Atlanta of what we’ve lost

By Maria Saporta

Oh the memories.

Cumulus Radio and 99X decided to tease us last week by reuniting Barnes, Leslie and Jimmy for a one-time-only Morning X show on Oct. 26 to mark the 25th anniversary of when the show began.

Listening to Steve Barnes, Leslie Fram and Jimmy Baron for the better part of the commercial-free six hour show (extended two hours for the reunion) was like encountering friends you had not heard from in over a decade, and yet it felt as though no time had passed.

And while it was wonderful to hear the banter between Barnes, Leslie and Jimmy – and to hear the old pranks and stories of yesteryear – the one-time-only show left me feeling profoundly sad. It was as if I had had a flashback to a life that is no more.

Morning X

The Morning X crew of Barnes, Leslie and Jimmy reunited for a one-time only show on Oct. 26 (Special: 99X)

Everything has changed – and not necessarily for the better.

Even the station 99X, once one of the most popular stations in Atlanta, is not what it once was. It used to broadcast from the powerful signal at 99.7, discontinued before it was later revived and moved to a weaker, hard-to-hear signal at 98.9.

The “new 99X” is all automated with no broadcast personalities introducing listeners to special songs or insights about what is going on in Atlanta’s music scene.

Throughout the program, Barnes, Leslie and Jimmy spoke of how the radio world had changed, how artists no longer rely on radio to become known, how radio management today would never permit them to do the kind of stunts they used to do, and how the relationship between radio, musicians and concert promoters had changed.

When 99X first went off the air in 2008, I wrote a column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that expressing my deep disappointment in Cumulus, which had bought the station a couple of years earlier. (See that column below).

When Cumulus brought back a weaker 99X (99X lite) a few years ago, it felt like the new Pink Pig. It is an imposter, a hollow version of what once was a special and life-changing experience.

While several people mentioned listening to 99X on the morning of 9-11, I remembered listening to Morning X on the one-year anniversary of that tragic day.

I was driving to work listening to Leslie interview the family of the late Adam White, the 26-year-old Atlantan who was an employee of the banking and investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald in the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Morning X

99X poster announcing the 25th anniversary reunion of Morning X with Barnes, Leslie and Jimmy (Special: 99X)

The station then cut to a moment of silence to mark the moment the tower came down, And then the station played “Hear You Me” by Jimmy Eat World.

The tears started flowing down my face, and I could not stop crying. Even hearing that song today, it brings back a wave of emotion that immediately brings tears to my eyes.

That was the power of 99X. It lives on in me – as a part of my past. Yet I am so aware how it is not part of my present.

My former AJC colleague, Rodney Ho, wrote two blog items this past week about the 99X reunion – The Morning X reunites for 25th anniversary October 26 and 99X 25 years later: how it all began and why it mattered.

Today, we can tune in to the music we like through Pandora or Spotify or even on my Comcast “Adult Alternative” station. But it’s not the same.

Morning X and the other shows on 99X – especially Organic X with Matt Jones – combined human voices with music selected for life’s special moments.

The beauty of radio in the golden age of 99X was that those moments were shared with others in our midst. It was a multifaceted experience that combined radio, new artists, concerts, events, personalities, CDs, private concerts brought to life by on-air personalities.

Yes, I still listen to radio – mostly 105.7 and the 99X lite – but it’s less filling than the real thing.

Yes, I still go to live concerts and music festivals. But as radio has moved on and as the years have rolled on – I long for an age that has passed us by.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Horizon Section:

99X’s demise means loss of unique Atlanta lifestyle

By Maria Saporta

January 28, 2008

Less than three weeks ago, my son David put a 99X sticker on his car.

Little did we know that the radio station that we had known and loved since 1992 would disappear from Atlanta’s airwaves before the month was over. Friday was 99X’s last day on the FM dial.

You see, for my family, 99X wasn’t just a radio station. It was a lifestyle. It was the “play” in our live-work-play community. And it was a station that connected my daughter, Carmen, David and me.

It was through 99X that we discovered incredible music, mostly from up-and-coming bands — Live, Collective Soul, Counting Crows, Tonic, Coldplay, Travis, Sister Hazel, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Jimmy Eat World, Radiohead, 311, Matchbox 20, Cure, Barenaked Ladies, Jack Johnson, Fiona Apple, Guster, Jump Little Children, Josh Joplin — to name a few.

And as we heard their tunes on the radio, we were primed to go to concerts to hear the bands play live.

99X

Thousands of Atlantans turned out for 99X concerts during its heyday – this one in 2002 (Special: Chewie’s Concert Chronicles)

We went to several Big Day Outs, all-day musical extravaganzas where we listened to dozens of bands new on the scene. Just this past fall, we went to Lakewood’s HiFi Buys to hear Chris Cornell, Cake and the Plain White T’s.

Back in 2001, 99X was offering free music at Centennial Olympic Park for its “On the Bricks” music series. An odd split with the promoter took 99X across the street in 2002 (to what is now the Georgia Aquarium) for Downtown Rocks — creating dual summer concert series on Friday nights.

We were there nearly every week.

And no special event compared to the now-defunct Music Midtown — a festival with a half-dozen music stages featuring all kinds of music. 99X had two stages — the Main Stage and the Locals Only stage, where new local artists could play in front of thousands of people.

One year, after knee surgery, I decided that instead of trying to navigate Music Midtown on crutches, I would rent a wheelchair. So I planted myself between 99X’s two stages, and as one band quit playing on the Main Stage another band would start on the Locals Only stage. All I had to do was turn the direction of the wheelchair.

In other years, we would make the 99X bus (a small yellow bus) our meeting spot as all of us went in different directions to catch Music Midtown’s acts.

There were so many ways that 99X penetrated our lives and our free time.

One of the highlights was when DJ Matt “Organic” Jones helped organize a special cruise to the Bahamas with Collective Soul. Carmen, David and I — along with another 125 or so 99X listeners — went on the three-day jaunt that culminated with a private performance from Collective Soul’s lead singer, Ed Roland, and lead guitarist, Joel Kosche, just for us.

In recent years, 99X started another free music series — Unplugged in the Park — where lesser-known bands were given a chance to perform at the Park Tavern on the eastern edge of Piedmont Park.

For us, it couldn’t have been more convenient. We could walk a couple of blocks from our home for dinner and hear new bands.

Much has been written about the demise of the Morning X, which had been one of Atlanta’s most popular radio shows in its heyday. But little has been said about my favorite show — Organic X — with a 7:30 a.m. to noon timeslot on Sundays.

Rarely did a Sunday go by without me tuning into the show. I would take my portable radio with headphones to listen to the station as I rode my bicycle around the park, walked the dogs in a nearby nature preserve or worked out at the gym.

As of Friday, I couldn’t find out the fate of Organic X. But given the recent decisions of relatively new owner Cumulus Radio, I have little hope the show will survive on air.

Since Cumulus bought the station two years ago, my children and I felt change coming. One of our favorites — Jimmy Baron — went off the air. And the playlist seemed less daring and more tame. It didn’t help when Steve Craig’s Retroplex, a show with music from the ’80s and early ’90s, was discontinued.

Music Midtown

The 99X Stage in 2002 served as one of the main stages for Music Midtown (Special: concertshots.com)

Leslie Fram, the face for 99X in the community since its inception, explained to me last week that indeed there had been a shift. “I wasn’t able to champion as many baby bands as I used to,” she said.

Thanks to Fram and the station, bands from all over the country were discovered by listeners. I can’t remember all the times at concerts when musicians would make a point of saying that 99X had been instrumental in their success.

“I don’t believe people understand the ramifications of not having a ‘new music’ channel out of Atlanta,” Fram said. She talked about all the artists who have contacted her since she’s gone off the air using the same word — “devastating.”

And all the live concerts 99X produced. And the special Live X CDs that came out every year with tunes recorded especially for the station. Is all that history?

Perhaps readers are wondering what the demise of a radio station has to do with Atlanta’s growth and development.

Cities are dynamic organisms that encompass every facet of life. It’s not just roads and bridges, office buildings, homes and sewers. They should be places were people gather to enjoy the softer sides of life — the arts, parks and yes, music — music of all kinds.

In my family, music has brought us together in so many ways. When I was debating writing a column about the demise of 99X, my children, who rarely show much interest in what I write, excitedly told me I should.

Carmen quickly listed a host of bands and artists that she heard first on 99X or at one of the station’s concerts. Then the three of us started reminiscing on all the ways 99X has touched our lives.

So David will continue to proudly display his 99X sticker on his car. It’s his way, our way, to honor the memory of not just a station, but a lifestyle that sadly is no more.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

7 replies
  1. James Stanton says:

    2008 was before my time but I can feel the love. And yet I believe that there is room for a great morning talk show that becomes the essence of our city today. Budding artists have left the radio scene long ago. For that magic on air chemistry that sometimes just happens, there is always room.Report

    Reply
  2. Julie Herron Carson says:

    Maria, you beautifully expressed exactly how I feel, too. I loved hearing Barnes, Leslie and Jimmy back on the air … what a powerful reminder of “the way we were”.Report

    Reply
  3. jonsinton says:

    Nicely done, Maria. All things must pass, but 99X, and perhaps terrestrial radio generally, as a unifying force within its communities, are gone too soon–and to our mutual detriment. They’ve been lost to social media’s immediacy and connectivity. Things that seem good on the surface, but are in actuality, isolating, and easily manipulated by those who would divide us.Report

    Reply
  4. Burroughston Broch says:

    Cumulus Media is facing bankruptcy and is in discussions with their creditors. All of their debt comes due next year, and their ad revenues and listener numbers are decreasing. They are looking for quick fixes.Report

    Reply

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