By Maria Saporta
What a boneheaded decision.
Atlanta-based Cumulus Media has killed what little was left of 99X — one of the best known brands broadcast on the city’s radio waves for the past two decades.
On Saturday at noon, in the dead of day, Cumulus changed the 99X (which it had placed on the weak 98.9 signal) to 98.9/The Bone — a hard rock format that will try to grab listeners of the former Project 9-6-1 (which switched to a top 40 format last Wednesday).
In what has become a disorienting musical chairs among Atlanta’s radio stations, the losers will be those who love alternative rock sounds.
The last station to play alternative tunes is Dave FM at 92.9, but that station has announced its intention to switch to an all sports-talk radio format in the next month or so. (Just what Atlanta needs is another sports-talk radio station).
It almost feels as though Atlanta’s radio stations owners have decided to throw all their cards in the air and hope that their gamble pays off. But the end result likely will be to alienate their listeners and fans, who may just decide to leave the radio waves altogether for satellite radio or their i-Tunes.
For me, the rude awakening to the bonehead’s decision was Sunday morning when at 7 a.m. I turned on Organic X with Matt Jones, one of the best radio shows Atlanta has ever had. It was destination radio for me — every Sunday from 7 a.m. to noon, I would listen to a wide variety of new artists that often are ignored by more traditional radio stations until after they’ve developed a followed — think Mumford & Sons.
In some ways, it does seem silly to get so upset over the format changes of a radio station.
But I’ve never been one to easily tolerate fools. Here is a radio owner that stupidly killed (by a thousand cuts) one of the most popular radio station brands that Atlanta has ever known.
You see, 99X wasn’t simply a radio station. It was a venue for up-and-coming bands. It was a promoter of musical events, including Matt Jones’ popular weekly Unplugged concerts at the Park Tavern in Piedmont Park. This was the 10th annual series for Unplugged, again a venue for artists before they hit the big time.
The first time Cumulus tried to kill off 99X was in January, 2008. At the time, I was a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and I wrote a sentimental column about what 99x had meant to me and my children while they were growing up. (see below — I tried to link to the column but ajc.com says the page no longer exists).
The bottom line was that 99x was not just a radio station. It was a lifestyle. It was a place to celebrate great music.
Perhaps realizing that they had a brand of value, Cumulus half-heartedly brought back 99X putting it on an extremely weak signal. After a short time at that signal, the company moved 99x to 98.9 — still a feeble station, but at least I could tune in if I didn’t venture far from the center city.
Now I’m sure the folks at Cumulus would say people had moved on. But my guess is that they did little to promote the station and let people know where 99x had ended up.
Strangely enough, Music Midtown has made a comeback — the second annual Music Midtown at Piedmont Park will take place Sept. 21 and 22 — featuring many of the artists that found a friendly ear on 99X.
About the only good thing I can say about the boneheads who decided to get rid of the alternative rock format station 99x is that they picked an appropriate name for their new station — 98.9/The Bone.
Column that appeared in 2008:
99X’s DEMISE MEANS LOSS OF UNIQUE ATLANTA LIFESTYLE
BYLINE: MARIA SAPORTA
DATE: January 28, 2008
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
SECTION: Metro News
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.
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.
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.