Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Much has been made in the local (Atlanta) press about the demise of what was once the most popular non-R&B station in the area. Yesterday, the local (Atlanta) paper ran an editorial entitled "99X's demise means loss of unique Atlanta lifestyle" in which the columnist waxed nostalgic and apoplectic about the cultural loss that this represents.

I have a different point of view. I think 99X died years ago and it's finally being put out of its misery. I'm not proud to say that my response to the news was "good riddance", since 99X played a huge part in my life for many years.

Most folks don't remember the predecessor to 99X at 99.7 FM. It was called "Power 99" and was one of the worst examples of top-40, limited playlist, cultural dreck on the radio. At least that's how I saw it as a college student in the late 1980s. The only redeeming factor was that they brought U2 to the Georgia dome somewhere around 1987, and for that I will always be grateful. I wasn't a Power 99 listener, but I did pick up a sticker and put it on my footlocker (between the free Georgia Tech bumper sticker given to freshmen and a misprinted UNC "I bleed" sticker missing the punchline).

When Power 99 changed formats to a "new music" station a few years later, I was one of the first converts to the new 99X. I was an "Album 88" (Georgia State college radio) listener. But here was a station playing my kind of music that wasn't a low-power, inconsistent station manned by amateurs. I vividly remember turning over to 99.7 and hearing the "Red Hot Chili Peppers" playing. I was hooked - and stayed hooked for years.

In the early 1990s, I volunteered with a 6th grade group at a local church. When we went on trips (ice cream, retreats, high-speed pursuits) there was always a lot of wasted time while they determined which social cliques were going to ride in which van. My solution was to hold up my keys and say "the radio in my van will be tuned to 99X". It was a quick wheat-from-the-chaff technique that enabled me to play music I wanted to hear loudly enough to drown out any bickering and bloodletting in the back of the van.

However, I also vividly remember when I started tuning out. As the years progressed and the station gained popularity it made the unfortunately common mistake of believing that they needed a morning "zoo" crew to bring in the right demographic. Over time, the stunts got more ridiculous and the chatter more pervasive. This culminated in a wager between two personalities in which the loser promised to remove a part of her pinkie - on the air.

Yes, it was a stunt and it was eventually shown to be fake. However, I knew how much those 6th graders had looked up to these personalities and I thought it was irresponsible. And inane. I and many others wrote and called the show to tell them that we would never listen to them again if they went through with the stunt. For all I know, I'm the only one that actually followed through. I never listened to the morning show again.

However, I still very much enjoyed the music and the other shows - retro shows, local shows, new music shows - so I still listened in the afternoons. But as I started roaming the dial in the morning I found other interesting stations, and more and more I didn't go to the trouble of changing back to 99X. When I did switch back, it seemed that the playlist was starting to shrink as the same songs kept showing up day after day. By the time I moved out of Atlanta in the late 1990s, I was only skipping past 99X once a week or less.

When I returned to Atlanta a few years ago, I thought I'd give 99X another shot. I still liked (and still do like) the type of music that they ostensibly represent. I turned into the morning show to discover that it had fallen even further, putting in a personality named Fred Toucher that was so offensive that he made the original crew look like choirboys. In the first week I heard uninformed tirades against religion (Christianity in particular), celebrities, politicians, and anyone unfortunate enough to wander by. The tone of discourse was so low that it was difficult to determine who they were trying to reach. 13 year old boys raised by delinquent parents? Seems mighty thin and not exactly the type that would be a fan of the "new music" genre.

At that point, I stopped listening to 99X altogether. Maybe I'd matured and the station wasn't all that different, but I don't think so. I think that they catered to lower and lower standards at the expense of the music that brought them their fan base. I can't imagine that I was the only one. In fact, I had a conversation with a local radio executive who expressed a very similar sentiment (especially about the personality choices) 18 months ago. He predicted that 99X would be an all-country station by the end of the year. It seems he was off a bit in the details but not in the end result.

So that's why I wasn't sad when I heard that 99X was no more. That's also why I think that the histrionics over its demise are greatly overdone.

The 99X that really mattered died a long time ago. They're just pulling out the tubes now.

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