BOSTON (AP) — A beloved Boston-area independent alternative radio station is getting new life online several times over in partnership with traditional print media, and experts say it could be a model for other stations that can no longer be found on a radio dial.
The station was known as WFNX until its frequency was sold to media giant Clear Channel earlier this year. The Boston Globe snapped up most of its popular, live local disc jockeys and created RadioBDC, which for the past several weeks has been streaming similar programming from Boston.com, the Globe's current events and entertainment news site.
"A lot of people around the country are going to be looking to this experiment or this venture to see how it does and to see if it can be applied in their market in their particular circumstances," Boston University mass communication professor John Carroll said.
Launched in 1983, Boston's WFNX was one of the first U.S. stations to exclusively broadcast alternative rock. It was the first to play Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and its album "Nevermind" in its entirety on air, pushing the band onto the national scene.
Fans like Andrea Berman, who listened to the station 24/7, were devastated when it announced it would go silent July 20. She started an "Occupy WFNX" Facebook page, Twitter account and blog and was ecstatic when Boston.com later announced the launch of RadioBDC with WFNX DJs.
"It's more than just a brand; it's more than just the name," she said. "It's the DJs; they're the heart and soul of a station."
Lisa Desisto, general manager of Boston.com and chief advertising officer for the Globe, owned by The New York Times Co., said she's been taking calls from other newspapers asking how and why she launched RadioBDC, which takes its name from the initials of Boston.com. But she said the station would be hard to duplicate elsewhere for the reason Berman articulated: the DJs.
Phoenix Media/Communications Group's MCC Broadcasting Inc. let most of the WFNX staff go when it sold its 101.7 broadcast license to Clear Channel's Capstar Radio Operating Company this summer for $14.5 million. People tuning in now hear a hits station called The Harbor.
"Despite its celebrated history, its cutting edge programming, its tradition of breaking new music, its ardent fans among listeners and advertisers, for some time it has been difficult to sustain the station — especially since the start of the Great Recession," Phoenix Media Publisher Stephen Mindich wrote in a memo to its weekly alternative newspaper, The Boston Phoenix.
More and more independent stations are disappearing because advertisers want a bigger platform for their ads, Carroll said. Web streaming is a cheaper alternative.
While RadioBDC has hired WFNX staffers, WFNX.com continues online, playing the same kind of music it always did, though without DJs. The sale of 101.7 granted Clear Channel the frequency license and equipment, but Phoenix Media retains the call sign, trademarks and intellectual property.
Eventually, WFNX.com will operate much like RadioBDC.
WFNX personality Kurt St. Thomas, who helped launch Nirvana under his watch, will join WFNX.com as executive producer and two Phoenix Media publications will eventually be linked to WFNX.com's music content. The venture was planned before the announcement of RadioBDC, a Phoenix Media spokesman said.
WFNX.com averaged 18,000 listeners a month when the station was still on air; it now averages 6,000.
Meanwhile, listeners tuned into RadioBDC online and via mobile application for 51,502 combined hours its first week.
The commercial station is two months in the making and a month on air and has committed advertisers, including Miller Corp., Sapporo, Bud Light and Heineken. It has expanded the Globe's 21- to 34-year-old male demographic, hence the alcohol advertising, Desisto said.
RadioBDC isn't for national advertisers looking for an expansive platform, she said, but for companies looking "to make a splash" in the Boston region.
DJs are manually uploading music into RadioBDC computers, often bringing in CDs from home to build a music library from scratch. The station faced costs like constructing a new studio, obtaining music rights and paying staff salaries but saves in marketing costs, utilizing the Globe's established ad and event staff. And across the hall are Globe journalists, ready to discuss morning news on air.
"We're going to be able to do a lot of things here that we weren't able to do at our last places because of resources, technology, money," said Julie Kramer, one of the WFNX DJs who moved to RadioBDC. "We'll be able to take this to a new level."
The endeavor faces challenges sustaining advertisers, reaching audiences who don't own smartphones and competing against iPods and online stations, said Justin Ellis of Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab, who has written about RadioBDC.
"At least in the initial phase and the setup, everything seems to be going their way," Ellis said. "But the question is: Will it work in the long term?"