It is a story now familiar
in these times of format and market volatility. In May last year, Boston’s
dominant alternative weekly newspaper, The Boston Phoenix, announced the sale
of its alternative rock station, WFNX(FM) at 107.1 MHz, to Clear Channel.
Staff of Radio BDC
Because WFNX often is
credited as the first commercial alternative station on the East Coast, news
that the station’s format would be changing with the sale immediately triggered
an outpouring of loss and grief from listeners, many of whom shared their pain
on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
On July 20, WFNX joined the
list of pioneering commercial alt rock stations to leave the air in the last
decade. The list includes Oxford, Ohio’s WOXY(FM), Long Island’s WLIR(FM) and
While these stations may have departed the broadcast
airwaves, several have found homes on the Internet, continuing versions of
their broadcast schedules online.
The continuing legacy of WFNX unfolded a little
differently than the rest.
Before WFNX had even signed off, the Boston Globe
newspaper announced that it would hire several station staff members in order
to start its own online alternative rock station. RadioBDC — which stands for
Radio Boston Dot Com — is named for the Globe’s flagship Web property,
Boston.com. Both are owned by the New York Times Co.
Paul Driscoll, former WFNX program
director, and Julie Kramer, its former music director, joined former WFNX
staffers DJ Adam 12 and news director Henry Santoro to build RadioBDC, which
launched on Aug. 13.
Unlike many Internet stations, it features live hosts,
and has from the beginning, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., in a style similar
to the former WFNX. Live weekend hosts were added in November.
At launch, Boston Globe
publisher Christopher Mayer said, “We believe RadioBDC is the soundtrack for
Kramer had worked at WFNX
for 25 years, serving as both music director and midday host, roles she resumed
at RadioBDC. “Three weeks after the start of meetings [about building a new
station], we started,” she said. “Because we’d all worn so many hats at WFNX,
we were ready.”
She agreed to join RadioBDC because it takes radio “to
a whole new level.” For one thing, size and reach of Boston.com give the
associated radio station a natural advantage.
Driscoll says that when he
moved to Boston 10 years ago, “Boston.com was the homepage to start my day. It
has 6 to 7 million uniques a month. It’s been huge for us to launch on that
Kramer admits that, “At the end of the run at ’FNX,
there were five of us, and we were lucky to have our jobs.” So the opportunity
to make the move with her WFNX colleagues was a “dream come true.” Now, in
joining Boston.com, the radio team works with “all walks of life — the media
lab staff [and] the people who print the paper.”
They also have a great deal
of access due to their association with the Globe and its prestigious writers,
she said. “During the presidential race, we had [political editor] Glen Johnson
on the air all the time from the floor of the conventions.”
City Editor Stephen Smith,
sportswriter Bob Ryan and popular music reporter Sarah Rodman have made
Many of the live segments
are recorded for podcasts, in addition to artist interviews and other features,
which are available at RadioBDC’s blog. Videos from the station’s live music
series, “Live from the Lab,” are posted online.
The Globe’s Media Lab is a
small studio equipped for both live audio and video streams, where bands like
the Dropkick Murphys, Bloc Party and the Gaslight Anthem play stripped-down,
often acoustic, sets to a small in-studio audience. Kramer says, “Twelve
hundred people signed up to see the Dropkick Murphys live in the lab,” though
only a small percentage of that can fit. Others can catch the live or archived
In November, RadioBDC debuted a fall schedule
featuring new specialty shows. Driscoll, the PD, said, “We’re really proud to
offer such an eclectic mix, giving local and emerging artists around the globe
He hosts two of these shows. Sunday morning’s
“RadioBDC Brunch” focuses on “acoustic, stripped-down tracks,” including live
recordings from “Live in the Lab.” Driscoll says his other show, “The Brink,”
is very “current-leaning,” and “a testing ground” for new music, where he plays
imports and “deeper album tracks.”
Other new programs include “Grrl Power” with Steph
Mangan, playing music from female artists and their influences, and “Mmmmmaven”
with Alex Maniatis and David Day (former editor at another Boston “alt weekly,”
The Dig), which presents live DJ and other sets recorded at local nightclubs.
The fall schedule also introduces six new weekend hosts.
Comparing her approach to
the old terrestrial broadcast with the new online-only RadioBDC, Kramer says,
“It really hasn’t changed, to be honest. My show is still my show. I still talk
about the music, which is what I’ve always done.” She adds, “We have more
leeway at BDC. We’re playing music we like, we believe in, [and] the music of
Another big change is who
can listen. Yet even though her program is no longer heard over the air on car
radios, Kramer says, “Some people are still listening in their car, streaming through
She acknowledges that the technology is different,
too, especially the ability to stream the “Live at the Lab” sets.
Another advantage to
joining Boston.com is access to the company’s promotional talent. The station
is running print ads in the Globe and on billboards. A new television
commercial campaign is running on CBS affiliate WBZ(TV) and regional cable
networks, as well before movies at Massachusetts AMC theaters.
RadioBDC’s new campaign
brands the station as “Radio. Reinvented.” Kramer also says the station
benefits from Boston.com’s analytic team, which delivers more specific audience
data than when they only had broadcast ratings.
real-time,” says Driscoll. “It’s been interesting to see the tune-in and tune-out
data.” He says that the tune-in numbers already have started going up for the
new specialty shows in the weekend daypart. Even though they do not stray too
far from RadioBDC’s format, Driscoll sees the specialty programs as
“appointment programming,” that may attract new listeners to the station.
In terms of overall listenership Driscoll says, “We
passed 500,000 connections at the end of November,” ahead of expectations. “Our
TSL is at about an hour and 10 minutes.” The station’s time spent listening is
capped at two hours because that’s when the Web player resets, to make sure
there is an active listener.
However, RadioBDC has some new competition — and from
a familiar source.
Phoenix Media, the former
owner of WFNX(FM), may have sold its FM signal, but in October it went live
with WFNX.com. Former Program Director Kurt St. Thomas is the station’s
executive producer. (His earlier tenure at WFNX ended in 1995, when he left to
become senior director of A&R at Arista Records; he also was a host and
producer at KROQ(FM) in Los Angeles.)
WFNX.com and RadioBDC are separate entities with
different owners, even though both have roots in the old WFNX. So as of the end
of October, the city of Boston has two live hosted online alternative rock
stations. Meanwhile, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment subsequently began
airing an electronic dance music format on WFNX(FM)’s old frequency, now
branded Evolution 101.7.
Riismandel is a more than 20 year veteran of community and college radio. He is
co-founder and technology editor for RadioSurvivor.com and covers educational
media for Streaming Media Magazine.