From WFNX to Radio BDC
     

Staff of Radio BDC
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.

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 Chicago’s WKQX(FM).

While these stations may have departed the broadcast airwaves, several have found homes on the Internet, continuing versions of their broadcast schedules online.

Dot-com radio

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.

Julie Kramer
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 Boston.com.”

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 platform.”

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 appearances.

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 stream.

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 critical exposure.”

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 tomorrow.”

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 their phones.”

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.

“It’s almost 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.

Phoenix return

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.

Paul 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.


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