Editor’s note: For 13 years, WBUR host Sharon Brody worked at WFNX-FM. With word that WFNX has been sold, she offers this personal reflection on the independent rock station.
Is it the end of the world as we know it? No.
Do I feel fine? Not remotely.
WFNX has been sold to Clear Channel, adding another nail to the nail-riddled coffin of independent commercial radio.
But this isn’t just any ol’ alternative music radio station going under. This is my WFNX.
WFNX was my womb, my church, my club, my asylum.
What do I do with the memories wrapped up in a crazy life that no longer exists? Same as we all do when we stare at, say, the parking lot that used to be our childhood home: We reminisce our way back into what used to be.
The hollowness I feel now at the demise of WFNX is a reflection of the depth of emotion generated by the radio station/lifestyle/friendship-incubator/creativity mill/roller coaster/grad school that was WFNX in its most influential years.
WFNX was not governed by ratings — we had none. We were not ruled by money — we had none. We could pretty much do anything we wanted, and we did.
But let me not navel-gaze. My feelings are chicken feed compared to the passion felt by fans back in the day. Hordes of people would twist and turn their radios and antennas to wacky angles just to try to get that 3,000-watt signal of bliss. Hordes of people would show up, of course, at the epic concerts. But hordes of people also flocked to the dinkiest and most farflung station promotions to get nothing but a bumper sticker and a smile. These were some pretty damned loyal hordes.
Hardly a week goes by that I don’t meet folks swearing that if it weren’t for WFNX they could not have made it through high school. They say they felt saved by the mere awareness that somewhere in this difficult world they had kindred spirits tuned in to 101.7.
Take that, Arbitron. Try buying that, Clear Channel.
I worked at WFNX in one way or another from 1984 to 1997. On my first day, I thought I’d never go back. The commute was rotten, I doubted this position really made sense in my grand plan to write award-winning novels, the station equipment was archaic and malfunctioning, and fergawdsakes the building itself was not only breathtakingly decrepit but also smack dab in the dreary center of Lynn Lynn city of sin.
By my second day, I was hooked. It was like being in a Mickey Rooney movie — let’s put on a show! in the barn! — only with way more scenes of other characters smoking pot on the roof and watching punk bands rip the vinyl couch to shreds with pocket knives.
My job titles included news director, features editor, morning drive news anchor, essayist, feature reporter and more. But never mind titles. My role was nerd. I will never pretend I was one of the cool kids at the coolest music hangout in town. No rewriting history. I was square, through and through. Apparently, I also was just odd enough that I fit in, in spite of myself.
And pretty much from the start, I loved the place. Oh, I wailed over the lack of pay and the lack of benefits and the lack of hot water in the bathroom sink. But kvetching is my hobby. A kvetcher kvetches. Even then, I knew the freedom we had was a rare and beautiful treat. WFNX was not governed by ratings — we had none. We were not ruled by money — we had none. We could pretty much do anything we wanted, and we did.
For me, that freedom meant launching a daily interlude called “The Brody Beat.” Social commentary, obscure news explorations, unhinged meanderings, political rants, juxtopository thrills and nonsense. I figured I’d mess with that for a while and move on. Thirteen years later, I got to the part about moving on.
Moving on is one thing; it turns out escape is not an option. Even now, after all these years, it’s not uncommon for somebody I’ve just met to squint at me and ask, “Wait… Sharon Brody? Of the ‘BRODY BEAT’? No freaking way.”
Every freaking way, indeed. And I mention that as a testament to the hold of WFNX on its audience. People listened so often, and so closely, with such devotion and joy, that to this day they can quote to me actual lines I tossed off and forgot long ago. It’s scary, almost.
As the failed novelist I cheerfully am, I think I’ll wrap my memories around a literary conceit. WFNX was the little engine that could. Chugging up the mountain with the mantra of “I think I can I think I can I think I can.” And now that the final page has turned, we hear the echoing song of “I thought I could I thought I could I thought I could.” And you know those good little boys and girls on the other side? We delivered them some awesome s***.