WFNX Going off Air

In 1991, the summer going into my freshman year of high school, a monumental event would take place that would reshape music for the first half of that decade.

At 7 p.m. on August 29 a raw sound from a Seattle based band that no one on the East Coast had ever heard began blasting over the airwaves from the 101.7 WFNX studio in Lynn.

That night, D.J. Kurt St. Thomas, like many WFNX DJs did throughout the 29-year stellar history of the station-found an unknown band he deemed necessary, relevant and important enough to share with his listeners. This was the first time anyone heard Nirvana’s debut album Nevermind in its entirety.

While the album went on to sell 10 million copies, catapulted Nirvana into superstardom and began the grunge movement it also opened the doors for acts like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and the other groups that defined my generation.

The decision to play Nevermind that night wasn’t unusual for a station that was always on the cutting edge of music. Since 1983, when FNX replaced WLYN (a station that did its part to bring New Wave acts like The Talking Heads, The Police and The Cars to the ears of Boston listeners) it emerged as a much needed refuge from the watered down bubble-gum pop plaguing other Boston stations.

Having a brother in high school at the time of FNX’s launch in the early 80s I can remember sitting in his room, riding in his car or hanging out in the backyard with the older generation listening to the unique sounds of bands like R.E.M., Echo and the Bunnymen, Jane’s Addiction, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and thinking this was how music should sound.

From the mid 1980s on, I was hooked. While many of my friends in middle school were duped by corporate pop I was a devout FNX listener.

I preferred the haunting guitar of Johnny Marr on The Smiths’ ‘How Soon is Now’ to anything being played on Kiss 108. I was intrigued by the lyrics of Matt Johnson on The The’s ‘Beat(en) Generation’ to the cliché verses being pumped out by pop superstars. I was fascinated by the melancholy of Robert Smith on every song produced off The Cure’s Disintegration album.

While I was an earlier listener, when my peers began to listen to bands like Nirvana and Pear Jam they began delving back into the FNX catalog to see what they had missed.

Shows like Julie Kramer’s ‘Leftover Lunch’ exposed the bands that laid the groundwork for Nirvana to whole new generation of listeners. Soon it wasn’t enough to know about the grunge movement. To be a true “Alternateen’ in the early 1990s you had to have a deep appreciation for bands like The Pixies, Jane’s Addiction, Sonic Youth, The Jesus Lizard and industrial rock like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry (or as some put it ‘industrial warehouse slam dancing music’).

In fact, Kurt Cobain said he wrote the youth anthem ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as an attempt to write a song as good as any by The Pixies -the Boston based band discovered by FNX.  Cobain cited them as one of his biggest influences. I’d argue the sale of The Pixies first album skyrocketed after that quote was published in magazines like Rolling Stones and Spin.

Now that FNX will be off the air soon and replaced by god knows what, it’s sad to think what could have been.  What music movement FNX could have launched next, as it did on a hot, humid night in August 1991.  Even more alarming, is to imagine a world where the next Pixies or Nirvana might soon be ignored, as corporate radio replaces the heart and soul of independent radio.

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