Looking Back at The Future of Rock and Roll

June 29, 2018

Looking Back at The Future of Rock and Roll

Labor Day weekend, 1983, Oxford, Ohio. After owning struggling top-40 radio station 97.7 FM WOXY for just over two years, owners Doug and Linda Balogh try something new. At the behest of part-time DJ Steve Stenken, they adopt the modern rock format pioneered by L.A.’s KROQ.  They even make Stenken program director of the new “97X,” the nation’s sixth modern rock radio station.

The area’s college students, particularly those at nearby Miami University, welcome the new format but convincing advertisers that it’s viable is the next challenge. “Some of the ‘suits’ we called on…had no clue what we were doing,” Doug Balogh recalls. “‘What kind of music do you play?’ U2 and R.E.M. They’re sitting there thinking rapid eye movement and spy planes.”

97X, however, flourished becoming an institution not only in Southwest Ohio but across the country. In the film Rain Man, partly filmed in Cincinnati, Dustin Hoffman’s character blurts the station's tagline “97X-Bam! The future of rock and roll,” six times.

For nearly 20 years it was an important part of the alternative music culture in Cincinnati with its Live Lounge sessions, Low Dose shows, and of course the annual Modern Rock 500 on Memorial Day Weekend. The latter would count down the greatest alternative rock songs of all time.

Serving Dayton and Cincinnati, but completely covering neither, its sometimes-hard-to-get signal was simply part of its charm. That poor signal, however, didn’t seem to keep potential buyers away. In 1998 Balogh famously told Spin magazine, “I won’t sell my dogs, and I won’t sell my radio station.” But with the passing of the Telecommunications Act in 1996, competing with the big broadcasting chains for ad dollars became harder. By 2003, the Baloghs began to reconsider their stance.

In January of 2004, WOXY was sold to First Broadcasting of Dallas for $5.6 million, and the couple retired to New Mexico. The station would change hands that May, presumably silencing “The Future of Rock and Roll.” Listeners were crushed, but there was a glimmer of hope.

Back in 1998, the station began streaming its signal online, one of the first radio stations to do so. While the transmitter and building were to be sold, the logos, music library--- essentially the entire 97X brand--- would move exclusively to the Internet. After four and a half months though, the Internet-only WOXY was unable to secure funding and the station went silent on May 13, 2004. A day later a group of so-called angel investors surfaced and offered to fund WOXY.com.

The operation moved from Oxford to Longworth Hall in Cincinnati but faced new challenges. A subscription fee was eventually put in place in hopes of raising more revenue than on-air commercials and web banner ads were bringing in. Listeners bristled and many tuned out. The station was shut down again on September 15, 2005.

Another 11th-hour rescue ensued as Bill Nguyen, an Internet entrepreneur, bought the station. His plan was to align the station with his online CD trading service, lala.com, and tap into WOXY’s vast library of alternative music. The problem was that lala was interested in moving more than just alternative and indie rock.

While the relationship was mutually beneficial, lala’s thoughts gradually drifted elsewhere and in 2009 WOXY.com was acquired by its third set of owners John Mascarenhas and Larry Little owners of something called Future Sounds. That company was a multi-faceted media outfit that tried to get small, unsigned artists exposure. It seemed to be the perfect marriage. “WOXY is a really great brand,” said co-founder Mascarenhas at the time WOXY.com was acquired, “with a lot of history and a lot of credibility. Everyone knows it, and we look at it as a great mouthpiece for the indie music world.”

Back in 2005, after the second sign-off, Mascarenhas had also been interested in buying the station. Nguyen, however, had the fatter wallet and beat him to it. Instead Mascarenhas and partner Little formed Future Sounds.

They continued to covet WOXY.com, seeing it as the perfect way to get their artists heard by a global audience. In the meantime, they began doing work for lala, getting that company’s “widget,” or sales window/link, on to various websites. During a meeting in 2009, Mascarenhas and Little offered to buy WOXY.com and Nguyen accepted.

Future Sounds moved the station to Austin, Texas but less than a year later, the station suddenly stopped steaming, citing the realities of Internet broadcasting and an overall lack of funding.

Meanwhile, the new owners of the terrestrial signal briefly programmed a satellite-based modern rock format after taking over in 2004. Within a year, they switched to an adult hits format. That lasted until 2010 when the station became La Mega 97.7, featuring a Spanish language variety format.

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