New Project Notes: 97X/WOXY Book
I just finished drafting The Sonic Episteme, so now I’m figuring out what’s next. This is one of the large-scale projects (probably a book) that is in the queue:
“The future of rock n roll”–most people know this phrase from two possibly related places: a segment in the 1988 film Rain Man, or a line from The Dead Kennedys 1985 song “MTV Get Off The Air.” In the song, lead singer Jello Biafra parodies the voice of an MTV VJ as he proclaims “THIS [MTV] is the future/of rock n roll” just before the song takes off on its critique of the then relatively new TV channel. In the film, Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character repeats the phrase “97x, BAM the future of rock and roll” several times in a row. The phrase is the liner for the Oxford, Ohio radio station WOXY 97x, and the liner played diegetically in the scene as Hoffman’s and Tom Crusie’s character drive on a two-lane highway somewhere in the Cincinnati area. The station changed their liner at the request of Rain Man producers. Two years earlier, in 1986, the station changed their liner from “97x–Dare to be different” and “97x–The station your mother warned you about” to “97x–The Future is Now” and “97X–The Future is Here”. The idea that their station and its commercial modern rock format was futuristic originated within the station itself; the Rain Man producers just added a Bam! And told us what exactly this station was the future of–rock and roll. “97X–Bam, The Future of Rock and Roll” remained the station’s liner until its final closure in 2010, though once the station ceased terrestrial FM broadcast and moved fully online, they amended the liner to “WOXY, The Future of Rock and Roll.”
Most of the academic literature on 97X/WOXY treats it as a case study of early internet radio, and uses its repeated attempts to develop a sustainable business model to point to the challenges the internet posed to the music industry. The internet was just too futuristic for the future of rock and roll. But rather than focusing on its death, I want to focus on what 97X/WOXY was while it was alive and operational. What was the future of rock and roll? How did it sound? What was its programming like? How was its programming related to other college rock or alternative or later indie radio stations? In what ways was it a local, southwestern Ohio station? What impact did it have on the Cincinnati-Dayton independent rock scene?
These aesthetic and social questions give us a better sense of why the station could thrive when and how it did, and the challenges it faced in the 21st century. These challenges are about more than just business model and media. They were aesthetic and social as well. As neoliberalism matured at the turn of the millennium, indie or DIY production ceases to be a way to resist mass culture and becomes instead capitalism’s preferred mode of production–now we live in the era of “craft” everything and hipster stores in the mall. Thus, the genre of “indie” or “independent” rock that WOXY highlighted no longer represented values counter to those of the mainstream music industry. Similarly, neoliberalism changes aesthetic values, such as the value of transgression and even the concept of the future, which is modeled less on transgressive newness and more on financialized speculation. In this context, the concept of the “future” of rock and roll means something different than it did in the early 1980s–it looks less like newness and more like predictably successful investment. By 2010, 97X no longer sounds like the future–and not just because the concept of the future has evolved, but also because rock and roll is no longer the cutting edge of global north youth culture. As youth culture shifts away from rock, mainstream consumer behavior shifts from genre-focused to omnivorous listening. In 1996, sociologists Peterson & Kern identified “omnivorousness” as the new model for elite taste. A decade later, when iTunes and the iPod shuffle are released, omnivorousness was no longer elite but mainstream. With shows like “Blues Breakfast,” “97XXXTRABEATS” (an electronic dance music show), “Local Lix,” and “Dreadloxx” 97X reflected the genre eclecticism that was always a part of post-punk and the 80s downtown NYC scene. And while such eclecticism used to represents an alternative to mainstream listening habits and their genre- and format-focused boundaries, by the early 21st century technological developments like iTunes and streaming, combined with the rise of “post-genre” music, made such omnivorous listening common, not elite or subcultural. The aesthetic and social context that grounded “The Future of Rock and Roll” in the 1980s no longer existed in the 2010s. The rise and fall of 97X is a microcosm of the broader impacts maturing neoliberalisms were having on pop music at the turn of the 20th-21st centuries.
I offer this project both as an attempt to document and preserve the history of 97X in the scholarly literature on popular music, and to think more broadly about both the aesthetic and social conditions in which “modern rock” and “the future of rock and roll” made sense, and how neoliberalism altered those aesthetic and social conditions to create a context in which “the future of rock and roll” is something that seems both literally and figuratively in the past.
Tentative (and evolving) chapter outline
- What and who were 97x WOXY?
- The Baloghs
- Oxford, Cincinnati, Dayton
- The station
- The people
- In pop culture
- What was modern rock?
- Scholars and Rock Critics
- 97 best/MR 500
- From Punk DIY to Indie Capitalism
- Evolving concepts of the future
- Modernist future as newness
- Neoliberal future as speculation
- Neither record companies nor artists can afford to take creatives risks anymore/Ghost Ship and the closing of clubs everywhere bc of gentrification
- The Girl/B.Traits/Indie in 2017 as primarily women, trans/nb, POC
- 2004, the year Omnivorousness Broke
- [If I can find the messageboards on Wayback, do I want/need to talk about them?]
- [If I can get enough interviews, do I want to interview employees and listeners, asking them each about what their favorite song that they thought most defined the station? Wht is their quintessential 97x song?]