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Music: Separated at Birth

97X lives on in cyberspace while X97 works to establish itself in the local market place

By P.F. Wilson · October 6th, 2004 · Music
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General Manager Bryan Miller straightens up at the new Cincinnati studio headquarters for woxy.com.
Dale M. Johnson

General Manager Bryan Miller straightens up at the new Cincinnati studio headquarters for woxy.com.



"It was a real Frank Capra moment," Doug Balogh says. "It died, and the Phoenix rose from the ashes."

That's how he describes the death and resurrection of a local institution. It was May 13, 2004. His Modern Rock radio station, 97X, "The Future of Rock and Roll," had been sold some months earlier, but he'd hoped to keep broadcasting on the Internet. All attempts to find investors, however, had failed.

"The last day was a Thursday and the following Friday ... we had pretty much given up all hope," General Manager Bryan Miller adds. "It was kind of rock bottom."

Balogh went to work that Friday to wrap up some loose ends. "For the first time the building was silent," he recalls.

At 10:30 a.m. he left, and as he walked into the parking lot a car pulled up. It was an emissary from a group of investors, apparently riding in at the 12th hour.

"They rolled down the window and asked a few questions," Balogh says. A few weeks later, 97X was again broadcasting on the Web at

General Manager Bryan Miller straightens up at the new Cincinnati studio headquarters for woxy.com.
Dale M. Johnson

General Manager Bryan Miller straightens up at the new Cincinnati studio headquarters for woxy.com.



"It was a real Frank Capra moment," Doug Balogh says. "It died, and the Phoenix rose from the ashes."

That's how he describes the death and resurrection of a local institution. It was May 13, 2004. His Modern Rock radio station, 97X, "The Future of Rock and Roll," had been sold some months earlier, but he'd hoped to keep broadcasting on the Internet.

All attempts to find investors, however, had failed.

"The last day was a Thursday and the following Friday ... we had pretty much given up all hope," General Manager Bryan Miller adds. "It was kind of rock bottom."

Balogh went to work that Friday to wrap up some loose ends. "For the first time the building was silent," he recalls.

At 10:30 a.m. he left, and as he walked into the parking lot a car pulled up. It was an emissary from a group of investors, apparently riding in at the 12th hour.

"They rolled down the window and asked a few questions," Balogh says. A few weeks later, 97X was again broadcasting on the Web at woxy.com.

"We couldn't say anything for about a month until things were finalized," Miller says. And while speculation has run rampant about the exact identity of the cavalry, "they pretty much want to remain totally anonymous."

Balogh, speaking from his home in New Mexico, will only say, "They grew up with the station and ... it was an important part of their lives." 97X will remain a part of the Balogh's life, though he and wife Linda will have diminished roles in the new operation.

"We've handed it off to the next generation of entrepreneurs," he says, describing his life now as "the definition of semi-retirement." The couple plans to maintain residences in both New Mexico and Greater Cincinnati.

Back in Oxford, many things changed at the studios on College Corner Pike. "There was a lot of stuff we had to do when we had an FM signal," Miller says. "We'd thought that a lot of our time would get freed up, because a lot of that stuff we weren't going to have to worry about anymore."

But with only four staff members, the workload remained heavy. "It's been really busy actually. We've all been incredibly busy trying (to get) this rolling back to where we were and moving forward."

In early September, freed from their dependence on radio towers and directional signals, the 97X gang migrated down to Cincinnati and established new offices in Longworth Hall, just west of downtown.

Longtime listeners might have noticed a slight change in the 97X format.

"In terms of programming, we've really stepped out there a bit more," Miller says. For example, where before only a few songs from a CD would be eligible for airplay, now in many cases several and some times all tracks can be played. "So you're hearing a lot more depth."

Sponsoring concerts will be slightly different now as well, where the station might now sponsor whole tours instead of just Cincinnati or Dayton dates.

"We're considering that," Miller says. "We have considered sponsoring whole tours, but we haven't gotten beyond the idea phase."

Longtime 97X listeners will also be happy to hear that a station favorite, the annual Memorial Day Weekend countdown known as "The Modern Rock 500," might return next year. "We've been kicking around that idea, and I think (it will return) because that's part of what we do," Miller says. "I can't say for certain, but, yeah, I definitely think we would do that."

In terms of local and unsigned artists, woxy.com plans to expand its horizons and feature more acts from around the country.

"We're not going to ignore Cincinnati," Miller explains. "But at the same time there's no particular reason to limit ourselves now to Cincinnati. We're probably going to be more influenced by (local) bands because they're here and we're here. We're going to be rolling out more initiatives from the unsigned band front as we move through the year."

The Baloghs sold the WOXY signal to First Broadcasting, based in Dallas. The station is now known as X97, and former 97X Assistant Program Director Matt Sledge is general manager and the operation's sole employee.

"Things are going fine," he says. "I said this when 97X was shutting down -- the new WOXY is going to be nothing like 97X was, because it can't be. Especially in this day and age ... it's hard to do that. While we do share some songs (with 97X), as far as having a wide open play-list like that, in this day and age, it's almost suicidal for a radio station."

Sledge describes the new station as having a "mainstream Alt format that has a bit of a classic Alternative lean, that's not afraid to step out of the box." Much of the station is actually beamed in via satellite from Nebraska. Sledge is the only local on-air personality.

"But I can add songs," he points out. "I can make the station as local as humanly possible."

And, he notes, the majority of the audience doesn't care. "(They're) passive radio listeners, and they just want to hear the music. There's been a good majority of former 97X listeners that have been enjoying what I've been doing. Quite a few like the station. Some don't, but that goes with the territory."

For now, the WOXY call letters will remain.

"And I know that's causing a bit of confusion," Sledge admits, adding that an X97 Web site is "down the road" and local music coverage is "being worked on."

Alternative music fans might recall that in 1980 Vince Clarke left Depeche Mode, leaving fans of that band wondering what would happen to him and his former mates. Depeche Mode went on to eventually sell out arenas (and, some would contend, just plain sell out), while Clarke had a successful career as half of the duo Yaz-oo (with Alison Moyet) and later Erasure (with Andy Bell). In other words, the split gave fans more than the sum of the parts.

Area Alternative Rock fans hope that will be the case with 97X and X97. ©

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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