Clear Channel Buys One of Last Independent Alternative Stations in U.S.

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A former programmer at WFNX 101.7 FM in Boston said "We may never see the ability of an ordinary American citizen to own a radio station ever again."

One of the last independently owned and operated major market radio frequencies, 101.7 FM in Boston, currently known as WFNX (Alternative Boston), has been sold by the Phoenix Media-Communications Group to Clear Channel Media and Entertainment. ??

The sale gives Clear Channel its fifth station in the market joining mainstream top 40 WXKS-FM, rhythmic top 40 WJMN, talk WXKS-AM and Spanish Contemporary WKOX-AM. Early reports say the company will change the format of WFNX to something new though nothing official has come from Clear Channel.

"This was a great opportunity to expand our footprint and our listenership in Boston, a key market with millions of fans who love radio as much as we do," Clear Channel CEO John Hogan said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. ??

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The 29-year-old station was one of the first outlets in the United States to program the alternative format. It has survived and thrived over the years fighting off competitors like CBS Radio's WBCN which dropped alternative music for an all-sports format in 2009, despite having a signal deficiency that prevented it from being heard throughout the entire market. ??

In an emotional memo posted on the Web site of the Boston Phoenix, which is owned by Phoenix Media, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Mindich extolled the station's many achievements over the years but cites financial reasons for the change saying, "for some time it has been difficult to sustain the station -- especially since the start of the Great Recession. And that is why the station is being sold."

Max Tolkoff, owner of XPD Promotions who programmed the station twice, once from 1989 to 1994 and again from 2004 to 2007, says Mindich doesn't get enough credit in the radio industry for the pioneering spirit he brought to broadcasting after initially purchasing the station to compliment the Phoenix, his weekly newspaper, "which was the print equivalent of an alternative station." ??

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Tolkoff says Mindich stood firm for years while the station struggled to make money and has held on even as the alternative format's popularity waned in recent years. ??

Speaking to the current state of the industry, Tolkoff says operators like Mindich are becoming extinct due to the industry's de-regulation in 1993, "we may never see the ability of an ordinary American citizen to own a radio station ever again. Discussing the good old days when stations like this could actually be created by a small group of investors (usually dentists, doctors, and lawyers) is almost like talking about how great life was in Middle Earth." ??

The station will remain on the air and in format until the license change officially clears the FCC. While events already on the calendar including the annual Best Music Poll will continue though reports indicate the staff has been reduced to just a skeleton crew.