In 1992, Atlanta's main "top 40" station Power 99.7 flipped overnight to something amazing: 99x. Suddenly they were playing, as they called it "the music you actually listen to." R.E.M., The Cure, Depeche Mode - you name it - actual cool music. One of the main players in figuring out what 99x would be was program director and award-winning morning co-host Leslie Fram - would stay with the station until 2008. At 99x, she was a major national force in breaking "alternative" bands and actually made commercial radio sound tolerable. But in 2008, she decamped for the bright lights of New York City to help steer the ship for a recently launched station - WRXP. So who cares, right? Not so fast - first, launching a new terrestrial radio station and one focused on actual rock 'n' roll music in this day and age is actually quite contrarian. And WRXP's playlist doesn't look like anything I'd ever seen. So we wanted to catch up with Leslie to hear the story.
: So in the past year and a half, you've done what looked impossible:
helped establish a brand new commercial rock radio station in the biggest
market in the U.S. in an era when rock radio is having major troubles -
your previous station - Atlanta's "99x" having been relegated to web
and HD broadcasting. What made you think it was a good idea to give
the medium another shot with WRXP in New York City?
Fram: The station launched well before I landed! I can't take any credit, there is a brilliant team in place here that made it happen. Emmis is a solid company with heritage brands around the country in all formats. Through research of the rock audience in NYC there was a definite hole for a different kind of rock station than what currently existed in the market. Q104 is a solid Classic Rock/Classic Hits station with a long history/heritage in the market and when I arrived, WXRK (K-ROCK) was still on the air as a more Active leaning Alternative that played some classic rock. Research showed a definite hole for a variety rock station that played a mixture of classic rock, deep cuts, new music, alternative and support of the local music scene. The station immediately took on a New York-centric personality. The first song ever played on 1019RXP was The Velvet Underground "Rock & Roll" (coincidentally the second song was the new R.E.M.). The element of surprise that happens daily has driven some listeners back to radio! As a radio geek I am very excited about that! Progressive rock radio in the 70's was all about discovery and DJ's that knew the music. At RXP we deliver that promise every day!
PasteWilco, The Hold Steady and Death Cab for Cutie with young bands like
Manchester Orchestra and Phoenix alongside straight up classic rock
like Tom Petty, Zeppelin, the Police - and then mixing in 90s bands
like Semisonic, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and Collective Soul. In
short - what's the idea? Is anyone else doing this?
Fram: I am not sure if anyone else is doing this but in our short lifespan of building this brand the passion from our listeners is something I've never experienced before. I am so lucky to work for real radio people. Unfortunately our business became over-researched with predictable playlists and air talent that were relegated to reading liner cards. Radio underestimated the audience that was out there. We drove people away to their iPods, internet and satellite radio. I truly believe that with engaging air talent who know the music and a station that provides true variety, radio can survive the multitude of choices. Radio is still the number one place where people discover new music!
Paste: What did you and your morning co-host Matt Pinfield (of MTV/VH1/120 Minutes
fame) have to do to get a new rock station established in NY? How has
it been different than building 99x in the early 90s when you had the
benefit of riding in tandem with the rise of alternative and grunge?
Fram: It's a different kind of morning show based on Matt's relationship with the audience and the artists. We started by just inviting artists on the air. Every day we have one to two live performances that vary from local bands to major label artists. Over the last 6 months this has included The Killers, Dave Matthews, Kings Of Leon, Silversun Pickups, Chris Cornell, John Fogerty & Joe Perry to Regina Spektor, David Gray, Andrew Bird and local artists like St. Vincent, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Grizzly Bear, White Rabbits and Chairlift. It's a definite home for musicians, even country star Brad Paisley came on our show! We knew he was an amazing guitar player so we invited him on to talk about his favorite music and he ended up doing an acoustic version of "Layla". The listeners have accepted the variety of interviews/performances and love Matt Pinfield's rock history stories. It's a daily education for me as well! It's a small staff too-just me, Pinfield, our Producer Matt Ianni and two part-time assistants, Jason Taubenfeld and Andrew Veras. The other thing I wanted to focus on the first 6 months to get established was meeting with all the local tastemakers to make sure they knew we existed. Everyone from managers and agents to magazines and editors. We have developed amazing relationships with the Village Voice, Time Out New York, New York magazine and Paste!
Paste: What's the biggest challenge you're facing in terrestrial radio these
days? Like print - some say it's a dying medium. You're dealing with
satellite, mobile radio, iPods, web radio, etc. Is there a future in
what you're doing at WRXP?
Fram: It is our responsibility as broadcasters to make it entertaining, authentic and relevant. The choices are out there but it's ok to embrace them. Our stream is available on iPhones and Blackberrys. We podcast all of our interviews/performances. We're active with social networking. Our Interactive Media Director Jeffrey Thacker is a one-man show! Just check out our website (1019RXP.com). Emmis has made a commitment to the future as is evident by our brand extensions. Greg Russ-who you may remember as 'Dekker'-99X's night guy, is our new Viral Expert and we just hired a Digital Video and Content Producer. Emmis Marketing Director Brian D'Aurelio oversees the New York Cluster and all of these amazing endeavors. All 3 NY stations (Hot 97, Kiss-Fm and RXP) have a TV component on our websites. Radio will also survive because we remain a voice for the local community and a free form of entertainment that people still desire as their companion piece and source of information.
Paste: We all know about payola, which evolved into paying indie promoters who
had relationships with stations to get certain bands played. Is there
anything left to that system - such as it was? How do you and your
partner Matt Pinfield decide what gets played? There's only a few
slots on your air for new bands.
Fram: It was an ugly side of the business that I was never a part of. At 99X and here at 1019RXP, we play music that we personally love or artists who speak to the NY audience. We play signed and unsigned bands based on how good the music is. It really is that simple! Our entire staff listens as well including Music Director Brian Phillips, Assistant PD Steve Craig and our PM Drive host Nik Carter. Everyone is invited into the music meetings! We have a small staff and everyone works 24/7. Someone on the staff is out every night of the week checking out a new band or going to one of the multitude of shows in the Tri-State!
Paste: All our mutual Atlanta peeps would kill me if I didn't ask if we'll
ever get you back. So I'm asking: will we ever get you back in the
Fram: I will always support the Georgia Music scene though-I'll be back next weekend to host the Georgia Music Hall Of Fame inductions with Monica Pearson!