97X bites the dust
Joe Courter
May/June 1998

"Bought and sold, we were bought and sold," was how former 97X deejay Jerry Gerard described the demise of one of the best radio stations in the country.

For many people, there is a huge void in the airwaves now, and in our lives. Those of us X-heads were privy to a wide assortment of music, presented in a coherent flow by deejays who spoke to you, not at you, with warmth and humor, not arrogance and cynicism. The music was what made you listen, not the bribe of prizes and cash money giveaways. All listeners of 97X were made rich by our expanded musical horizons: local musicians benefited by getting their music on the air and in interviews in the doghouse with Jerry. Touring bands and musicians got pre-gig exposure, which gave club-goers a taste of what to expect and leading to larger crowds and record sales at the shows. These touring bands are not big budget operations either they need that exposure that the expensive corporate greed has killed here in Gainesville. 97X was nominated as one of the best small-market alternative stations--one of only two so-named east of the Mississippi.

It is bad enough that Entercom, Inc., the Washington state-based corporation which already owns WKTK-FM in Gainesville and over 37 other stations, snatched little 97X up, dismissed its staff, and capriciously altered its format without even giving it a chance. It was just greed and market surveys that mattered to them and their surveys don't care about local culture or about musical diversity or quality. Their surveys care not a whit for what "we" want. Their surveys are designed to deliver the radio programming that corporate money will pay for and deliver the audience the corporations want. And that is not "us". That alleged audience will be reached by 50,000 watts of news, talk, and sports. 50,000 watts of Rush Limbaugh, 50,000 watts of Dr. Laura, a moralistic Christian radio psychologist, and 50,000 watts of Seminoles & Jaguars.

But to me that's not the most bitter pill to swallow. We see the cold power of corporations all around us in America in the 1980s and 1990s. We see locally owned bookstores, hardware stores, eateries and pubs priced out of existence by corporate chains securing their market niches. We see competent, long-time workers laid off or "downsized" in manufacturing areas as corporations pursue cheap labor elsewhere. We see the corporation-friendly temp-labor system (no benefits, low wages) taking hold where the path of job advancement becomes a dead end.

The demise of 97X was just an example that hit a lot of us directly where we live, wrenching a vital part of our community away from us and crushing it. The blame for the loss of 97X can't really be put at the feet of the former owner. He was a businessman caught in a squeeze that turned a mediocre money-losing station into an artistic success, but still making little money. When Entercom made their offer, he couldn't resist--his family/business partners (his mom and brother) out-voted him, and the deal was done. And Entercom, Inc. is owned by people not intentionally out to mess up our lives, but who just see doing business in cold cash terms, and see news, talk, and sports as their way to do it. Maybe their format change will fail miserably, and they'll come back to music of quality delivered in an artistic and positive way. I won't hold my breath on the latter, and I hope for the former with all my being. The frustration at having it all go down THE WAY IT DID is what really irks me.

For me the most bitter pill came a couple days after 97X had their plug pulled, just minutes after I saw the headline in the Gainesville Sun trumpeting the news that Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura would be filling the space formerly occupied by Jackson Heart and Jerry Gerard. I called our New York Times-owned newspaper to verify the accuracy of the report and was put through to Don Luzzatto, the metro editor. Oh, yes, he confirmed, that's the accurate story. When I mentioned how surprised I was at this change, he said that he wasn't surprised, "that's what we'd heard." "How long ago did you hear it," I asked. "Oh, since just after the sale was first announced."

I was dumbstruck! During the entire period of speculation about the fate of 97X's format--the weeks of the petition drive and the great 97X appreciation nights, when four local clubs and many, many musicians combined to save The X, the couple seemingly sympathetic articles in the Sun--the decision had already been made. And here is this corporate hack--the local editor, sitting on this story letting us play out our anguish. Did he enjoy his inside knowledge? Probably so. Did he think we would have reacted differently if we knew that's what the overlords at Entercom were planning? I'll bet he did. And would we have? You better believe it: that campaign to save 97X would have been huge. And even angry, outraged to have our local resource trashed for such crap, without giving it a chance.

The management of news, whether by news editors or by the public relations industry feeding "news" to media outlets is a real threat to an informed citizenry being able to perceive what's going on. There's a quote on the Civic Media Center's brochure which speaks to this--Noam Chomsky said the words October 18, 1993 at the speech he gave the night the Media Center first opened its doors: "Public relations--including the press--has become an industry spending a couple of billion dollars each year. They present the propaganda that insulates the centers of power from the anger of the people. Most people don't know what's being done by the corporations and don't even know they don't know."

Without the inside knowledge that Entercom was going to dump the 97X format, many of us were erroneously hopeful we could influence the corporate powers who'd already made up their minds. We had no information to think otherwise, and we fell into a sort of liberal mindset of denial--I know I did, and I'm sure many other people did too.

Was Mr. Luzzatto at the Sun doing us a favor by shielding us from the truth? Was he trying to save us from a futile effort at petitioning the corporate giant? Was he looking out for our best interest? Was he impartial and letting the chips fall where they may? Or was he doing a kind of buddy system with big media corporations, sitting on the information in collusion with them, instead of telling the truth to us, so our opposition and outrage would be muted and their takeover run smoothly? Well personally I feel tricked. I feel used. And never more has the lesson of the evils of corporate media power been clearer. When the citizens are kept from the information they need to make decisions, they are cheated; democracy is circumvented, and the power of the rich further elevated to the point when they can act with impunity.

Well, a lot of folks just got a lesson in Corporate Power. Not just an intellectual lesson, but one that affected our lives, our community, and our collective quality of life. The lesson is that with the unchecked power of corporations, our way of life is changing for the worse. Living in this corporation dominated culture, most citizens aren't even aware of the things which are kept from them: the songs they cant hear, the magazines and books they don't see, the movies that aren't made, the opinions that aren't expressed, the facts that are simply withheld.

With 97X we heard a living part of our culture--its varied musicians and songwriters who the corporate media shun. We had a community builder--acquainting musicians with listeners, their words with our heads, their varied styles affecting our aesthetic sensibilities. Now it lives in our memories and on the tapes that we may have recorded to preserve its quality and power. Jerry, Jackson, Ed--thanks for the ride.

With luck maybe we can get another radio station in the future which approaches what The X did for its too-short 4 year run. Had we been more organized, maybe we could have bought The X. Maybe if we get organized now, we can make a true legit community radio station in the near future. For now, we've got microradio, and the dribs and drabs corporate/commercial radio gives us. We need and deserve more.

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