X Marked the Spot

Few things in life are as important as music. Recorded or live on stage, in your iPod or on your radio, certain songs and musicians take root in your brain like a weed. You can't kill them. You can

Few things in life are as important as music. Recorded or live on stage, in your iPod or on your radio, certain songs and musicians take root in your brain like a weed.

You can't kill them. You can only hope to reach an accommodation with them that allows you to function on a daily basis.

I can't hear "Hey Jude" without flashing back to being 8 or 9 at a neighbor's house stealing listens to his big brother's records. Early Bruce Springsteen takes me back to high school, when he gave me a flag to fly for my East Coast roots after we'd moved to Tennessee.

College memories are particularly tied to a musical soundtrack, as my first years on my own coincided with the explosion of New Wave in the late '70s. Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson, The Clash, The Ramones and The Pretenders still transport me back to my little dorm room.

Shortly after moving to Cincinnati 20 years ago, I found 97X on the radio dial and, even though I knew just one person here when I arrived, I had a friend. They played all the music I was into and, as radio is supposed to do, introduced me to new bands and new variations of "Modern Rock."

The Grunge years in the early '90s were, I think, 97X's heyday as a major presence on Cincinnati's radio landscape. They were breaking the new stars of the Seattle scene as the other media hopelessly lagged behind the music, the faces and the flannel.

I remember hanging out with the 97X staff at the second Lollapalooza at Riverbend, when the station had its people and its banners everywhere. I sat in backstage when a 97X DJ interviewed Eddie Vedder, who'd just finished the Pearl Jam set and was shaking and throwing up.

My other great memory of that time was the station's 10th anniversary party at Bogart's. A new band called Barenaked Ladies opened for one of my favorites, Too Much Joy, who opened for Royal Crescent Mob, who always put on an unbelievable show. The concert ended with all three bands onstage wrestling with each other and taking turns diving into the crowd.

Part of the reason I got to know the 97X staff then was that a business relationship had been formed between the station and Everybody's News, the free newspaper where I was editor. The paper advertised on 97X, the station advertised in the paper and we appealed to similarly young, alternative types.

I used to drive up to Oxford occasionally to talk about local music and entertainment on the air, and that's when I got to know the dedicated people behind the scenes — Phil Manning, Julie Maxwell, Steve Baker, Dave Tellman, Jae Forman, Damian Dotterweich and the father figure, Doug Balogh. They'd have our young music writers on the air, too, including a college intern named Mike Breen. (See Minimum Gauge for his thoughts on 97X's demise.)

When I helped start CityBeat in 1994, one of the first people I called was Balogh, because I knew we'd gain instant credibility with 97X as a promotional partner. Doug simply said he'd help however he could.

I've probably met with Doug just a handful of times over the past 10 years, but he's always been a solid supporter and friend of CityBeat. He openly shared his thoughts with us on how to compete against corporate media as a small independent business, and every now and then he'd hatch a scheme to link 97X and CityBeat in sales and marketing efforts.

I think one of Doug's disappointments over the years was not being able to translate 97X's extremely loyal and upwardly mobile listener base into wider commercial support in Cincinnati. He could never understand why the young lions at local ad agencies (who told him they were 97X listeners) wouldn't go to bat for him to their big-time clients — he didn't want a hand-out, just his fair share of their advertising budgets.

But 97X didn't get the ad support it deserved, and thus Doug wasn't able to invest aggressively in upgrading the signal, which doomed the station to the fringes of local radio. And if advertisers don't seem to "get" an independent Alternative Rock radio station, is it any surprise Doug can't convince them to support his vision for a Web-only station?

And so one more independent media voice bites the dust in Cincinnati. But as one of the last standing, we at CityBeat wonder if people think it matters.

Does it matter to you that the daily morning paper, the network affiliate TV stations, the 14 highest rated radio stations, the most popular media Web site, the monthly city magazine, the weekly business paper and almost all of the suburban papers here are owned by out-of-town media companies? Does it matter that the only locally-owned mainstream media outlet, The Post, approaches its own demise?

Many of us will miss 97X, but I still have the CDs and the mix tapes of the music that matters to me. What can't be replaced is Doug Balogh's dedication to his mission, to his listeners and to standing out as an independent voice in a corporate-dominated media world.

Thank you, friend, for inspiring us to remember that one person — and one business — can still make a difference.

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