In May, the sale of Boston's alternative-rock station WFNX-FM to Clear Channel was announced and most of the staff dismissed. On Monday Boston.com announced the upcoming launch of a web radio statio featuring six former WFNX personnel. This news was soon followed by news that original FNX owner Phoenix Media / Communications Group had retained rights to WFNX intellectual property and would be launching its own web station.
Thickening the plot is the fact that Boston.com is the website of The Boston Globe while Phoenix Media is the owner of The Boston Phoenix, two long-time competing newspapers whose rivalry may now continue via radio.
Pitching these web radio developments as a battle between two papers is not entirely correct though it is a strong subtext of the news. Boston.com's new station will be featured on the site and is an interesting combination given the struggles of both the newspaper industry and terrestrial radio. It's unclear how Phoenix Media's new version of WFNX will situate itself but, so far, it's not being pitched as a Boston Phoenix station though it seems likely that there will be plenty of crossmarketing.
The backstory for the launch of both web radio stations is not only the sale of WFNX to Clear Channel, who will change the station's format from indie rock, but the sale of multiple assets of Phoenix Media. In addition, though the station will remain on air through late July, most of the staff of around twenty-one was fired leaving a skeleton crew of four.
These developments opened up the opportunity for Boston.com to announce a web radio station featuring former WFNX personnel:
"DJs Henry Santoro, Julie Kramer, Adam 12, former WFNX program director Paul Driscoll, as well as the station's former sales rep Johnny L Lavasseur and operations and promotions director Mike Snow."
This announcement apparently upset Phoenix Media owner Stephen Mindich who announced an online version of WFNX a few hours after Boston.com's announcement. Mindich was described as "surprised and not too pleased" by the news.
If Mindich was actually caught by surprise, it means that despite all the activity that would surround six hires from his former station the news did not get back to him. This suggests a major disconnect between Mindich and the staff of the radio station that he founded almost 30 years ago. That said, you can check out Mindich's early statements where he discusses the sale.
Boston.com will announce the launch date of their new web station in late summer. Boston.com general manager Lisa DeSisto, who is also chief advertising officer for The Boston Globe, stated:
"Boston.com has been at the forefront of multimedia for some time now, producing award-winning videos, live video programming, interactive content, and more...We’ve long thought radio would be a natural extension for us, and we’re fortunate to launch with such an incredible team."
Given the shared difficulties of newspapers and terrestrial radio in shifting to the web, it's exciting to see a combo of two such ventures by the digital arm of a newspaper company. Since successful web papers have become multimedia companies, Boston.com should be well situated to launch a station with personnel who have a deep understanding of local radio.
Though this is but one of many experiments occurring as old school media goes new school, it will likely be closely watched as a potential model for emerging multimedia companies that seek to retain a strong local focus.
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) blogs about business at Flux Research: Business Changes and about dance at All World Dance: News. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.