Down But Not Out: The Fight for 99X
Last Wednesday at the stroke of midnight, local radio station 99X complied with an order from the Federal Communications Commission to cease broadcasting on 98.9 FM. Less than one week later on April 16th, several bands and members of the 99X team took to the stage in front of a lively crowd to show that the station is far from done.
Headlined by Zale and featuring performances by Sarah and the Safe Word, Chelsea Shag, and The Stir, 99X's Down But Not Out show was an exciting representation of what the Atlanta music scene has to offer. Fans from all of the acts were there to celebrate the station's dedication to hardworking musicians and those outside the mainstream.
Evan Brando, a host on 99X's "Must Not Suck" segment that showcases local talent on Sunday nights, oozed with enthusiasm and confidence despite the FCC's ruling.
"We're going to keep plugging away because this is the 'Little Station That Could' and I care too much about it - and everyone else seems to care too much about it - to not keep going."
While the decision was a swift surprise to both listeners and staff members alike, issues of signal interference surrounding 99X have been happening quietly since 2014. Broadcasting conflicts with Great Classics 98.9 out of Tallapoosa, Georgia have led to numerous signal tests by station representatives and even a reduction in broadcast power by 99X in attempt to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, the two stations could not reach a consensus and the FCC eventually ruled in favor of Great Classics 98.9, a station that has playlists akin to other oldies stations around metro Atlanta.
The news may have been enough to dishearten even the most passionate of Atlanta's alternative music fans, but you couldn't tell by the energy inside Vinyl at Center Stage. The crowd danced and bounced along to the tight, infectious grooves of each group and fed off the presence of undeniably charismatic lead singers, including Hannah Zale of the band Zale. A native of Warner Robins and a graduate of the University of Georgia, Zale has a special place in her heart for 99X.
"It has really been a source of inspiration over the years," Zale said. "Having my music played on 99X was a huge milestone for me."
She detailed as much during Zale's mesmerizing set, describing how several of her breakthrough career moments have been facilitated by 99X. However, as magnetic as she is on the stage, she was quick to rightfully credit her bandmates for the success that they have attained.
"I find myself in a collaborative state now more than I've ever been at this point in my career," Zale explained. "Everyone in this group brings something extremely unique and wonderful to the table that I cannot do myself. We all support each other and rise to the occasion each night on stage."
When all is said and done, community support is exactly what makes Atlanta such a special scene for music. People from bands of all sizes and genres support one another at gigs small and large. Despite the various goals and aspirations of bands in the area, musicians take the time to trade EPs, talk craft, and even hook up for other projects. And although 99X is currently off the radio, Evan Brando and his colleagues look to continue cultivating that atmosphere.
"My strategy has been business as usual," Brando said. "This station is kind of like a phoenix. The universe may not want our station happy and successful, but it wants it around. It gives me some clarity and peace of mind to know we're going to fight this thing and that there are a lot of people who really care about the station."
It seems that the FCC has only energized the folks at 99X. How has the station responded to its silencing?
"The first thing we did was send a letter to [FCC Chairman] Ajit Pai challenging him to a ski-off," Brando said with a grin. "The idea just seemed like something out of an 80's movie."
Time will tell if Mr. Pai is man enough to lace up his ski boots. Until then, expect 99X to keep fighting the good fight for Atlanta musicians.
Photo credit: Laura Gilbert