There was an initial small buzz of excitement around town when the “new rock alternative” station 99 X made its on-air debut a week ago.
It diminished to a very low-frequency hum, as area music fans realized the station wouldn't feature a wide-ranging list of the most interesting new music, a local slant, or even actual air personalities. 99 X is the latest Clear Channel offering, perched at the formerly unused frequency 99.1 FM. The station is one of a number of prepackaged formats, dubbed "Premium Choice," that issue straight from Clear Channel’s San Antonio headquarters. It’s already been airing for a couple of years on the HD2 channel of WMMS-FM, also a Clear Channel station. But since no one owns an HD radio, no one’s heard it until now.
With only 250 watts, the station’s reach rivals that of a Fisher-Price cell phone. It cuts out in parts of downtown and is virtually unlistenable in Cleveland Heights. “It can reach 10 to 15 miles from our tower in Middleburg Heights,” says Bo Matthews, who's been named PD of 99 X in addition to holding the same position at WMMS and WAKS, before adding: “You can listen online or use IHeartRadio,” Clear Channel’s heavily promoted app, which provides digital links to its stations across the country.
An initial listen seemed to indicate 99 X focused on ’90s-based alternative rather than new tracks. But Matthews says, “I wouldn’t call it classic alternative. There’s ’90s stuff but those are gold records on alternative stations all over the country. But it’s a current based-format. The same way WMMS plays Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, we play older stuff on 9.99 like STP, Pearl Jam, and the Offspring.”
In fact, both stations play a lot of ’90s rock. But while WMMS mixes Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana & STP with Linkin Park, Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses, 99 X alternatives them with bands like Fun, Silversun Pickups, Young the Giant, and former Akronites Black Keys.
Meanwhile, the station’s Facebook page, with just under 500 “likes” after a week on the air, was quickly reduced to cheap tactics more commonly associated with free newspapers.
“Let’s be real,” said one post. “We have zero marketing budget — so if you want 99X to stay in CLE, please do two things for us. Click LIKE, and then click SHARE. Let’s get this spreading like a bad rash. Thanks!”
Also posted last week: “The more likes we get, the more the Indians win.” The Tribe went on to get swept by the White Sox.