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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Former 99Xers Leslie Fram, Steve Craig look back on three years at WRXP-FM in New York

Leslie Fram and Steve Craig at WRXP when I visited the studios in New York City in September, 2008: CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Leslie Fram and Steve Craig at WRXP when I visited the studios in New York City in September, 2008: CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Two key players from 99X’s heyday, Leslie Fram and Steve Craig, landed in New York in 2008 to build an adult-leaning rock station from scratch. Called 101.9/WRXP-FM, Craig compared it to the early days of 99X: using mostly word of mouth, guerrilla marketing and the programming smarts of Fram, the station grew steadily.

But RXP is now off the FM airwaves in New York.

Craig, in an interview last week, said he was disappointed by the change: “We committed to this wholeheartedly. We put a lot of passion into it. The listener response was absolutely amazing.”

“We were firing on all cylinders,” he added. “We had a good run.”

WRXP debuted just as the economy began to crater in 2008. As revenues and profits went south, ownersEmmis Communications could not afford to spend the millions necessary to properly promote a new station in a market the size of New York. But ratings improved over time. In June, the rock station ranked 19th in Arbitron ratings with a 2.6 rating, drawing 2.3 million weekly listeners. While hardly a hit along the lines of Z100 or WCBS-FM, it was a solid middle-of-the-pack performer.

Still, Emmis needed to sell the station to pay off debt. Randy Michaels, the wild man of radio who ran Jacor, then Clear Channel (and was unceremoniously ousted from Tribune Broadcasting last year), recently purchased three stations, including WRXP. Rumor has it he wants to change 101.9 to FM talk.

So unlike 99X, which has survived in some way, shape or form, for 19 years, WRXP only made it three and a half years in the biggest radio market in the country. (Arbitron measures metro New York at 15.7 million people compared to 4.5 million for No. 7 market Atlanta.)

Craig was befuddled when Emmis a few months ago eliminated the sales staff at RXP and merged them with the two Emmis urban stations in town. That made no sense to him. As a result, he said, “as our numbers were going up, our revenues were going down.”

Fram and Craig are now pondering their next moves. Craig said he was given a very fair seven months severance, which is equal to the rest of his contract.

Fram, Craig said, “was very upset. She was the one controlling the ship. She worked herself to the bone. She did everything she could to make sure it was working.”  I reached out to her. She accepted an email interview but as you’ll see below, she assiduously avoids negativity to the press, even if she feels negative.

Q: Things seemed to be going well with WRXP in the ratings. Then the rug was pulled out from under you. What happened with the new company? Why couldn’t you convince the new owners that RXP was viable?

Fram: It really doesn’t work that way. New owners/companies are purchasing radio for their own format ideas and business plans. The sale of WRXP had nothing to do with ratings performance.  It was purely a business decision based on reducing debt.

Q: What strategy did you pursue as you built up the station three years ago?

A: I was not there for station sign-on. Bryan Schock was executing the plan with consultant Mike Henry and VP Programming Rick Cummings, GM Dan Halyburton along with other Emmis employees. I was hired 6 months later and immediately built the team. We knew that in order to get noticed in New York City and the Tri-State, we needed to be a full-blown rock station with a great on-air staff of music curators. People like Matt Pinfield, Steve Craig, Bryan Schock and Brian Phillips who are musicologists! We hit the streets daily to meet with tastemakers to spread the word about New York’s Rock Experience! Pinfield and I had a group of who we called ‘RXP Rock Reporters’ on the air weekly to discuss the latest in the music world, people like Spin Magazine Editor Doug Brod, Austin Skaggs from Rolling Stone, Steve Smith-Music Editor for TimeOut NY, Danny Goldberg-legendary Artist Manager, Daniel Glass-Head Of Glassnote Records, and live artist interviews/performance. This quickly created a buzz.

Q: Did this remind you a bit like 99X in the 1990s?

A: Absolutely! 99X listeners would say ‘It’s like you guys went through my CD collection’ and RXP fans would say ‘I’ve stopped listening to my iPod now that RXP is on the air’. That’s pretty incredible for any person in radio to hear. The passion and excitement for both brands were really similar. There will always be a certain segment of the audience that loves the companionship , music discovery, entertainment and localization that radio delivers. Most adults don’t have the opportunity to be on the internet 24/7 discovering new music. Radio is a solid filter!

Q: What are you most proud of what you accomplished in New York?

A: I’m most proud of the ratings goals that our team reached. It’s very difficult to explain to people outside of our industry what a success story this really was. Emmis signed on a new station in New York on a jazz frequency, in a period of economic doom and around the time of new ratings methodology that largely favors known brands. We were the ‘little station that could’ and we never would have reached the ratings success without the collective hard work from everyone on the staff, the support of a great GM & corporate team and the listeners that rallied around us.

Q: What was the most fun you had working the top market in the United States?

A: My hobby is still ‘live’ music so I was like a kid in a candy store seeing shows at legendary venues like the Beacon Theatre, Radio City Music Hall and Irving Plaza! A perfect day for me would be walking six miles on a Saturday through amazing neighborhoods and taking part in the diverse culture.

Q: How did your connections in the music business help you?

A: Yes and we helped each other! The industry was dying for support from a new music station. We all knew it was good for the Tri-State in general so the partnerships we formed and the relationships we had were invaluable. Not a day went by that a band or artists wasn’t coming in for an interview or performance from local to national acts. RXP became part of all marketing plans for artist relations.

Q: New York radio has had a reputation of not being enough of a rock town. Were you able to prove that wrong?

A: I don’t think anyone can make that statement when 2.3 million listeners came to us on a weekly basis. Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire, Pearl Jam, Gorillaz, Muse and more don’t sell out Madison Square Garden if this isn’t a new music/rock city!

Q: Was it tougher to pull in advertising than listeners?

A: Only in the beginning because you have to prove yourself with ratings. There were definite early supporters like Live Nation and other big brands because the media buyers loved the format. After the first year we really started to see that turnaround. We had an elite sales staff who loved the brand and were excited to tell the RXP story!

Q: Did you feel Emmis provided you enough marketing support?

A: Radio in general was hit hard but the Wall Street disaster. I can’t think of any of my friends in radio who had marketing during this period. Emmis provided us with all the resources they could.

Q: Do you think NY will get another rock station soon?

A: Time will tell. I know that the fans are there, people who grew up listening to legendary radio like WNEW, WLIR and even KROCK. I am hopeful for the artists, the fans and the industry.

Q: What is the biggest difference between NY and Atlanta when it comes to doing your job?

A: You always have a different set of circumstances and resources in any market. It’s also about the team and collaborations. I’m really lucky to have experienced both.

Q: You worked your usual 12-15 hours a day. Was it worth it despite this premature end?

A: Absolutely-this was the best decision I ever made! Living and programming in New York City was a dream come true! I owe it all to Dan Halyburton, Rick Cummings and Jimmy Steal for hiring me. I was so nervous my first day on the air with Matt Pinfield. I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m on the air in NYC’!

Q: What was it like working with Steve Craig again?

A: In my opinion, Steve Craig is one of the greatest talents in the country. He conquered middays and proved to be an amazing morning personality-and a one man show! He was also my right hand in the Programming Dept serving as APD. He also knows where all the Tiki Bars are in the city!

Q: Where would you like to go next? Is there any chance you could return to Atlanta?

A; It’s a big wide world-I’m open to anything and excited about my next adventure!

Q: What do you think of Dave FM?

A: I haven’t had a chance to listen recently but as you know one of my best friends in the world does mornings (!), Jimmy Baron! Some former 99X’ers are there as well like Crash, Yvonne, Fat Kid (Jeremy) and Jill who are like family! I’ve always loved Mara on the air (and as a person) and I think the world of Margot. Plus a shout out to John, Vaughn and Courtney in sales. These are amazing people and real radio talent!

Join my Facebook fan page and Twitter.

By Rodney Ho, rho@ajc.com, AJCRadioTV blog

66 comments Add your comment

llkjlkj

July 28th, 2011
9:23 am

Maybe she’ll end up on Sirius/XM with an ‘all Foo Fighters all the time’ channel.

seer

July 28th, 2011
9:44 am

CMT in Nashville is a good bet as to where she’ll land.

She definitely...

July 28th, 2011
9:50 am

…still has a face for radio…

JJ Faulk

July 28th, 2011
9:59 am

Steve and Leslie were and all still class acts. Wish they were back in Atlanta. I listened to their station on line and it was great-too bad radio is in such a sorry shape.

Music Lover

July 28th, 2011
10:05 am

I actively search for new music, and followed Leslie’s career when she moved to NYC. Not only was she the only outlet for alternative rock in NYC, but she was the first person to give local musicians a chance to have their music played. There is already a “Bring back WRXP” facebook page, proof of just how much the station meant to the city..I can only think that wherever that team lands, great things will happen.

Duh

July 28th, 2011
10:13 am

There are 15M listeners in NYC – if there is demand for rock, there will be rock. Simple as that – for some reason talk radio is running amuck on FM – I can only assume its the influence of Sirius, who offers tons of talk plus CNN, CNBC, etc. – its funny how little you lose when you just hear those stations without even seeing their on air folks.

LBro

July 28th, 2011
10:37 am

mostlyk? I don’t know what mostlyk means. I guess you don’t need things like spell check to be a glorified vanity blogger for the AJC. Remember when it was a newspaper and not a circus?

Theta Chi

July 28th, 2011
10:50 am

Take it easy LBro. Even the WSJ has typos in it. Do not be jelous or a hater.

Stefan O.

July 28th, 2011
10:54 am

LBro is absolutely right. The AJC can’t use correct spelling or grammar to save their own lives.

Theta Chi

July 28th, 2011
11:05 am

LBro, Stefan O, quit reading the AJC online then. If you are such profecient profreaders, English majors, go apply for a job there. Otherwise quit being a troll and comment on the article subject.

Mitchell

July 28th, 2011
11:07 am

She definitely…

July 28th, 2011
9:50 am

…still has a face for radio…

Now that’s not very nice, is it?

Spoke

July 28th, 2011
11:16 am

I wish Atlanta had a new music station of the quality of 99X when it started out. Leslie Fram has exactly the right idea about what a radio station could and should be…a filter to help people find the best new music that’s out there. And Steve Craig has always had a great ear for that good new music.

Fallon

July 28th, 2011
11:20 am

Leslie Fram is one of the most influential women in the music industry, but you’d never know it with her incredibly humble demeanor. Wherever she lands, it WILL be a success, and she’s proven nothing less.

Praveen

July 28th, 2011
11:20 am

Why talk radio keeps infecting FM radio, I do not understand. Is it that tough for those talk radio listeners to switch to the AM dial or use it on their presets?

Eric

July 28th, 2011
11:33 am

I can only imagine non-stop playlists like they’ve had on 99X for years of 311. Ahem. 99X was ahead of it’s time when it started and then began to become a relic of the 90’s. People still can’t understand why many of us jumped to satellite years ago and unfortunately they’re starting to be programmed by the same duds that destroyed “free” radio.

Libby

July 28th, 2011
11:34 am

I remember going to 99X’s Big Day Out concerts in the 90’s. No radio station here has done anything close since. I was a big fan of the Morning X and Steve Craig!

Maccaphan

July 28th, 2011
11:39 am

@StefanO That should be “The AJC can’t use correct spelling or grammar to save its own life.”

di

July 28th, 2011
11:43 am

‘all Foo Fighters all the time’ would be GREAT! I would be all over that…

Man…I miss Leslie Fram, it would be great if she could replace Jimmy Barron. I love Yvonne and Crash, but Jimmy is like some complaning old woman!

ddog

July 28th, 2011
11:44 am

They knew little then and know less now…dumb music for the masses

Barnes

July 28th, 2011
11:47 am

When is Leslie Fram going to pose for Playboy? MEEEEEOOOOOOWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!

Choppinmama

July 28th, 2011
11:58 am

Remember the Celebrity Softball Games that 99X used to host? Those were always so much fun. Started out playing at Kennesaw SU and moved up to the Ga Dome.

Loved to see the radio guys, music guys and the athletes mixing it up on the field.

quake

July 28th, 2011
12:02 pm

Atlanta rock/alt radio was never better than when Leslie was at 99x. It would be great to get her back to bring great radio back to Atlanta. It has been sorely missing for years. Will someone be smart enough to offer her the right gig here? Doubtful, based on the decisions of the recent past. Besides, who would want to come back to Atlanta after NYC?

Seriously

July 28th, 2011
12:15 pm

Just remember…you idiots who wanted that rap crap instead of Rock killed 99X. Music today is a blunder of idiots with no music talent what so ever.

Sanjeev

July 28th, 2011
12:32 pm

I miss the old days of 99x. When people could actually sing without autotune. Now it’s all pop top 40 crap.

Chris

July 28th, 2011
12:35 pm

Old Man Fram? She needs to move on. I hope she is forced to listen to Collective Soul over and over and over again like they used to play on 99x.

Steve was cool, loved the lunchtime time machine.

Tom

July 28th, 2011
12:47 pm

somebody remind me …. who was the dork that replaced what’s his name when he went to hollywood to make movies?

Nerm

July 28th, 2011
12:50 pm

Fred Toucher single-handedly destroyed 99X.

jeffrey d

July 28th, 2011
12:53 pm

What happened to Barnes?

Tom

July 28th, 2011
12:55 pm

Yes …. Toucher ….. what a total waste of $*$*%^%(#

dan the nerd

July 28th, 2011
1:04 pm

Barnes took his backne to hollywood… and immediately came back to atlanta. what was his band called? Grupmyfish or somthing like that? Wonder if they are still together? God, I hated listening to him in the mornings – all he would talk about was tennis and his band.

Toucher was an upgrade. Hated to see him go – he, fram and jimmy had very good chemistry.

crackbaby

July 28th, 2011
1:18 pm

Fram was EASILY the smartest person at 99X. Steve Craig played the best music (house of retro pleasure). Jimmy Barron was and still is awful – ladies seem to like his complete wussiness. Barnes was a stiff. Crash was an idiot though a lovable one. The Queen was always fresh. Fred Toucher stunk like cheese vomit.

Glad to hear Fram and Steve had a good run in NYC.

I am LEGEND

July 28th, 2011
1:19 pm

BARNES acting was terrible.

sad ajc reader

July 28th, 2011
1:21 pm

Did you read this before posting? Do you have an editor? You start talking about some “move” before it is revealed the station was closed down. Seeing as the title on the front page is “Where 99xers are now” or something similar, this is entirely unhelpful.

Two key players from 99X’s heyday, Leslie Fram and Steve Craig, landed in New York in 2008 to build an adult-leaning rock station from scratch. Called 101.9/WRXP-FM, Craig compared it to the early days of 99X: using mostly word of mouth and guerrilla marketing, as well as the programming smarts of Fram, the station grew steadily.

Craig, in an interview last week, said he was disappointed by the move: “We committed to this wholeheartedly. We put a lot of passion into it. The listener response was absolutely amazing.”

I am LEGEND

July 28th, 2011
1:29 pm

Ah….you can reduce debt by generating revenue too…what am I missing here?

Dave Dawg

July 28th, 2011
1:36 pm

Not knocking Dave FM – I like it – but bringing in Leslie and Steve would be a brilliant move. If management is willing to invest in the product and watch it grow.

Rodney Ho

July 28th, 2011
1:37 pm

@sad ajc reader. Sorry. My bad. I inserted those quotes without a proper insert sentence to provide context. It’s now fixed.

jumbo jimbo

July 28th, 2011
1:41 pm

It all went south when they tried to build around talentless Toucher, and when they fired Barnes

bfred

July 28th, 2011
2:01 pm

What’s incredible is how many stations seem to think that alternative rock means the grunge knockoffs like Nickleback and Stone Sour. 99X cratered because it got stuck in that gloomy rut. Dave FM took off because it expanded the playlist and looked beyond a 300-song rotation. Quality music attracts listeners and listeners attract advertisers. Duh.

Kat

July 28th, 2011
2:06 pm

I’m an editor (not for the AJC), and even I don’t hold Rodney up to the same standards as some of you. I thought this was an editorial blog, which meant imperfections were possible and probable. What’s the difference between this and a blog, or is there any?

On topic: I never listened to 99X while Leslie was hear, but many of my friends who did seemed to really enjoy her on-air work. When I found out that she also handled the program director portion of things, it seemed as though any radio executive could do no better than this woman – two for the price of one! She seems humble and focused on the area that she knows best. Good luck to her!

bfred

July 28th, 2011
2:20 pm

…when Leslie was hear??

Mr. Ho and you should get along great.

Rooby Doo

July 28th, 2011
2:20 pm

@Kat—Thank you for not only mentioning imperfections were possible but also proving it in your text.(hear/here) Good Luck Leslie….Classy and hard worker. Never bowing to the latest rage or only what sells the most.

dtanner

July 28th, 2011
2:23 pm

leslie fram stay away from atlanta radio,you are old and outdated,and yes you do have the perfect face for radio.

I am LEGEND

July 28th, 2011
2:39 pm

@Kat – “hear” or “here” it is all the same to me. I say right “cheer”.

Daron Small

July 28th, 2011
2:42 pm

These two dimwits need to find work that best matches their abilities: Target check out.

Daron Small

July 28th, 2011
2:43 pm

@dtanner, she was never anything more than college radio talent.

JASon

July 28th, 2011
3:01 pm

“We knew that in order to get noticed in New York City and the Tri-State, we needed to be a full-blown rock station”

I’m sure everyone was dying to hear some stone temple pilots and bush

radiohead

July 28th, 2011
3:04 pm

Fram is a class act. Sure, she may have a “face for radio”, but ease up, folks. She is amazingly talented in ways the average listener probably cannot appreciate. She also commands huge respect in music and broadcasting circles, and I would love to see her back in the ATL.

BTW, I have met Barnes, and yes, he is a complete tool.

TheLazyComic

July 28th, 2011
3:14 pm

First, of course Randy Michaels will change the format to talk. After all, you don’t have to pay those pesky ASCAP , BMI & SESAC fees to play music. As for Leslie Fram not saying anything negative, even if she feels it… that the way things work here in the Untied States. Freedom of speech… until you really want to vent about something, and you’ll never work again. She’s doing the CYA move, which I understand. I don’t play the CYA game. I’ve already decided I’ll never work for another crack-head employer, so I don’t have to play the CYA game. Remember folks, all jobs are nothing more than Band-Aids in the Untied States. (Temporary fixes)

7Kilbey

July 28th, 2011
3:21 pm

Leslie, We miss you on Atlanta radio. 99X was just awesome back in the 90’s. The music was great as was the chemistry of all the jockies….Great things are not often duplicated. Dave FM is OK, but not enough cutting edge music….99X took a que from college radio…..

Dew Keyy

July 28th, 2011
3:34 pm

Jimmy Baron is a squeaky little douche.

Barnes probably has a mirror above his waterbed with neon strobe lights around it that spell out his name.

Crash has one joke that he really enjoys:’Im a sloppy,obnoxious drunk,HAH ! ‘

Fram was an egomaniac who delighted in wrecking people’s careers if she didnt like them,so screw her right in the ol’ lemon caboose.