99X brings back Steve Barnes, Axel Lowe to the fold with more to come

Steve Craig left 97.1/The River last month and could return in a few months to 99X.
Axel Lowe and Steve Barnes are the first two original jocks from 99X's heyday to join the new rebooted version of the station in 2023. CR: 99X

Credit: 99X

Credit: 99X

Axel Lowe and Steve Barnes are the first two original jocks from 99X's heyday to join the new rebooted version of the station in 2023. CR: 99X

99X Thursday morning announced a portion of its new on-air staff including original Morning X host Steve Barnes and afternoon host Axel Lowe.

Lowe, who had been working at the previous Rock 100.5 incarnation, will return to afternoons at 99X which he was part of for virtually its entire original run from 1992 to 2008.

Barnes said the morning show will feature other personalities but he couldn’t say who yet.

“There will be voices you know and know very well,” Lowe promised.

“It’s not fully baked yet,” Barnes said. “This whole thing started a month ago and we’re putting it together. In three months, you’ll say, ‘Wow!’ In six months, you’ll say, ‘What?’ It’s cool.”

99X was a groundbreaking alternative rock station in Atlanta after launching in October 1992 and became a Gen X staple for Atlantans in town with its concerts, promotions and personalities, as well as the music. Its Morning X show with Barnes, Leslie Fram and Jimmy Baron became appointment listening.

By 2008, the station had lost its luster and top 40 station Q100 took over its signal. Cumulus ended up creating another rock station Rock 100.5 as a replacement. It never built the caché of the ratings of its predecessor and the signal, which 99X now has, isn’t quite as strong.

What had been Rock 100.5 became 99X last month in jockless form playing many of the station’s hits from its heyday by the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Cure, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. Sean Shannon, Atlanta-based Cumulus market manager, said when the station did a 30th anniversary web page for 99X, the reaction was so strong, management decided to resurrect the station in full form. (Ratings for Rock 100.5 have been terrible lately anyway, far behind market leader 97.1/The River.)

In recent years, 99X had been a jockless station on a small signal at 98.9 with a mix of older and current alternative rock music.

On the resurrected 99X, the morning show will be live from 7-9 a.m. each day, Barnes said. “Best of the Morning X” clips from the old days will be featured during the 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. hours.

“We’re one of the only stations to keep a vault like that,” Barnes said. 99X used to run “Best of the Morning X” on Saturdays so its digital library is extensive.

Leslie Fram, part of the original Morning X, now runs music strategy at CMT in Nashville. She called in at 8:10 a.m. Thursday morning. Fram, who was also the program director for 99X for many years, did not say she will be actively involved in the morning show given her other full-time job. But she said she is rooting for the station’s success and has enjoyed the music mix. “I’m like a kid in a candy store,” she said.

For now, neither is Jimmy Baron, now a successful Keller Williams realtor, who called in at 8:50 a.m. “Good luck with everything guys!” he said. He may call in every so often, though.

Lowe said the music mix will shift over time, implying that more current music will be incorporated.

Barnes confirmed that the weekly Sunday “Organic X,” a morning program focused on acoustic rock music, will resume around mid-February with the original host Matt Jones.

Barnes has run a production company that does promotion videos for hotels and resorts. He said he is on the road four or five months a year but will be able to do the morning show from anywhere he is around the world. “This isn’t corporate bull crap,” he said. “I wouldn’t have come back for that.”

Steve Craig, the original 99X mid-day host, last month left his morning role at 97.1/The River, the dominant rock station in Atlanta. He didn’t say where he was going next but if he were to return to 99X, he has a non-compete clause in his contract that will keep him off Atlanta airwaves for up to six months.

Management is building out a 99X app with a digital freeloader card for discounts on local eateries and retail shops. The original “Freeloader card” was an actual card and many former listeners still have theirs. The station is also going to sell and give away 99X T-shirts.

For many of the people who were part of the original 99X, this reboot is “a passion project,” Shannon said. “I’m excited as I can be. The response on social media has been unbelievable. There is this huge base of consumers who still remember and love this station. I’ve never seen anything like this in my 33 years in the business.”