99X is back, replacing Rock 100.5

This is an attempt to revamp the once successful alt-rock station infused with nostalgia

Rock 100.5 is now 99X.

Atlanta-based Cumulus Media is hoping to give the once powerful brand name a boost by moving it to the stronger 100.5 signal from its previous home at 98.9, a significantly weaker signal where it played mostly new music. The new format harkens back to the original 99X from the 1990s.

Rock 100.5 had been most recently an active rock station, a sound that was closer to what the long defunct 96rock used to be. But its Nielsen ratings had fallen steadily over the past couple of years and were a mere 1.2 rating in November, good for 20th place. In comparison, its closest rock rival 97.1/The River, with a stronger signal and a more broadly appealing sound, was No. 1 in the entire market with an 8.2 rating.

>>RELATED: Why 99X mattered and how it began

Since Friday evening, Rock 100.5 had dropped its regular format and started playing the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” in loop and promised a change at 6 a.m. Monday with the line “Same as it ever was.”

The revival started with the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first video that aired on MTV in 1981 and during the first hour featured no on-air talent except traffic reports from Jones, playing mostly songs from the 1980s and 1990s by acts such as U2, Stone Temple Pilots, Flock of Seagulls and Collective Soul. In promos, it’s now dubbing itself “the original 99X.”

On Twitter, the station promised on-air staff on Jan. 3 so for the next month, it will just play music.

Credit: CUMULUS MEDAI

Credit: CUMULUS MEDAI

Lance Venta, who runs radio news site Radio Insight, reported that mid-day host Lyndsey Marie and long-time Rock 100.5 host “Southside” Steve Rickman were not joining 99X. Marie said goodbye on social media over the weekend. Rickman on Monday made a post thanking the station and his fans. “I look to a positive future in Atlanta, the city I’m from and love,” he wrote. “I will rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of ROCK100.5.”

99X started at 99.7 in 1992 as the market’s first commercial alternative rock station after Leslie Fram and Brian Phillips discovered there was untapped potential. Within two years, it began pulling in big ratings numbers, riding the wave of grunge and other cool rock sounds including Bush, No Doubt, Green Day and R.E.M. A hot morning show called the Morning X featuring Steve Barnes, Fram and Jimmy Baron became a dominant force, capturing the Gen X zeitgeist.

In the 2000s, the station started losing steam when the music got harder and darker and management couldn’t figure out whether to try to keep its original listeners or go for a younger audience and tried to straddle. It didn’t work.

The original 99X officially ended with Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” on Jan. 25, 2008 at 5:30 a.m. Since then, the 99X name was on-line only, then placed on a bunch of weaker signals, most recently 98.9. Top 40 station Q100, which had been on 100.5, moved to the more powerful 99.7 signal.

99X’s effective replacement Rock 100.5 brought back 96rock’s morning show The Regular Guys and mostly focused on a harder rock sound. For a time, it did okay and even after The Regular Guys imploded, its replacement morning show featuring Rickman and Jason Bailey had moments when it did extremely well.

But management dropped Bailey last year and ratings had only slipped further. A syndicated morning show out of D.C., Elliot in the Morning, launched earlier this year on Rock 100.5 didn’t take.

Credit: CUMULUS MEDIA

Credit: CUMULUS MEDIA

Brian Phillips, who started 99X three decades ago under a previous company Susquehanna, now runs Cumulus as chief content officer and had a strong hand in the station’s revival. It’s unclear who he will bring back as on-air staff but Axel Lowe, an afternoon host for 99X from 1993 until 2008 who has also been part of Rock 100.5 for most of its run, is likely to stay.

Among other notable former 99Xers, former mid-day host Steve Craig is now hosting mornings at The River. Fram runs music strategy for CMT. Baron is a successful realtor. Barnes runs his own production company. Could Phillips possibly reunite the core Morning X trio that ran from 1993 until 2004?

>>RELATED: 99X 30 years later: where are they now?

Craig, in fact, oversees a secondary minor signal station called The Other Side of the River, which is the closest to the old-time 99X already on the air in terms of its music mix. It can be heard online and in parts of Gwinnett County at 97.7. But The Other Side of the River goes much deeper than what 99X is currently playing with songs by XTC, Jack Johnson, Garbage, Modest Mouse and the Ramones spun during the 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. hours.

The first three hours of the new 99X:

6:01 a.m. The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star” (1979)

6:05 a.m. Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)

6:09 a.m. R.E.M. “The One I Love” (1987)

6:14 a.m. commercial break

6:20 a.m. Kate Bush “Running Up That Hill” (1985)

6:25 a.m. Collective Soul “Shine” (1993)

6:30 a.m. Red Hot Chili Peppers “Dani California” (2006)

6:35 a.m. commercial break

6;40 a.m. Candlebox “Far Behind” (1993)

6:45 a.m. U2 “Pride” (1984)

6:48 a.m. Stone Temple Pilots “Interstate Love Song” (1994)

6:52 a.m. commercial break

6:57 a.m. Flock of Seagulls “I Ran” (1982)

7:02 a.m. Green Day “When I Come Around” (1994)

7:05 a.m. Tears For Fears “Shout” (1985)

7:11 a.m. Soundgarden “Black Hole Sun” (1994)

7:17 a.m. commercial break

7:22 a.m. Fatboy Slim “Praise You” (1998)

7:27 a.m. Duran Duran “Come Undone” (1993)

7:30 a.m. Pearl Jam “Jeremy” (1991)

7:35 a.m. commercial break

7:41 a.m. Coldplay “Yellow” (2000)

7:46 a.m. Smashing Pumpkins “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” (1996)

7:51 a.m. The Police “Roxanne” (1978)

7:55 a.m. commercial break

7:59 a.m. Nirvana “Lithium” (1991) First musical act 99X is repeating

8:04 a.m. Simple Minds “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (1985)

8:07 a.m. Foo Fighters “Learn to Fly” (1999)

8:12 a.m. Shawn Mullins “Lullaby” (1998)

8:16 a.m. commercial break

8:22 a.m. R.E.M. “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” (1994)

8:27 a.m. Psychedelic Furs “Pretty in Pink” (1986)

8:31 a.m. Bush “Machinehead” (1994)

8:35 a.m. commercial break

8:40 a.m. B-52s “Love Shack” (1989)

8:45 a.m. Red Hot Chili Peppers “Californication” (1999)

8:50 a.m. commercial break

8:54 a.m. Depeche Mode “Personal Jesus” (1989)

8:58 a.m. Pearl Jam “Better Man” (1994)

9:02 a.m. No Doubt “Just a Girl” (1995)

9:06 a.m. The Smiths “How Soon is Now?” (1984)

9:12 a.m. commercial break

9:17 a.m. Alanis Morissette “You Oughta Know” (1995)

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