Before indie rock radio station Woxy.com suddenly went silent Tuesday morning, Matt Lamkin sang the last words delivered on air in The Soft Pack song "Answer to Yourself."
But I think I'm gonna die/before I see my time/But I think I'm gonna die/try it anyway
Angsty words spun by disc jockeys who never met an inside joke they didn't like; throughout Woxy's troubled past it has become tradition to tell the station's history through clever playlists and March 23 was no exception. The question now is whether a gloating return track will ever hit the airwaves or if Woxy is destined to continue on in silence.
When Woxy.com kicked its terrestrial roots and went online-only in 2004 the first song played was "Opherus" by the Irish rock band Ash, a not-so-subtle reference to U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," the first song ever played on Woxy's parent station, 97X, which had dubbed itself 'the future of rock and roll.' Ash's song also captured the sentiment and unknown freedom of the internet with the joyously repeated line "I need the sunshine in the morning, I'm heading for the open road." But despite the station's optimism, the unproven online-only radio model couldn't support Woxy's operating costs and in 2006 the station shut down. The final song was MC5's "Kick Out the Jams."
When Woxy went off the air in 2004 and again in 2006 people were asking the same questions then that they are now and the public outcry for Woxy was just as loud, but six years later it's difficult to justify supporting something that has failed before and seems destined to do so again. Nowadays Woxy's struggles and fateful signoff raises a bigger question: if Woxy.com, one of the first stations to move to an online-only broadcast, and arguably one of the most popular internet radio stations, isn't able to hack it even with commercial backing then what does the future of online radio hold?
Questions about the viability of online-only radio are nothing new, but the issue is much more pressing now than it was in 2004. Back then the music industry was still up in arms about listeners downloading music illegally and didn't know how it could survive, so it was okay for online radio to not be successful because online music didn't have a niche yet. But now that music companies have adjusted to the online marketplace and started making money it's suddenly necessary for online radio to do the same, lest an era of old school radio listeners be left behind.
Woxy got back online in 2006 with the help of silicon valley entrepreneur Bill Nguyen, who also owned the burgeoning online music store Lala.com. Nguyen linked Woxy and Lala together, but in an ironic twist it was sites like Lala, Pandora and Last.fm that became Woxy's competitors for listener's ears and advertising dollars. Given a choice to financially back Lala.com or Woxy.com, Nguyen chose Lala and sold Woxy to Future Sounds, a company that specializes in discovering new bands. After witnessing the success of Lala and the failure of Woxy it would appear as though Nguyen made the right choice.
Streaming music online isn't cheap, and in that sense Woxy's biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. While Pandora and Last.fm pay the same music royalties and bandwidth fees as Woxy, they don't have the additional cost of live disc jockeys. So instead of being on a one name basis with Brian, Mike, Shiv, Joe, Paige and Bryan Jay users make their own playlists or listen to computer generated lists, and as this practice becomes more cost efficient we risk losing disc jockeys and radio shows all together.
"The costs are higher, but that's why we deliver a better product," John Mascarenhas, a partner with Future Sounds told the Austin-American Statesman.
Albeit, Woxy did suffer a fitting end; it is the tragically romantic tale of a popular indie radio station's untimely death at the hands of a corporate deal gone wrong, mere days after the station's coming out party at SXSW where dozens of live sets were recorded that will likely never see the light of day.
It had to be a bittersweet week for program director Matt Shiv, who has been at Woxy for 12 years and found out before SXSW that radio operations would have to cease unless a deal was made. Shiv and the rest of the station's employees continued to work throughout the week on good faith that a deal would be struck but when it fell through his spirits seemingly broke. In the past Shiv has been at the front of the Save Woxy campaign, but Tuesday in his Facebook posts he seemed resigned to giving up.
"It will take a pretty incredible company/plan coming around now to make me want to stick around at this point," he said as he repeatedly declined efforts to begin fundraising efforts.
But if Shiv won't fight for Woxy, I will, and I believe a lot of the listeners will too. Stand up and let your voice be heard, Nguyen has taken to the Woxy message boards to solicit advice from fans much like he did in 2006 before saving the radio station so go speak your mind and let potential investors know that you listen to Woxy and you want your indie rock station back.
Can't you see the prophetic lines in Woxy's last song? The Soft Pack sings:
You got a rabbit in your hat/you got a few tricks up your sleeve/don't get stuck in a rut/or stuck in the same/you got exactly what you need
Follow Mark R. Collins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DoctorCollins