97X Modern Rock 500: Back to the future on Inhailer Radio



Listeners who tune into online broadcaster Inhailer Radio through May 29 will be transported back in time. The Cincinnati-based Internet station is hosting the 97X Modern Rock 500 countdown, compiled by former staff members of WOXY, the former FM radio station in Oxford. It is available at www.inhailer.com, the Inhailer Radio app and WGUC-HD3 (90.9) in Cincinnati.

Nineteen years after ending its terrestrial broadcast, WOXY is back albeit briefly using the format of its once annual 500-song Memorial Day countdown. The recap of popular songs by acts like Talking Heads, Tori Amos, R.E.M., David Bowie, the Violent Femmes and the Clash are included in the Modern Rock 500. The signature program has returned to celebrate the end of the WOXY-focused podcast, “Rumblings from the Big Bush.”

“There were some tweaks here and there but we’re doing the top 500 songs you would’ve heard on 97X or WOXY.com while it was on the air,” said “Rumblings from the Big Bush” co-host Dave Tellmann, who was at WOXY from 1988 until 1997. “It’s like we’re driving to Oxford, sitting down, hitting play on the turntable and playing the songs. In between you’ll hear a lot of the old DJs talking about, you know, ‘On lap 365 that was the Cure’ or ‘On lap 357 it was Guided By Voices.’ It will be like you’re listening to 97X again so it should be cool. And it will be online so you can get it globally and not just Darrtown, Hamilton and maybe Miamisburg.”

The big finale

Tellmann, who lives in Springboro, started doing the podcast in June 2019 with Damian Dotterweich, who was part time at WOXY in 1989 and 1990 and full time from 1992 to 1994. When former program director and DJ Mike Taylor found out “Rumblings from the Big Bush” was coming to an end after four years, he suggested they revive the Modern Rock 500 one more time.

“I’ve known Dave and Damien for a long time,” said Taylor, a graduate of Centerville High School and Wright State University. “I thought the podcast was great. It was a way for folks to reconnect and share their love for the station, whether you actually worked there, were an advertiser or you were just a listener. I caught up with Dave about a year ago and he said they were close to exhausting all the guests and topics they had.”

Taylor did two stints with the Oxford station, which stopped broadcasting terrestrially in 2004. He was also part of the online version that was based in Cincinnati and later in Austin where he lives. The Internet venture ended in early 2010.

“Dave and I were getting ready to do a few final episodes and then bring the podcast down,” Taylor said. “I have no part in it, but I got to thinking about a good way for these guys go out. This year would be the 40th anniversary of when 97X launched and we knew that new book from Robin James was coming out right before Memorial Day so doing the Modern Rock 500 seemed like a great way to do that.”



Independent spirits

The new book is “The Future of Rock & Roll: 97X WOXY and the Fight for True Independence,” written by James, a West Chester native who started listening to WOXY in the late 1980s when she was in junior high school. It was published by University of North Carolina Press on May 2.

“I’ve written a lot about popular music,” James said from her home in Connecticut. “That’s kind of what my career has been as an academic and as a music writer. I knew from that perspective that WOXY’s story is important and someone should write a book about it. For the longest time I didn’t know how to tie it all together into something that would be appropriate for a book. Then, in the spring of 2019, I realized we were coming up on the 30th anniversary of the first Modern Rock 500. I pitched an article on the History of the Modern Rock 500 for Belt Magazine, a magazine focusing on the Rust Belt. As I was doing the research to write that article on the history of the Modern Rock 500, it clicked for me that WOXY’s story is really the idea of independence. That’s what made WOXY what it was. I realized that was the narrative that tied it all together.”

Beyond the region

The smalltown FM station was on College Corner Pike in Oxford throughout its terrestrial run. It was rock-oriented WOXR when Doug and Linda Balogh purchased it in 1981. The call letters were changed to WOXY in September 1983 to mark the switch to modern rock. It was only the sixth station in the United States to play the emerging format, later known as alternative. The station was never a ratings leader, but it became a cultural phenomenon even outside of Ohio.

WOXY achieved international notoriety in 1988 when Raymond Babbitt, Dustin Hoffman’s character in the Academy Award-winning film, “Rain Main,” kept repeating the station’s catchphrase, “97X BAM! The Future of Rock and Roll!” Two years later WOXY was recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top stations in the country.

“A lot of archival evidence shows the Baloghs really wanted the station to live their values,” James said. “Doug Balogh has said, ‘It’s about how you treat people.’ The story of 97X really is universal. You don’t have to have ever listened to WOXY or even like music to appreciate what the Baloghs did.”

Serving southwest Ohio

There was something punk rock about the approach even though the owners were far from punk rockers. They had a maverick spirit and the confidence that even in Oxford they could do what they wanted and on their terms. The station was locally owned and focused on serving the community.

“From WOXY I learned it is important to support your local scene,” James said. “If you care about independence, being creative and really having the ability for both yourself and for other people to innovate and do things that are new and different, then you would care about the story and example of WOXY.”

The radio station may have been based in Oxford but 97X served southwest Ohio. There were advertisers from Cincinnati, Dayton and the surrounding area, and the station’s daily playlist included songs by regional acts alongside hits and deep cuts by big name stars.

“We covered this entire region,” Tellmann said. “Our legal ID was ‘WOXY, Oxford, Cincinnati and Dayton.’ We had people on staff from Cincinnati and Hamilton. There were easily seven or eight people from the Dayton area that were very involved in the station. We had a lot of Dayton bands come down like Guided By Voices and Shrug. Jayne Sachs from Dayton won our 97Xposure. We had the show ‘Local Licks’ and it didn’t matter where you were from – Cincinnati, Dayton, Hamilton, Middletown – we’d play it. We had such a great time at the station. The Modern Rock 500 is kind of our love letter to the listeners and to the owners for letting us play with their toy.”

How to listen: www.inhailer.com.

More info: www.97xbam.com

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or donthrasher100@gmail.com.

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