A Trip Through Time : Revisiting the Ghosts of Boston’s WFNX

It’s art on the edge, with a guitar solo thrown in somewhere.

That will be the vibe this Saturday when the ‘Ghosts of WFNX’ photography show opens up in Bay Village’s Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) gallery space.

Former FNX deejay Julie Kramer (“Leftover Lunch”) will debut the second and largest phase of her ‘Ghosts of WFNX’ photography show this Saturday night, July 20, 4-8 p.m., at the BCAE. Kramer, who was a deejay at the station for many years, documented all of the now-famous bands that came through the doors of the groundbreaking station when they were looking for their big break. From Iggy Pop to Elvis Costello to Bjork to Nirvana – Kramer met and talked with them all.

And in the process, she took their photographs.

Now, after having dug many of the photos out of her basement 25 years later, she is ready to relive the music memories with others who were a part of that same scene in Boston – or who just want to learn about that scene.

“I had a camera with me all the time back then,” said Kramer from her North Shore home. “FNX was a premiere alternative radio station so all these bands were coming to Lynn to the studios for interviews. I was always there with my camera. We were on the radio in the day and going to shows at night. I was trying to straddle two communities at the same time. I was young so it didn’t matter…When you’re in something, you don’t know if anyone will care. You know it’s special, but don’t think about it. However, 15 or 20 years later, it’s nostalgic.”

WFNX was one of the most cutting-edge radio stations at a time when radio was king. The station, owned by Phoenix Media Group, hosted all of the biggest names as they were on their way up. And as Kramer said, there was no social media or Internet, so bands that wanted to get their message out had to get to the radio deejays. Inevitably, everyone coming through Boston wanted to be on WFNX to promote their music and their shows.

Add to the fact that WFNX was one of the first stations to play some of the most iconic acts in modern rock – such as Nirvana, which Kramer basically discovered through her nephew – and it was the ingredients for a very special time in life for many people who enjoyed the burgeoning rock, radio and club scene in Boston.

“I had some really amazing experiences with some of them,” she said. “One time when Iggy Pop was at the station, our station manager Kurt St. John had a convertible he was driving. Iggy wanted in it. The next thing you know I’m on the hood photographing Iggy Pop behind the wheel of this really cool car.

“The Chili Peppers came by and a year and half later they came again,” she continued. “Iggy Pop came three times. They played the Channel. They were just baby bands then. The Chili Peppers would play the Channel, and then a year later they came back and they were playing the Garden.”

The show is actually ‘Volume 2’ of Kramer’s photographs, which her boyfriend discovered in her basement about a year ago. Though Kramer knew about them, she didn’t think much of them, but her boyfriend encouraged her to organize them and put them up for people to see. That led to a show in downtown Lynn that Kramer calls Volume 1. That included about 50 photos, but the current show will have more than 100 photos of rock legends taken by Kramer.

For most who see the pictures, Kramer said it’s less about gazing at stars and more about remembering the time and place.

“When you’re in it, you’re living in it,” she said. “You’re doing the job or you’re going to clubs. When you look back, you’re looking back at a time and place where FNX was at the pinnacle and Lansdowne Street was hopping with tons of kids and there was a real club scene…Radio deejays could play what they wanted to. It was free. So when people look at these photos, they remember that time in Boston and that freedom. That’s why I say I’m so lucky.”

But beyond memories and nostalgia, there are some stories the photos tell that are probably worthy of the rock ‘n’ roll history books.

“We were the first to play so many bands,” she said. “If you liked good music and wanted to know what was good music, you went to FNX. I loved Nirvana, but I never knew of Nirvana until we started to play them. Nirvana was on a skateboard tape my nephew Ian was listening to…That’s how we all got to know Nirvana. Kurt (St. John) took that tape from my nephew and said we had to play that band. The cool thing is that Nirvana changed everything about the music.”

Kramer said she looks at her photos not as just about rock ‘n’ roll, but about a point in history that is fun for everyone to remember.

“I was documenting a time,” she said. “I’m showing rock photos, but I always said I’m documenting everything so we won’t forget or I won’t forget,” she said.

Here’s to rockin’ on.

(Julie Kramer still hosts an Internet radio show on Indie617)

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