When people first heard the news of The Spy’s exit from FM radio on Dec. 4, 2010, the response was more than of sadness and disappointment.
Its loyal listeners wanted to know how to help, and that’s what they have been doing — loudly and visibly — ever since, because of all the things the alternative station offers its listeners that they can’t get elsewhere locally.
“It has good music,” said Peyton Suitor of Skating Polly. “That’s something that most other radio stations don’t have.”
Ryan LaCroix, who co-hosts “The Oklahoma Rock Show” on The Spy at 7 p.m. each Thursday, said The Spy “isn’t just a music station. It’s a localoriented community for people who want an alternative.”
The Spy’s sudden move from the airwaves to the Internet was not the result of poor revenue or listenership, but when station manager Ferris O’Brien’s purchase of the station from Last Bastion Station Trust LLC fell through when the appraised price was much below the asking price.
Elliot Evers of Last Bastion Trust declined to comment on the circumstances of the deal.
The fallout left The Spy without a signal, forced to move forward as an online-only entity, at least for the time being. Until March 4, when the stations became The Martini, Citadel Communications continued to program the 105.3 signal with similar music as The Spy did before, but calling itself The Real Spy. To many original Spy listeners, it was hardly the same.
“I am aware of the fact that the new ‘Spy’ that replaced the old one is basically playing the same stuff,” Kurt Freudenberger, drummer for The Pretty Black Chains, said before The Martini debuted. “But replacing it with a copycat station that still uses the same name makes it a total non-option based solely on principle alone.”
LaCroix said what made The Spy so good was the care and knowledge that the station’s small staff invested into what it was doing.
“The people who program the music on 105.3 now are the same dudes who play Usher and Akon on one station, and Shinedown and Godsmack on another,” he said prior to the format switch to The Martini. “Are we supposed to be fooled into thinking these people know what alternative or indie music is?” Added Freudenberger, “People in this city have gotten used to mundane radio, and sadly enough, the younger crowd have grown up with it. You have the choice of country, the same 50 classic rock songs played over and over, the same 50 oldies played over and over, dance club music, and the dreaded top 40. The situation sucks. The Spy, FM-wise, was a shining beacon in the midst of total radio darkness.”
With The Martini now in the mix, the focus isn’t what replaced The Spy, but how to return it to glory and support it until it finds a way to return to the airwaves. The situation resembles “The Tonight Show” switch up a year before — with an O’Brien involved to boot — and the faithful Spy fans are rallying behind him in much the same way.
“There’s been a strong groundswell of support since this all went down,” LaCroix said.
Jon Mooneyham, another show host at The Spy with Friday night’s post-punk showcase, “Millions Now Listening Will Never Die,” said the encouragement has been flabbergasting.
“It’s really given me and Ferris the will to move forward,” Mooneyham said.
Listeners have continued to tune in online and via the official iPhone app (O’Brien said Internet streaming already comprised between 80 percent and 90 percent of The Spy’s audience when it was still on the radio), and making a focused effort on supporting its sponsors. They’ve done it visually, too; more than 100 musicians, listeners, on-air talent and business owners joined together for “The Spy Is Still Standing” campaign, shot by photographer Doug Schwarz.
“The original idea was to rally some local musicians I knew, maybe 25 or 30, do the shoot, and give them to Ferris just as a way of saying, ‘Hey, buddy, we got your back,’” Schwarz said. “Once Ferris found out about it, it just kind of blew up.”
The Spy was a shining beacon in the midst of total radio darkness.
The album received more than 10,000 views on Flickr in less than a week, and spread like wildfire across the social networking landscape. It’s things like this that listeners hope will keep the momentum going.
“It’s a hugely important piece to the puzzle that is Oklahoma’s cultural creative scene,” said Jonathan Fowler, general manager of Fowler Volkswagen of Norman, which co-sponsors the webcast “VDub Sessions” with The Spy. “It gives a voice to local artists and businesses that hasn’t been there before.”
Even if The Spy never returns to the airwaves and continues to exist as an entirely online entity, it will always have an army of listeners there to support it, because at the end of the day, too many people think it’s worth the effort.
“The idea of The Spy and what it stands for will always be worth fighting for,” Fowler said. “Ferris is what makes The Spy worth fighting for. The artists he spins and the music they create are worth fighting for. It’s just an imperative piece of our creative cultural scene.”
Schwarz said he gladly takes up the fight because, “to me, it isn’t just a radio station — it’s a movement.”
“It states to Oklahoma that we can be so much more than we are. We can rise above mediocrity and do incredible things. That tag that says ‘Join the Radio Revolution’? It feels like it. You can feel it in the community,” he said. “The Spy is a flag that musicians and other artists can rally behind, as well as everyday people who want to hear more than Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and Nickelback on repeat. That last part alone I think is worth fighting for. Dying for, really.”
IT’S MARTINI TIME!
On March 4, that station formerly (and suspiciously) known as The Real Spy — itself formerly known as The Spy —
switched formats to lounge-ready standards. Now dubbed The Martini, the
channel kicked off its first hour broadcasting these golden oldies:
—Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra, “Stardust”
—Frank Sinatra, “It Happened in Monterey”
—Sarah Vaughn, “In a Sentimental Mood”
—Natalie Cole, “This Will Be”
—Dean Martin, “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”
—Ray Charles, “One Mint Julep”
—Tony Bennett, “When Joanna Loved Me”
—Louis Armstrong, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On”
—Frank Sinatra, “Love and Marriage”
—Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole, “Unforgettable”