The miraculous return of the real 99X

Remember what teen spirit used to smell like?

As Blues Traveler’s John Popper (pictured here, left, with 99X hosts at the Fox Theatre in 1995) foretold: The hook brings you back.

Photograph by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Good things have a way of disappearing in Atlanta: New condos rise above historic neighborhoods like gravestones, an iconic doughnut shop burns to the ground, a legendary music venue gets gutted to make room for a shiny office space. But on Monday, December 5, a miracle happened. It came in the form of a familiar voice, edgy and distorted, creeping through car radios like the ghost of rock and roll: You are listening to the original 99X.

Almost 15 years after it vanished from the 99.7 signal, Atlanta’s sorely missed alternative station had mysteriously returned, this time on 100.5, blasting its signature rotation of high-voltage hits and surprising longtime fans. Some songs doubled as winking messages to listeners: Simple Minds’ 1985 “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” Green Day’s 1994 “When I Come Around.” Technically, 99X had always been around—but only as a shell of its former self. After leaving 99.7, the station bounced between weaker signals, playing mostly contemporary rock and without any of the original DJs. As far as fans were concerned, the real 99X was dead and buried.

As the day went on, the station started getting its first calls in over a decade. “Oh my god, I’m so excited I can’t even stand it,” said a listener named Maria, who described dialing the station obsessively throughout the late ’90s for concert tickets. A caller named Patrick, who had recently turned 50, sounded like he was on the verge of tears. “I just got my birthday wish,” he said. “This is the greatest gift I could have asked for.” He told a story about the time he stripped naked in 99X’s studio as part of a contest (which led to the suspension of at least two employees).

It’s been months since 99X relaunched, but even the station’s DJs still can’t believe it.

“I feel extremely lucky,” said Leslie Fram, who cohosted the Morning X show with Steve Barnes from 1994 to 2003, and rejoined the station this spring. “I don’t know how many times in your lifetime you can go back to something you love so much.” Fram and Barnes credit fans with inspiring the reboot. When the station’s owner, Cumulus Media, launched an online museum in honor of 99X’s 30th anniversary last fall, the response from former listeners was overwhelming. “It just fell right back into place,” Fram said.

That’s how it feels tuning into the station today, hearing the same goofy banter and the same great music (now considered nostalgic). It recalls a simpler time in this city, when “Live Work Play” might have just been a cheesy title for an alt-rock record, and drinks were only expensive because you bought them at a Dave Matthews Band concert at Lakewood Amphitheatre.

Barnes agreed: “Everyone we come across out and about in Atlanta says the same thing. Like, ‘This is so awesome. It’s like a time capsule. It makes me feel young. It takes me back to those days.’”

This article appears in our May 2023 issue.