102.1 The X’s Mason (left) and Fletcher in the studio Jay Paul photo
We set the date for 1 p.m. on a Wednesday: two DJs at 102.1 The X, a photographer and me. I figured this could be like a real-life version of Jimmy Fallon's Saturday Night Live skit with Ben Affleck: two jocks arguing over plagiarized comedy bits, wearing outdated haircuts and ugly shirts.
Fortunately, The X's Mason and Fletcher don't live up to that hoary old stereotype. Fletcher, who's on from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, sports Doc Martens and scruffy facial hair, while Mason — the 2 to 7 p.m. jock, first name Michael — is a lanky blond guy with tattoos (including "REAL DEAL" inked on his knuckles). Both are 28.
What is notable about the two young men, both of whom came here from distant markets (Mason from Portland, Ore., and Seattle; Fletcher from Boston, although he previously worked here at the former Y101), is that they are here in Richmond and doing their own programming at a Clear Channel-owned station.
Fletcher, whose real name is Dustin Matthews, is the station's program director and sets the playlists each day. The X plays a mix of hard rock and alternative, with a lot of '90s grunge and newer songs that take cues from the era. Nothing really earth-shattering — "We're a popular-music station," Fletcher notes — but the station often plays a good range of rock music within a short period.
The X also promotes local music, sponsoring battles of the bands at Capital Ale House's downtown location; dedicating time to Studio B, a local-music show; and choosing bands for the long-lived Chili Cook-Off in April.
"Clear Channel is all about having good local talent here," Fletcher says. "They kind of stay out of what we do."
Mason says that operations manager Dave Symonds encourages the DJs to "just have fun." One afternoon in January, production director Joe Rupp, aka MoJo, brought moonshine into the studio, although not the real (and illegal) stuff. Fueled by alcohol, the Mason show got out of hand — in a good way, with lots of ad-libbing. "It's so fun! It's so exciting," Mason says of his job.
Nevertheless, the radio business is notoriously unstable — a station can change formats overnight, and there goes the job. Ratings matter in this atmosphere.
In the Fall 2011 Arbitron ratings (Sept. 15-Dec. 7), WRXL ranked ninth out of 33 Richmond stations, with a share of 4.1. In the same quarter, Lite 98 was in first place, with a share of 10.1. The rest of last year, The X's rank ranged from ninth to 13th place.
Both guys are excited by working in radio, it's obvious to anyone. They are rock devotees — from Britpop on Fletcher's side to post-punk on Mason's — and they enjoy the perks of meeting famous musicians. The X will invite fans to a private concert by Jane's Addiction before the band performs at The National this month. You can count me among the envious.
A major U2 fan, Fletcher met Bono in Boston and was struck dumb. "He smelled terrific, and he looked cool," the DJ says, still a little awed.
Fletcher recovered enough to ask the singer for a hug, which, being the humanitarian he is, Bono generously gave. "Ah, Dustin," he said in his Irish brogue, enveloping Fletcher into his arms.