A surprise farewell to an Atlanta alt-rock institution

My heart was ripped out of my chest this week, by something I loved and cherished. And it wasn't a fed-up girlfriend who left me or a sports team that lost. The culprit was a radio station.

On Tuesday, I learned that 99.7 FM - a frequency to which I've dutifully tuned the stereo in every car I've sat in since at least 1993 - would soon be the new home of the bland, vanilla top-40 pop stylings of what is currently known as Q100.

That's right: As of Sunday, 99X is kaput. Defunct. Dead as Dillinger. But who cares, right? I mean, who even listens to the radio anymore?

Me, for one. I do.

Whatever songs and albums fill my iPod today, whatever new band I become a fan of, I owe to past and present 99X DJs like Leslie Fram and Sean Demery. Jimmy Baron and Fred Toucher. Axel Lowe and Steve Craig.

The station has been around since I was 7 years old. My dad used to tune it there every weekend as he, me and my little brother Cole drove out to Stone Mountain Village or Clarkston for Saturday morning bike rides. That's when I was first exposed to music that didn't come from the soundtrack of a Disney movie, songs like "Feed the Tree," by Belly, "What's Up," or "Two Princes," by the Spin Doctors (don't lie - you loved it too. At least, the first 200 times.)

R.E.M. Local H. The Lemonheads. It was, both literally and figuratively, music to my rock-starved little ears.

When the B-52s and Drivin' and Cryin' gave way to the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, I kept listening. As Green Day founded modern pop-punk and Kurt Cobain became our flannel-clad John Lennon, I kept listening. Beyond the rise of digital music, the advent of XM and Sirius and in-car iPod adaptors, I kept listening. And as the station's tastes evolved, so did mine.

As far back as I can remember, it's been there. And now, suddenly, it's not.

Like the plague-ridden peasant in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," 99X has spent all week insisting that it's not quite dead yet, trumpeting a new, Internet-only signal and the beginning of "visual radio."

But make no mistake. Fram, who has been there from the very beginning, was let go on Friday. So was Craig. Once it disappears from the airwaves on Sunday, 99X will never be the same.

Many suspect that another "new rock" station is slated to take over Q100's old spot, promising what I'm sure will be the choicest cuts from the latest Nickelback album. No thanks. I'll pass.

When Demery, another 99X founding father, departed the station for the first time in 2000, he delivered a final sign off that was both emotional and proud, saying, "I'm Sean Demery, and I was 99X."

Well, I'm Chase Mitchell, and I wasn't 99X - 99X was me.