Souled out

After 25 years of Texas' best rock, Q102 bids a tearless farewell

But CBS decided in early 1997 to sell KTXQ to the New York-based SFX Broadcasting. When SFX took over, one of its first moves was to fire longtime morning team Bo Roberts and Jim White--for which SFX was condemned by longtime fans of the station. After all, Bo and Jim were institutions in this town, remnants of a time when they and the Zoo's LaBella and Rody ruled the morning drive.

In August 1997, Hicks, Muse's Capstar Broadcasting announced it was buying SFX for $2 billion, and Capstar took ownership of KTXQ. Then, in February 1998, Chancellor and Capstar swapped radio stations--and by the early summer, Chancellor took control of Q102 and B97.9. Indeed, the first time Q102 staffers met George Toulas was in June of this year, when he came to the offices, introduced himself, and said he and Chancellor were looking forward to a bright, productive future with Q102.

But by June 1998, the future looked as promising as an empty wallet on Friday night. The station's ratings were still in the toilet, never getting above a 3.3 share during the past four years. Most often, the cumulative rating hovered between a 2.5 and 2.8 share with the 12-and-up audience--compared to KISS-FM's whopping 8.0 posted in Arbitron's spring 1998 ratings book.

Staffers blame the dwindling ratings on the multiple ownership changes that occurred in rapid succession during the last four years. No corporation wanted to sink money into a station it wasn't going to own for more than a month. And so CBS, then SFX, then Capstar allowed KTXQ to wither away, refusing to spend money on station promotions or the hiring of new people to inject a little life into a dying station.

"When you put your house up for sale, you don't decide to build a swimming pool," Redbeard says. "You don't put a dime into capital improvements."

The deregulation of radio also had another horrible downside: Suddenly, stations began sounding alike. Playlists varied little from one frequency to the next; these days you can't tell the Edge from the Eagle from the Zone. Instead of corporations turning their stations into individual voices, they turn them into the products of audience surveys and market research. If listeners tell them they want to hear the Barenaked Ladies and Goo Goo Dolls, suddenly the Barenaked Ladies and Goo Goo Dolls turn up on every single station. After all, Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" and the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" are hits with both modern-rock and Top-40 stations.

The so-called fragmenting of formats simply results in one confusing, homogeneous voice--which makes no difference to a corporation such as Chancellor, because it has a virtual lock on the market. In the future, the rock audience probably will have even fewer options--as will advertisers.

"You can't tell who's doing what anymore," says The Ticket's Mike Rhyner. "But it's not about what music they're playing. It's not about Goo Goo Dolls or Barenaked Ladies. It's all about positioning. When a program director talks to a general manager, what do they talk about? It's not Barenaked Ladies and Goo Goo Dolls. It's everything except the product they're putting out over the air. The average spare guy out there listens to radio for music, and that seems to be the thing that gets tossed aside quicker than anything else."

Of the six stations Chancellor owns in the market, KISS-FM is by far the most successful. Its Top-40 format--which includes everything from Brandy to Shania Twain to Will Smith to Alanis Morissette--offers something for everybody. And Kidd Kraddick's morning show is among the highest-rated in town, so much so that Chancellor apparently plans to syndicate him on their own stations across the country, which could make him the Howard Stern of the white-bread mainstream.

The destruction of Q102 is not the only change Chancellor has in mind for its other stations. With its awful ratings, The Edge is likely due for an overhaul--rumors have Chancellor doing everything from retooling the modern-rock format to destroying it altogether--and rumors of its moving to Q102's frequency did, in part, make some sense. After all, The Edge's broadcasting tower is in Gainesville, and most of its signal is wasted in sparsely populated southern Oklahoma (it reaches all the way to Ada). The southern halves of Tarrant and Dallas counties can't even pick up The Edge on a good day. KTXQ's Fort Worth-based signal, on the other hand, is among the strongest in the market, stretching from northern Denton County to the very bottom of Hill County. B97.9's ratings are also dreadfully low.

"Look what happened to the Zoo," says one well-regarded local radio insider--and a Chancellor competitor. "Maybe Dallas-Fort Worth will always be home to two successful rockers, and maybe there's no room for more."

Redbeard and the rest of the executed sit around their table at the Angry Dog and recall glory days long since passed. They talk about the annual blood drives, the softball games, the bands they used to play. Many of these men have worked together for years: Buddy Wiley, who will be married in five weeks, came to Q102 straight out of the University of North Texas almost nine years ago, and program director Andy Lockridge helped Wiley find an apartment in Dallas and a car. "I would follow Andy to the gates of hell," someone says, and all the jocks nod in agreement.

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