By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
All morning long, KTXQ-FM staff members--on-air personalities, sales personnel, and receptionists alike--wandered through the radio station's frigid corridors, saying little and wearing faces so long, they damn near brushed against the carpet. When they spoke, they offered only curt words and dark jokes.
"You leaving?" a receptionist asked one of the jocks as he headed for the elevator.
"We're all leaving," he offered, wearing a thin, grim smile beneath his pulled-down baseball cap.
The receptionist grinned half-heartedly, then groaned. Everyone knew what was coming, but nobody said anything. Maybe then the inevitable wouldn't happen.
At exactly 10:57 on the morning of August 27, the voice of doom blared over the loudspeaker in the Central Expressway offices that house KTXQ (102.1) and KBFB-FM (97.9). "Attention Q staffers," said the male voice, deep and booming, full of fake enthusiasm. "The fun's about to begin. Everybody meet in the conference room."
The troops began filing into the room, slowly shuffling toward their fate. "It's cold in here," said one woman, shivering as she walked down the hallway. "In more ways than one," offered a female colleague.
Then--for the next hour and a half, during three separate meetings with small groups--Q102 and B97.9 employees were told what they'd feared for weeks: Q102 was dead. No more "Texas Best Rock." No more "Bring in the Weekend" parties. No more Redbeard. No more Lex and Terry. No more "Texas Tapes." No more blood drives. No more nothin'.
Delivering the news was George Toulas, regional senior vice-president of operations for Chancellor Media Corporation, the Dallas-based radio-and-television conglomerate that owns six stations in this market, including Q102, B97.9, KDGE-FM (94.5), and KZPS-FM (92.5). Toulas was short and to the point, a hangman just doing a day's work. He told staffers--including longtime veterans of the station, DJs such as Doug "Redbeard" Hill, Buddy Wiley, R.J. Lane, and Bob Elliot--that effective immediately, all Q102 on-air staffers were fired.
They were to leave the building immediately, allowed to return the next day to pick up their checks. Toulas explained that Chancellor's research had revealed that Q102's audience was not a "desirable" demographic and that changes were going to be made "starting immediately." The jocks asked Toulas about a format change. He responded by saying, "I didn't say there was going to be a format change." And that was pretty much it.
After 25 years as one of Dallas' premier rock-and-roll radio stations, Q102 was gone.
Happy anniversary. Get out.
Within a matter of minutes, Q102 was broadcasting a message instructing listeners to turn to KZPS for their fill of classic rock "now that Q102 is gone"; they were also playing "Taps" in between Metallica and Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins triple-shots. Every so often, a voice would come over the air and remind listeners they were listening to "Q102, Texas' best rock."
Never was there any mention of the format change that would come at 3 p.m. the following Monday. Never did anyone come on the air explaining how and why Redbeard and the rest of the jocks left without getting to say goodbye after so many years. It was just...over.
"I feel sorry for that guy," said Buddy Wiley as he walked toward the elevator. Wiley--who had cleaned out his desk the night before, when he received a memo announcing the mandatory staff meeting--motioned toward a solitary figure in the control booth, which is visible from the stark lobby on the 12th floor of the Comerica building on Fitzhugh and Central. The guy was just a rented-out board operator brought in to play CDs and ads during the late-morning shift, while the mass execution was taking place. The poor schlub never uttered a word on the air.
"He's probably like, 'I have to go to the bathroom, but no way am I going out there.'" Wiley, a tall man with close-cropped hair and a goatee, smiled. "It's not his fault."
To Q102 employees, the end of their beloved radio station did not come as a surprise. They have awaited this day for weeks, ever since the spring Arbitron ratings came out and revealed that the station's ratings were--once again--absolutely dismal. Weeks ago, some jocks started looking for work at other stations.
According to Arbitron, which uses diaries to count the number of listeners tuned in to radio stations across the country, Q102 is 19th in the Dallas-Fort Worth market overall with listeners 12 and older. Arbitron's research shows that about 14,400 people were listening to the station during any given 15 minutes, giving the station a 2.4 share of the market.
In other words, Q102's audience was the same size as that of WRR-FM, the city-owned station that broadcasts classical music and City Council meetings.
"We all knew this was coming," says Bob Elliot, the now-former midday jock. "There wasn't any kind of fall campaign being planned. It was extremely quiet at the station. Normally, during this time of the year, we're gearing up for a big fall campaign with promotions, but this year--nothing."
At the very same moment Q102 was being shut down, Chancellor Media Corporation chairman Tom Hicks--of the local investment firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst--was announcing that Chancellor was merging with the Austin-based Capstar Broadcasting. Both Chancellor and Capstar are controlled by Hicks, Muse. The result of the merger, which cost Chancellor $4.1 billion, will make Chancellor the largest owner and operator of radio stations in the country, giving the corporation 463 stations in 105 markets. It finally surpasses CBS as the nation's largest radio entity.
And Chancellor plans on buying even more stations, despite its $65 million loss posted for the second quarter of 1998. There's a possibility it could soon own the rock-formatted KEGL-FM (97.1), one of two local stations owned by the Kentucky-based Jacor Communications, which is currently for sale. Were Chancellor to wind up purchasing Jacor--and The Eagle, which is ranked sixth in the market by Arbitron--Hicks, Muse's mega-corporation would own every single rock station in Dallas-Fort Worth.
"One of the weirdest things about all this consolidation is that onetime competitors are now allies," says R.J. Lane. "That's so weird. It's like, 'Who's our competitor now?' In the last two, three years, everybody's starting to be owned by the same people, and where's the competition? Where's the motivation? You need enemies in your market. Now, it's all a monopoly."
The Q102 jocks and sales staff had long heard rumors about how the also-struggling Edge (rated 18th in the market, with a 2.5 share) was going to switch frequencies with Q102. They had heard how the new format was going to be either top-of-the-pops mainstream or urban oldies (much like CBS' KRBV-FM, 100.3) or urban-contemporary (or "churban," as it's known in some quarters, referring to a mix of top-40 and hip-hop). One rumor even had Redbeard, who was also the station's music director, going to KZPS, which Redbeard quashed in an instant.
"I have a contract with KTXQ for two years," he says. "They can't just send me to ZPS."
Shockingly, all that speculation was so much wasted time: At 3 p.m. Monday, Q102 debuted its new format, though to call it "new" would be a misstatement--the first song heard on the "new 102" was Junior Walker and the All-Stars' "Shotgun," a song that debuted in...1965. The deep-throated voice that debuted the format referred to the playlist as "Jammin' Oldies," which means The Gap Band, Marvin Gaye, Wild Cherry, Otis Redding, War, Kool and the Gang, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, and Rick James--or, in other words, Q102 is now a station for people who haven't listened to the radio or bought a record since 1982. Imagine a cross between the soul-oldies KKDA-AM, the '60s and '70s oldies KLUV-FM (98.7), the urban-adult contemporary KRBV-FM (100.3)--and even KEOM-FM (88.5), the station run by the Mesquite Independent School District that plays nothing but hits of the '70s. Which means the "new 102" is likable and listenable (better Al Green than Alice in Chains), but only because it sounds like every other oldies-formatted station in the market. God forbid Chancellor introduce a station in the market that plays music made in this decade.
According to this same voice, the so-called "New 102"--Chancellor will pay $25,000 to the listener who names the station, and my suggestion is "Why102?"--was created after "thousands of listeners" were surveyed by Chancellor's crack research staff. It's being promoted as a "custom-buil[t] station for Dallas-Fort Worth...designed to make you feel good"; these are, we have been promised, "jammin' oldies--Texas style." The format (they ought to just call it "The Big Chill") is no doubt intended to reach a 25-49 demographic--the very same target audience that listens to KZPS. Think of this as a little chocolate to go with KZPS' classic-rock vanilla.
Just how Chancellor came up with this format remains a mystery.Not a single person at Chancellor returned myriad calls from the Dallas Observer last week. Not George Toulas, who spent the rest of his Thursday in meetings with the remaining Q102 staffers and other Chancellor employees. Not Jeff Marcus, president and chief executive officer of Chancellor Media Corporation. Not Jimmy DeCastro, the Chicago-based president of Chancellor Radio Group, a division of CMC. Not Hicks, bossman over the whole shebang (and, you know, owner of the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Stars).
The Q102 jocks were resigned to the inevitable, all saying almost the same thing as they filed out of the conference room and into the elevators. "It's the nature of the radio business," said Lane. "It happens."
And no one, to a man, blamed Chancellor for the firings.
Just two hours after the meeting, Redbeard, Wiley, Elliot, and overnight jocks Ed Knight and Brian Curry sat around a table at the Angry Dog in Deep Ellum and insisted they, too, would have made changes at Q102. They knew the station was dying and are not so arrogant to presume they could have fixed what ailed it. Even 24 hours before the firing, Redbeard was on the phone with the Observer saying that Q102 and the Edge "both need a lot of work" and that personnel changes were in order.
"I think we all understand this business, and they [Chancellor] are in the business to make as much money as they can," Lane said between bites on a burger and early-afternoon swigs on a longneck Pearl. "There's no resentment at all. I just hope we all can find jobs with them down the road."
But each man said, repeatedly, that he simply wishes Chancellor would have given the rock-and-roll format one more chance, even with different people in place. They didn't want it to end like this--Q102 being shot out back, while no one was looking.
"There is personnel, and then there is format," Redbeard said. "They're not the same thing. Today, they changed all the personnel, and I believe they're changing the format, and it would have been nice to have given it one more chance with different personnel. I think it deserved that."
But how did it happen? How, 25 years after KTXQ became a rock station--at one time, the most successful in this market--did Q102 come to such a quick, ugly death?
"That's what I want to know," says Dave Martin, general manager for CBS Radio, which owns several stations in the market, including the stalwart KVIL-FM (103.7) and the urban-adult contemporary KRBV-FM (100.3). "Dallas-Fort Worth was always known historically as being one of the best rock markets in America. But for whatever reason, rock radio seems to have significantly diminished its position in the market. Why? I just don't know. That's my first question. On the face of it, it doesn't make sense."
The era of which Martin speaks existed a long time ago, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Q102 and KZEW-FM (97.9) were the only two rock-and-roll stations in town. Those were the glory days, long before the classic-rock format was born; back then, The Who, Van Halen, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC were new (or newish) bands. During those days, jocks at both stations absolutely hated each other, so much so that they weren't on speaking terms. There were stickers plastered all over the walls at the "Zoo" that read, "KTXQ--Fuck You!"
"It was very, very, very competitive," says former Zoo jock Mike Rhyner, now part of the sports-talk duo "The Hardline" on KTCK-AM (1310, better known as The Ticket). "When I first started at the Zoo in September 1979, Q102 was really trouncing the Zoo in the ratings, but the Zoo was on its way back. And everybody was real focused and very competitive, and the focus was the hated Q102."
But the Zoo disappeared eight years ago. By then, the Belo Corporation had sold the station. Thereafter, 97.9 seemingly switched formats every other week, offering all Christmas music one minute, soft rock the next.
Q102 was, for years, owned by CBS Radio, and its ratings were enormous: Throughout the 1980s and early '90s, KTXQ pulled in an eight share, which would have made it the top-rated station in Dallas today. Redbeard, who joined the station in the mid-1980s, often played host to the top names in rock and roll; he was on a first-name basis with the likes of Jimmy Page, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, even Paul McCartney. He was among the most respected taste-makers in the album-rock format: If Redbeard was playing a band, similar stations across the country often would follow suit.
But the end began in the summer of 1994, when CBS obtained the 97.9 frequency and instituted a new format called "The Arrow," which CBS had begun in Los Angeles. The KRRW-FM format was so similar to Q102's--album-rock, and lots of it--that you couldn't even tell the stations apart. What's a little "Tush" between friends? Within months, Q102's ratings were cut in half, leaving The Arrow and Q102 to share the same dwindling audience.
"I warned them three times they were going to kill the Q102 goose that had been laying the golden egg for over two decades," says Redbeard. "They insisted on installing a format that directly competed with Q102, and we had no choice. It cannibalized Q102, cut our legs right off the body, and left us with a two share. And Arrow never got more than a two share."
"It was like a new baby comes into the family, and the other kid gets ignored," Elliot adds.
In order to boost its ratings, which sagged like a botched facelift, Q102 in the fall of 1994 switched formats--sort of. It put the dinosaur acts out to pasture and instituted the so-called "active-rock" format, which meant swapping The Who and Lynyrd Skynyrd for Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.
The station also began to add local bands to its regular rotation. No longer were acts such as Tripping Daisy, Hagfish, Spot, Funland, and the Nixons ghettoized to Redbeard's long-running "Texas Tapes" program. Now, you could hear Deep Blue Something's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and a handful of songs off the Toadies' debut Rubberneck long before they were played on other local stations--not to mention stations around the country. By the summer of 1995, The Edge, The Eagle, and Q102 were all vying to be known as the station for Dallas music; all three stations took credit for breaking Tripping Daisy and Deep Blue Something, when, in fact, it was Redbeard and Q102 who were airing the most homemade rock and roll. Thanks to Chancellor, local music has lost one more valuable venue with the "new" format at 102.1.
But then, in 1996, the Federal Communications Commission lifted its long-standing regulation that no company could own more than two stations in any market. The deregulation of radio would eventually ruin the medium; suddenly, companies like CBS could own as many as eight stations in a single city, and CBS promptly went about purchasing anything it could get its hands on.
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.
But those days are gone now. Radio stations are no longer like families, the listener included; it's doubtful they ever really were. But the illusion is, once and for all, shattered into 10 pieces--the number of on-air talent fired from Q102 last week. To those who grew up in Dallas, the radio landscape is all but unrecognizable now. Love it or hate it, Q102 was a constant, an outlet for those who liked their music with less sugar and more salt. Now, 102.1 is another musical geriatric ward; on Dallas radio, it's never any later than 1978.
"I was sitting out at the Ballpark in Arlington watching a Rangers game the other night, and a guy came up to me and asked for my autograph on a baseball glove," Redbeard recalls.
"Clearly, he hadn't seen you play," Wiley interrupts, and all the jocks at the table break into tumultuous laughter.
Redbeard, his face red, begins again. "And he said, 'Man, I've listened to your station since the middle '70s, when y'all started.'" He pauses, glances downward, then looks back up at the colleagues he'll never work with again. "This guy still was listening. The thing he said and the thing I hear from so many people over the years is Q102 was never mean-spirited, it was never cynical.
"As Andy Lockridge said the other day, there's a dark underside to rock and roll in general, and Q102 never focused on that. It always was a station run by the good guys, where the community was involved. And we always had fun.