Josh Venable on the Edge's Demise: 'Today Cheerleaders and Indie Kids Love Band of Horses'
There had been whispers in the DFW radio market about it for months, but yesterday, it became official. The alternative rock staple KDGE 102.1 the Edge has ceased to exist after 27 years on the air. In between repeat plays of Semisonic's "Closing Time," there were teases of a new format debuting today at 5 p.m. while listeners were directed to sister station KEGL 97.1 the Eagle for some of the songs the Edge used to play.
Once the word got out via a RadioInsight article, Facebook and Twitter were flooded with tributes, albeit with one caveat. "I stopped listening years ago," many posts from people in their 20s, 30s and 40s read. It was like hearing about a pet you gave up for adoption years ago that was put to sleep after living a very long life. Still, it is sad to see the Edge go out on a low note.
It was no secret the station had struggled in the ratings for years despite being a go-to station for key younger demographics. The annual festivals like Edgefest and How the Edge Stole Christmas drew large crowds year after year. (As of this writing, the final How the Edge Stole Christmas is still on the event calendar at the Verizon Theatre early next month.) But people who used to listen to the station often say, "Remember when the Edge was good?"
Whichever era you came up on — when it started in '89 as 94.5 FM or after 2000 when it was 102.1 FM — the Edge was the station that doubled as the cool older sibling, showing you the music that wasn't peddled to the masses. It was the Cure, R.E.M. and the Smiths instead of Journey, Van Halen and Def Leppard. It was Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam instead of Trixter, Steelheart and Nelson. As the alternative rock format made an enormous dent in a sagging music industry and pop culture in the early 1990s, it slowly became the norm. Eventually it became necessary to seek an alternative to alternative rock.
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But all this time, there was the Adventure Club, the longtime Sunday night specialty show. Though he wasn't the original host, Josh Venable is the host most-often associated with the show. With his refined taste in music, he was not afraid to say what he thought you should or should not listen to. Whether it was imports from Ash or Trashcan Sinatras or local acts like Centro-matic or Chomsky, he strongly championed what he loved. And that's what made people keep tuning in year after year, no matter what was playing.
Even after the station became a part of the Clear Channel conglomerate, they were able to attract new listeners and retain older listeners. Many people deserve credit for this, including Venable, Jeff K, Chris Jagger and Chris Ryan. Venable was with the station for over 20 years, and helped boost its ratings when he was made program director in 2011.
"When I first started there [in '93] I was 17, [and] there was an 'us against them' mentality," Venable says. "The John Hughes cliques were evident in every high school. Edge bands only got played on the Edge." Edge listeners were easy to find, whether they dressed like members of the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Smiths or Siouxsie and the Banshees. They had each other and they looked out for each other.
Yet with shifting desires for better ratings and higher profits, Clear Channel, now known as iHeart Media and often cited as a company that tarnished the personal relationship between radio stations and listeners, the Edge suffered a personality crisis. What was pop was marketed as alternative and vice-versa, whether it was Muse, Coldplay, Imagine Dragons or Matchbox 20.
"Today cheerleaders and indie kids alike love Band Of Horses," Venable says. "The world has changed. While I think it's a cop out to say the Edge died after the early days I will say this: When I was fired from the boss' chair in 2012, I was replaced by someone who loves Madonna. I mean, really likes Madonna's 'music.' That should speak volumes. If HBO goes off the air tomorrow I won't be sad. I will be nostalgic for a time when I watched The Sopranos, but it isn't the same thing."
Wendy Naylor and George Gimarc founded the station in 1989 after trying to get it off the ground for a few years. Taking a cue from the groundbreaking KROQ in Los Angeles, they wanted to do something special in the DFW area. "Dallas is odd," Gimarc says. "We don't have college radio. I mean, we do, but we don't. College radio does not play college radio's role in DFW." The Edge filled that void for numerous acts. It gave the station a big reason to exist.
Gimarc wanted to locate the station in Deep Ellum so they could represent what people on the street wanted to hear. The station stayed current with iconic bumper stickers, promotional events and multiple volumes of the Tales From the Edge compilations. This changed as the radio ownership and management changed.
"There have been a lot of people in charge over the years," Gimarc says. "Some of them had more of their heart into it than others. It was their mission to keep the Edge going along those original guidelines. There were other people who, it was one of a few stations they ran to collect a paycheck. You get different results with that."
With its growing success over the years, consultants birthed alternative rock stations all over the country. A lot of them went away years ago, but the Edge was able to stick around for 27 years.
"It was a hell of a run, and I'm so proud of the nearly 10 years I spent there," says Mark Schectman, who now hosts the Local Ticket on Sunday nights on KTCK the Ticket. "I was never the same after hearing the Adventure Club for the first time, then to get to host it and the Local Edge were life goals I never dreamed I'd get to achieve. I'm truly grateful that some of my radio idols like Josh, Jeff K, George Gimarc, Jagger, Chris Ryan took a chance on me. It hasn't been cutting edge in many years, save for Sunday nights, but it will go down as one of the most important radio stations of our time."
"I just hate to see anyone out of work," says Julie Fisk, who, along with her former morning show host Chris Jagger, no longer works full-time in radio. "Especially an exceptionally talented person like Jessie [Jessup]. I don't quite understand what radio is evolving into but it feels like it's grasping at straws."
Gimarc adds, "I think they forgot that listeners are people."
Gimarc would love to launch an alternative classic rock format that runs from the Ramones to Elvis Costello to Pearl Jam, but it has yet to come to fruition. For now, he reflects on the importance of the Edge for him.
"When I got to the Edge, I finally had people that respected my skills to do whatever I wanted to within budget," he says. "And it worked. I tried all sorts of things which gave me courage. After the Edge, I ended up going on all these adventures of my own, [like] writing for VH1, writing books, video production. So, all this other stuff was built on courage based on that one project. Prior to that, when I was at KZEW, I was the weird guy. I wasn't taken seriously. When I got to the Edge, I got a little more respect."
For listeners now, there's a void. Sure, you'll hear Nirvana, Green Day and the Toadies between songs by Metallica and Disturbed on the Eagle, but it's not the same with that kind of cross-genre sharing. KXT and KNON do a fantastic job servicing the market, but they don't have the power and clout the Edge did. And that's something people will miss until something else fills the hole it has left.
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