Radio Free Dallas
George Gimarc hasn't had any real contact with the radio station he helped found, KDGE-FM (94.5), in about three years, since he released the 11th, and most likely last, installment of his Tales From the Edge series. As a group, the Tales From the Edge compilations are like portable histories of Dallas music, and Gimarc is convinced that the last volume holds its own against every one in the bunch. He still can't believe that the disc -- which featured bands such as Funland, Tripping Daisy, The Dooms U.K., and the Old 97's -- did so poorly, that it was the worst selling one in the series. But it's not just the money that Gimarc poured into the project that bothers him. It's the way the album was treated by his former employers, the way he was treated.
"I put it out, and the station did absolutely nothing to promote it," Gimarc says. "It was a completely invisible record, a real disaster. But that was when they were under old management. It's not the new team that's in there now. I don't have anything against the new team, but I certainly did against the old."
Gimarc chuckles slightly when asked whether the old management was the same group that was around when he left in 1994. "You mean, was that the team that was around that fired me?"
Yes, Gimarc still holds a grudge regarding his impromptu exit from The Edge, and you can hardly blame him. He was let go without warning, and in the five years that have passed since then, he has seen the radio station he helped turn into one of the most important and interesting stations in the country -- not just Dallas -- become just so ordinary, another point on the dial without much of a point. The Edge turned 10 years old on June 30, but it seems as if it lost its way much longer than five years ago.
Of course, it's not all The Edge's fault. The station didn't really lose its way as much as it was lost along the way, joined on the road by too many other stations, too many bands. It's difficult to be the alternative when you're the first choice. Back when The Edge was created in 1989, there were only two other alternative stations in the country: LIR-FM in Long Island and KROQ-FM in Los Angeles. Now there are more than 100 alternative stations in the country, and a dozen of them call themselves The Edge. Josh Venable, host of The Adventure Club on Sunday nights, grew up listening to The Edge before he became a DJ there five years ago. He believes there isn't room for the old Edge anymore, even though he misses it too.
"I don't think that now you could get away with playing acoustic Cult B-sides," Venable says. "It's just not going to work. Nobody cares. Truthfully, [I don't think we could get away with that] any more than we could get away with playing acoustic Bush B-sides. I remember listening to The Edge and never hearing a song I didn't like. And I definitely think that's true now, where kids now listen to Blink-182 into Beck into Nirvana into Korn into Limp Bizkit into Kid Rock...That is probably all of those kids' record collections. I don't think [the change] was as drastic as it would appear now. Where the station is now and where the station was then -- I think it was a very logical and gradual change."
When Gimarc and Wendy Naylor -- the first two employees at The Edge -- sat down to figure out what their new station would sound like, there was no competition. No one else was playing what they wanted to: Aztec Camera, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Smiths, The Cure, The Ramones. "There was a huge, gaping whole in the marketplace," Gimarc says. "I had talked about doing a station like this since the early '80s. Here it was 1989 -- it just made too much sense."
Gimarc and The Edge started with a blank slate in more ways than one. When Gimarc first visited the new station's offices, well, there weren't any. He remembers walking into a building in Las Colinas and taking the elevator up to a floor that was completely empty, save for an ad hoc office in one corner. As Steve Allison -- president of the station's owner, Allison Broadcast Group -- walked Gimarc through the future office, pointing out chalk marks on the floor that represented the on-air studio and the production room, he wondered how long it was going to take before The Edge was operational.
"And he says, 'Six weeks,'" Gimarc recalls, laughing. "Uh, yeah. Well, they made it. It was really weird, but they made it. We signed on the station on June 30, I think at noon, and we couldn't even hear the station in the air studio. It was such a disaster. The antenna that we were on was not as tall as it could be. It was as far away as you could imagine, 60 miles. We just had a real crap signal. And I had just quit a really decent job over at KZPS to come do this, and I'm thinking, 'Oh my God -- I've just given up a good job to come to a station I can't even hear in the air studio. What am I doing?'"
If Gimarc wasn't exactly sure what he was doing, the listeners were. The Edge began its broadcast history with a three-punch combination of The Ramones' "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?," R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe," and Elvis Costello's "Radio Radio." It was more than enough to quickly earn the station a following. It hardly even mattered that the playlist was peppered with oldies, songs by the likes of The Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Amboy Dukes, even Chubby Checker.
The oldies were there because Allison Broadcast group may have been willing to take a risk, but it wasn't willing to take a big risk. Allison brought in Fred Jacobs, a radio consultant who was used to working with classic-rock stations. Gimarc remembers that Jacobs wasn't familiar with any of the bands on the playlist he and Naylor had made up, so he put some names on it that he was familiar with. Jacobs figured that if he didn't know who the bands were, no one else would either. But after four months, The Edge no longer needed the oldies to fall back on.
"At the time, there was no radio station that would even consider playing two records that were even vaguely new wave in the same hour, so the fact that we would play 10 of them in the same hour, and throw in an oldie -- no problem," Gimarc says. "It was so much killer stuff. But when that Chubby Checker record came along, Wendy and I would be like, 'Oh my God! Why are we playing this? We could be playing another really cool record there.'"
And for the first several years of its existence, The Edge was the station that was willing to play the bands that no one else had heard of. But by the time Gimarc was fired by then-programming director Joel Folger -- a man he describes as "one of the most unimaginative program directors I think I ever worked for" -- the marketplace had changed. Nirvana happened, and so did Pearl Jam. The station, for better or worse, had to change to keep up with the times. Gimarc doesn't necessarily agree with the changes, but he understands them.
"Well, it should change," Gimarc says. "The station should change with time, because that is the nature of the beast. When I was at the station, there was no act on our playlist that had a platinum record. There was no act on our playlist that could fill Starplex. We were thrilled when an act would come through and they were playing the Bronco Bowl." He laughs. "You kind of have to put things into context, as to where the state of the industry was when we went on the air."
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