Radio Daze

Local alt-rock station gets close to the EDGE of extinction, but finds a new home on the dial

On the morning of Tuesday, October 30, Robin Nash went to work thinking she'd be unemployed in a couple of days.

Nash, long the midday linchpin of alt-rock station KEDJ-FM 106.3 and KDDJ-FM 100.3 (The EDGE), had known since mid-September that her days were numbered on the Valley's airwaves. That was when Hispanic Broadcasting Co. announced its intention to purchase the EDGE and transform it into a Latino ballad station. That meant everyone at KEDJ would be getting the pink slip. For Nash, who'd never worked at another radio station, aside from some volunteer time at ASU, the station's impending demise was particularly painful.

But Nash and the rest of the EDGE's on-air personnel remained in a strange kind of denial about the sale. They knew it was coming, they fretted about it, and occasionally even mentioned it on the air ("What are you going to do without us playing the music you love?" Nash rhetorically asked her listeners during a noontime request hour in early October), but they didn't want to think seriously about having to work for another station. Nearly everyone chose to hang on until the final sign-off.

"I've been extremely stressed the last two months, talking to listeners, reminiscing on my last eight years of working at the EDGE," Nash says. "It's been such an overwhelming sensation of 'What the hell am I going to do?'

"I've certainly contacted friends and people that I know in L.A., San Diego, San Francisco and New York. And I was questioning whether I wanted to move or not, but my passion and dedication have been here in Phoenix. But I was almost thinking that the station wasn't going off the air, even though I knew it was. I guess that's why I stayed to the end, in case something magical happened."

On October 29, something didhappen for Nash and the rest of the EDGE crew. Program director Nancy Stevens, who'd been working feverishly for weeks trying to locate a new home for the station, told her staffers that an 11th-hour deal had been made. The management of KPTY-103.9 FM, which had delivered an offbeat mix of hip-hop and rock for the last three years, had decided to junk its entire staff and format, and replace it with the EDGE. They would even change their name to the EDGE.

It was a move that defied radio precedent. It's one thing for a TV network to pick up a show that's been dropped by another network, but major-market radio stations don't just go around replacing their entire staffs and identities with those of their competitors, particularly in these days of corporate radio megaliths.

Stevens sought out KPTY for the EDGE's broadcast salvation because she sensed that their owners, New Planet Radio, were small and flexible enough to make a bold move on such extremely short notice.

"Since I realized that the EDGE was going off the air, it was kind of a mission of mine to save it," says Stevens, a 13-year Valley radio veteran. "[KPTY] is the one I picked. Out of all the stations in the Valley, most of them are owned by large corporations, and it's something that I didn't think we'd be able to successfully flip that quickly."

With the clock ticking on Stevens' efforts, Hispanic Broadcasting's application for the EDGE's frequency was approved by the FCC in the last week of October, virtually ensuring that the station would be off the air by November 1. After informing the staff of the planned move to 103.9, Stevens and her DJs decided to halt programming at 6 p.m. on Halloween night, letting the final song loop for six hours until the clock struck midnight on the EDGE. But on the morning of October 31, EDGE general manager Michael Mallice received a phone call from HBC, stating that the EDGE had 25 minutes left on the air before they'd be shut down. Mallice passed the word to longtime station jock Dead Air Dave, who realized he needed to be ready to usher in the new EDGE at 103.9.

"I grabbed a handful of CDs and my headphones, and raced from downtown Phoenix to the new studio in Scottsdale," says Dead Air Dave, whose seven-year stint at the EDGE was interrupted by a year-and-a-half at "The Party," from 1998 until early 2000.

Nash's final on-air moments at the 106.3 frequency were chaotic and celebratory, conveying the kind of relief you'd associate with a last-minute governor's pardon before a scheduled execution. She chatted with on-air comrade Craven Moorhead and local band Authority Zero, who were in the studio for an acoustic performance. She ended her show with Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" and two minutes later the station was broadcasting Latino love songs. Within minutes, Dead Air Dave had picked up the baton at 103.9, christening the station with Linkin Park's "One Step Closer to the Edge."

This whirlwind of activity left several questions in its wake: Can Hispanic Broadcasting succeed at 106.3 in a market that's rapidly become saturated with various kinds of Latino music? Where will Howard Stern's show land on the local radio dial? What will happen to the KPTY staffers who lost their jobs in the shuffle?

A bigger long-term question might be: How viable is the alt-rock format in the current pop climate? A decade ago, the format represented the one place on the commercial end of the dial where you could turn to hear Sonic Youth, the Pixies or the Beastie Boys. Now, with MTV devoting so much of its scant video time to teen pop and contemporary R&B, any rock that slips in (Linkin Park, System of a Down, Staind) is looked upon by the industry as an alternative, even if its values represent worn-out rock clichés.

For that reason, the EDGE, like all stations that fall within its strictly-defined format, can be a frustrating listening experience. But in a market where the only college radio presence is almost impossible to pick up unless you're on campus, it's still the most powerful source of new rock on the airwaves. And because it has had very little on-air turnover during its nearly nine years on the air, the station's DJs have established an identifiable bond with their listeners.

"The most amazing thing I noticed when we announced we were going off the air was listeners calling saying, 'I grew up with you guys. I've been listening to you since I was 15 and now I'm 23,'" says Nash, who went directly from volunteer work at ASU's radio station to the EDGE eight years ago. "We've become their home ground; they feel comfortable when they turn on the EDGE.

"It's almost like we provide a theme for them, a getaway from whatever they're doing in their everyday life. 'Cause music really does heal, and it makes you feel good. It's medicine for the soul, and the EDGE has become that for thousands of people."

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