Riviera Broadcast Group, the new owner of The Edge (KEDJ-FM 103.9), did a curious thing on August 18, when it fired Marc Young, the program director who'd boosted the alternative station's share of the Phoenix radio market by more than 60 percent since last fall.
It was Young, after all, who, by accounts from staffers at both The Edge and its competition, the Valley's top-rated alternative station, The Zone (KZON-FM 101.5), was most responsible for conveying former owner Scott Fey's "independent declaration" and actively seeking input from its listeners during his yearlong tenure. In June, shortly after Riviera took over the station, Fey told New Times columnist Brendan Joel Kelley that the staff was staying under the ownership of Riviera, who was supposedly "very excited" about "buying a station in the process of improving" ("Ear Candy," June 9).
Nevertheless, last month it was out with Young, and in with the old -- the old program director for The Zone, that is -- Kevin Mannion, who was canned by KZON and its owner, Infinity Broadcasting, last November. Mannion officially replaced Young at The Edge on August 29.
"On Marc's end, I have nothing bad to say about him," Tim Pohlman, the CEO of Riviera, tells New Times. He and Nat Galvin, station manager for The Edge, confirmed that Young was fired. Mannion was present at an interview with Galvin. Mannion's only comment, when asked about his dismissal from The Zone, was, "Consider the source."
"Sometimes, people are perfect for where they got you to," Pohlman continues. "But, to use a sports analogy, you might have a manager that can take you to the playoffs, but what about the championship? We're basing our decisions on the future."
The Edge's future looked promising under Young's leadership, judging solely by the radio industry's Arbitron ratings over the past year. Last fall, shortly after Young (who couldn't be reached for comment) took over, The Zone had more than doubled up on its competition with a 3.1 share compared to KEDJ's 1.4 share. But after the second quarter of 2005, Arbitron's most recent ratings show The Edge gaining almost a full point to 2.3, compared to The Zone's dip to 3.0.
"I was surprised by [Young's] firing," says KZON station manager Mark Steinmetz. "Marc seemed to be doing a good job for The Edge. I know he was well-liked by the staff there, and they were sorely disappointed to see him leave.
"But I was even more surprised by [Mannion's] hiring," adds Steinmetz, who confirms he fired Mannion almost a year ago for reasons he refuses to disclose. "I was surprised knowing the personalities involved. And I'll just leave it at that."
One reason for the firing/hiring could be The Zone's apparent stranglehold on the coveted 28-to-34 age bracket, a much more desirable demographic for advertisers than The Edge's younger -- but arguably more musically hip -- listeners. It was just before Mannion's departure from The Zone that the station was besting its only alternative-format competition by more than 2-to-1 in the ratings. Mannion, then, just might be the guy to crack into his old bosses' turf.
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Still, Pohlman tells New Times that The Edge won't be alienating the loyal listenership Young established in a relatively short amount of time just to make a buck.
"That station [The Edge]," Pohlman says, "is going to be built by a great program director and feedback from the people."
Steinmetz suggests it could be a desperate move on Riviera's part, which paid $30 million for The Edge back in June and just bought two more stations in Las Vegas (one with a "smooth jazz" format, and the other an "urban adult contemporary" station, according to Pohlman) on August 31.
"The new organization [Riviera], or rather the new corporation -- and they are corporate, by the way -- they're not terribly local or independent anymore," Steinmetz says. "They need to run that business differently to justify what they paid for it. They've got to somehow figure out a way to make a lot more money than the previous owner did."