A radio story that had impact in the Alternative community in 2016 came late in the year when KDGE – The Edge – in Dallas flipped to Christmas music as they prepared to move into the AC format. This past Monday, they officially became Star 102.1 whose core artists include Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Pink – a far cry from Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Twenty One Pilots.
KDGE was our very first Edge client, and this transition from 27 years in the Alternative format gave me the chance to tell the untold story of how we ran into a little legal snafu over ownership of the mark. This post generated lots of comments from both radio people, as well as audience members who enjoyed the station over the years. – FJ
Last Thursday, an era ended for our company…sort of.
Our very first “Edge® client, KDGE in Dallas, changed format after a long 27-year run. When we signed the station on in 1989, the station was at a weak frequency, but the Metroplex was ready for a station that was dedicated to Modern Rock (Alternative was not the nomenclature at the time).
I came up with the Edge® idea after working for several years in the ‘80s with 91X and iconic programmer, “Mad Max” Tolkoff. We had amazing success in San Diego – and of course, the station remains in the Alternative format, after starting out as Rick Carroll’s (“Rock of the ’80s”) first affiliate.
Max was the guy who convinced me that Modern Rock was a format ready to break out. After my success with Classic Rock, it seemed perfectly counter-intuitive to do a complete 180° and emphasize new rock.
In retrospect, we were a little early. Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl would need another two years to launch the Seattle Grunge movement. But with the KDGE sign on, an enthusiastic staff, and a young independent owner, I was optimistic about our foray into the format.
While many of you are aware of KDGE in Dallas, here’s a part of the story you haven’t heard: How the Edge® format almost never expanded beyond that first station.
At the first anniversary of KDGE, it was clear things were going well. I made a market visit to Dallas as part of our ongoing consulting deal. The owner was happy with the station’s initial results, and told me to send him a new contract. I couldn’t have been happier.
Until a couple months went by, we weren’t getting paid, and the new contract never arrived in the mail. Another month, and nothing. We were servicing the station but getting no response to our calls from the owner. The PD was of no help and we were perplexed about what was happening to our Modern Rock success story. We wanted a win so bad we probably would have been willing to consult at no charge for an even longer period of time.
Until a registered letter arrived announcing the owner of KDGE was challenging us for ownership of the mark, The Edge®. Of course, we had it trademarked in the U.S. Copyright Office, but that didn’t stop him from claiming what’s known as first-use. His filing also stipulated the trademark was limited for use in “radio,” and because he owned a radio station and we didn’t, he technically could claim it as his.
(BTW, that’s how other products outside of radio, including shaving cream, smartphones, SUVs, and strip clubs called “Edge®” evaded any claims that we could make. But it was fun and flattering to watch Edge-branded products appear – confirmation that we had come up with a pretty solid name.)
I’ve had some bad days at Jacobs Media over the past 3+ decades, but this one ranked right up there. And it became a recurring nightmare. Despite a couple of assurances that we could settle the dispute out of court, we ended up having to retain attorneys in Michigan, D.C., and Texas. Depositions were taken, and our legal fees were soaring. For a small company, it was becoming debilitating, but it was a fight we felt compelled to wage.
During these couple of years, we had to stop marketing and promoting the Edge® format. We couldn’t very well sign up new clients if our ownership of the trademark was in question. So, it turned out to be a horrible chapter in our business – and my career. What once appeared to be a viable format partner to Classic Rock was crashing and burning, while the attorney fees piled up.
And then one day we got the notification KDGE’s owner decided to sell the station. And in order to complete the deal, this lawsuit had to be settled or at least cleared off the books. And we were eager to make that happen. In short order, an agreement was crafted and the battle was over.
Once our retention of The Edge® mark was free and clear, we started to market the format again. And soon after, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released. We hired a great consultant with credibility in the format – Tom Calderone – and we were off to the races, signing up one Edge™ station after another.
One of the happiest days of my consultancy occurred a few years later. Bonneville bought the station, and GM Tom Glade and Ops Manager John Larson brought us back to once again advise and guide KDGE. I can’t explain just how gratifying it was to walk through those doors, sit down in The Edge® conference room, and get back to work for a station that meant so much to us.
In the meantime, The Edge® brand grew. We signed on stations in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Dayton, Albuquerque, and several others. One of the more bizarre stories occurred in Buffalo. We launched WEDG/The Edge™, and days later, CFNY across the border in Toronto rebranded itself to…yes, The Edge (sans trademark).
So, in effect, there were two stations in the area each playing Alternative music called The Edge®. Because CFNY is a Canadian station, our U.S. trademark meant absolutely nothing. Today, 25 years later, both stations are still in format and both are called The Edge®.
Over the years at Jacobs Media, stations have come and gone. But whether we consulted for Edge® stations or not, we received a licensing fee every year from stations continuing to use the mark. And those checks continue to roll in.
In fact, an Edge® station signed on earlier this year in Battle Creek, Michigan – just a couple hundred miles down the road.
So this radio story has a happy ending. All those legal fees came back several-fold in the form of licensing checks. And we’re blessed with being able to consult some of the best Alternative stations in the country. Along the way, we learned some tough lessons, not only about how wacky trademark law is, but also about the many things that can go wrong in client relationships. I’d say that 99% of the time, it’s gone well. But of course, KDGE was the 1% where it didn’t.
To the hundreds of thousands of people in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area who enjoyed the station, we’re sorry that it had to go, replaced by yet another station playing Christmas music (for now). To the many people we worked with at various incarnations and ownerships of KDGE, The Edge®, thanks for your hard work, support, and professionalism. It was an iconic station, and while it’s sad to see it go, it had a long 27-year run with ratings and revenue success, and of course, Edgefest. There’s a lot to be proud of down in Big D.
And to other stations in the Dallas/Ft. Worth market who just might be conjuring up their own competitive strategies, I’m pleased to tell you the Edge® trademark may soon be available.
For a fee, of course.
Hey, it’s radio. Stranger things have happened.
To hear a taste of The Edge® – how it sounded during that first year – click below:
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.