New KDGE Program Director Josh Venable Talks Edgefest, Station Changes.
Earlier this week, alternative rock station KDGE 102.1 FM The Edge announced the lineup for their annual EdgeFest concert series, which this year will include performances from The Black Keys, Evanescence, Garbage, Cage The Elephant, Cake, Blue October, Arctic Monkeys, Neon Trees, Civil Twilight, Switchfoot, The Ting Tings, Foxy Shazam, The Features, Aranda, Dead Sara and, in a weird twist, Dallas ’00s favorites Chomsky. It’s the 22nd incarnation of the event — but more importantly it’s the first since “The Adventure Club” host Josh Venable took over as the station’s program director almost exactly seven months ago.
As such, now seems like an opportune time to catch up with the 18-year radio vet — to find out how this year’s lineup came to fruition, how he thinks the station has changed since he’s taken over and what he sees as the future of local music on the radio.
How much of selecting bands for EdgeFest falls directly in your lap?
A whole hell of a lot. I work with the promoters and we all come up with a general idea of who we want. This year, for example, I knew that I wanted Garbage last summer, and so then it’s just about going out and finding the bands and making sure who you can get. Obviously, with Coachella being one of our weekends, that helped and hurt depending on which bands we’re talking about. So essentially I came up with a big long list of who I wanted and just kind of started going through them. The initial list that I had was something like 30 bands. Then you start calling record labels and asking, “Can this person do it? Can this person do it? Will this person be in the country?” and you start really looking to see who is available, how much money you think you can spend, and how much you think those bands are going to bring. I looked online the other day and there was some kid on there talking about why we didn’t get the Foo Fighters. I would love if every single person on Facebook posted their phone number so I could call and explain to them the economics of how much money the Foo Fighers want to play a show like ours — or Coldplay or Muse. Coldplay are a million-dollar band now, and so are the Chili Peppers. It’s fairly criminal what these bands get these days, until you kind of look at it and [realize] there is no stadium in the world that Coldplay cannot sell out right now. There is no stadium U2 couldn’t sell out right now — or the Foo Fighters or bands like that. Granted, I think it would have been cool if we had gotten Coldplay to play. But then it would have just been Coldplay and Chomsky and that’s it. That would have been all that we could afford — not to say that we spent a million dollars on this show because we didn’t.
There have been a lot of really big name artists in past lineups — names like Weezer and Jane’s Addiction. But would you say that this year there are more currently relevant artists on the list, i.e. The Black Keys?
My intention, having it be my first one out, was that I wanted an extremely wide net because I wanted something for everyone in the same way that those early EdgeFests and Lollapaloozas that I went to were. The first Lollapalooza that I went to, I was really into Jane’s, I was really into the Violent Femmes and I was really into Siouxsie. I couldn’t have cared less about Ice-T, I couldn’t have cared less about In Living Colour and bands like that. But every year you knew that you were going to get something different. That second year, when you had Ministry and Lush on the same show, it sounded like it was going to be an abortion — but it was so fun to be there around totally different kinds of people. Tons of people in really long black shorts and dreadlocks were not there to see Lush like I was, and others were there to see Ministry, and that’s fine. I really wanted to cast a wide net with this show and I wanted it to pay homage to the history of the station. I mean, this is EdgeFest 22. The station [will have] been around 23 years this summer, so having Garbage and Cake and bands like that in that mix were really important. Then, there is no band more relevant for alternative music right now than The Black Keys and so I wanted somebody like that. Then I wanted at least a local band on there and I hadn’t seen Chomsky since I moved back to Dallas, so I called them because they are friends and I wanted to see them. That’s why they’re on there. I wanted it to be a really good mix of core Edge bands, which we have — Blue October, Cage the Elephant, The Black Keys, then “Adventure Club” bands, brand new bands that people haven’t really heard of yet like Dead Sara or Foxy Shazam, and then Local Edge with Chomsky, and then old school Edge with bands like Cake and Garbage. I really think that this show encompasses everything that we do up here at The Edge.
Going into this year’s festival, what are you most pumped about?
I think that having The Black Keys is amazing for us. They’re not doing anyone else’s radio shows — you’re not seeing them playing for Des Moines’ rock ‘n’ roll station or Norfolk, Virginia’s. None of these people have The Black Keys. We have them. I am extremely proud about that fact. I mean, we are talking about the band that is headlining both of nights of a sold-out Coachella that is one of the fastest sellouts that Coachella has had recently. So I think having The Black Keys is extremely huge for us. To be truthful, I am really excited to see what Garbage are going to be like because they haven’t played Dallas in 10 years. I looked it up the other day because I had been saying 10 years to people and I realized that I had just made that up, so I really needed to fact-check myself, and then I did and I noticed that they had not been here since ’02. So I am really excited to see them.
What other ways do you feel you’ve been able to effect change at the station since you’ve been the Program Director?
I think the station is more fun to listen to now. I think a lot of that is done through the sweepers that we run in between songs instead of the way it was before where every single time one song would fade out you’d just hear someone go, “The Edge!” How boring is that? We really changed that up quite a bit. I didn’t like it, I found it boring. You can listen to an iPod and have it go, “Joe’s iPod!” I mean, how utterly ridiculous and sad. I can’t take credit for everything. It’s also easy to say the landscape of alternative music has changed quite a bit in the last six months. When you look at just what’s happened in the last six months with bands like Fun. or Grouplove or Gotye — I obviously cannot take credit for those things, but it’s really, really nice. I think in some ways this all started with The Arcade Fire winning a Grammy, and then Bon Iver winning [this year]. This is really our time. If you like terrible, terrible music, this is not a good time to be a radio listener. It is a great time if you like really good music. These songs are actually working and they’re not just working in Dallas on The Edge, they’re working all over the country. That Gotye song — I looked this morning — and it was the number three alternative song in the country and The Black Keys were number one. What kind of universe do we live in where this is possible? A few years ago, I would have said that all of this type of stuff — The Black Keys and Mumford and Muse and Florence — all of these bands were “Adventure Club” bands that I never in a million years would have thought would take off. Especially Muse. That one totally caught me by surprise. However many years ago, we were playing “Sunburn” and “Muscle Museum” and all those songs off their first record, and now they are one of those million_dollar bands that we were talking about. I think they did get a million dollars to play Coachella last time. I’m looking at what we’re about to play coming up on the station today, and we’ve got Coldplay. This hour we’ll also see The Verve, Muse, The Black Keys, Phoenix, and REM. There you go. That’s amazing to me. That is a station I would want to listen to. When you asked how I changed things, I don’t think there is one song on this station that is offensively bad to me. Somebody asked me in an interview a couple of months ago what is the most surprising thing about The Edge since you took over and I said it is that we don’t play Saliva anymore. And that’s true. It’s funny how different The Edge sounds — for better or worse depending on what kind of music you like, just in the last couple of years. That’s not all me coming in and saying, “I hate Saliva so we’re going to drop every Saliva song and I don’t want to play anything that sounds like this ever again!” It’s not that. It’s that the bands that are really working nationally and internationally are bands like Muse and Mumford and Gotye and Grouplove and things like that. I love living in a world where we are playing bands like that a whole hell of a lot.
How in-touch do you stay with the local scene? What local bands are on your radar right now?
To be honest, since I moved back I get a lot of what I know about the local scene from my friend Mark [Schectman] who does “The Local Edge” here. I like Mon Julien. And Bad Sports I like quite a bit. Those would be probably my two favorite things right now.
With so much great local music coming out right now, are there any plans on adding some of that into the regular playlist, or possibly expanding “The Local Edge” to a bigger timeslot?
I don’t know. That’s something definitely to think about at some point. I mean, anything is possible. Sunday nights are where we really did both his show and my show because, while I like it and he likes it, and there are people who do like it. There just are not near as many people who like to hear Mon Julien, The Orbans, Arcade Fire and The Smiths as there are that would like to hear what we play on The Edge normally.
How are your plans to reunite The Smiths for EdgeFest 23 coming along?
It will probably be EdgeFest 24, but I am working as hard as humanly possible on that, and I promise to let Central Track know before anyone if that actually does come to fruition.
Tickets to EdgeFest 22 go on-sale Friday, February 17, via Ticketmaster