Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 15, 2014
Longtime Austin radio hosts JB Hager and Sandy McIlree will return to Austin’s airwaves at 6 a.m. Monday on The Fringe, a new radio station set to launch at 10 a.m. Saturday with a weekend-long preview.
Hager and McIlree both exited Mix 94.7 late last year after a contract dispute. They’d been on the air together for almost two decades.
Details on The Fringe, including the type of music it will play and the frequency it will occupy on the radio dial, remain scarce. Citing competitive reasons, members of station management, including longtime Austin broadcaster Bob Cole, have been cautious not to provide too many details thus far.
Cole and his business partners currently control several Austin-area FM frequencies, including three that air eclectic country station KOKE-FM − 98.5 FM, 99.3 FM and 105.3 FM. He’s also a part of the team that has been running 104.9 The Horn, a hybrid sports talk and classic hits station, since the beginning of the year.
Several web addresses registered late last week, including 1053TheFringe.com and Fringe1053.com, appear to indicate The Fringe will take over KOKE-FM’s 105.3 FM frequency.
In a recent interview with the American-Statesman, The Fringe program director and afternoon host Ray Seggern, former host of the weekly "Chillville" program on alternative rock station 101X, promised the station would play music that was "off the beaten path."
"There are a lot of stations out there playing the same five songs every five minutes," he said. "Our station will be known just as much for what it doesn’t play as what it does play."
After being off the air for more than four months, Hager says he’s eager to start his new gig. What’s he been doing with his free time? "Driving my family nuts," Hager said.
"I’ve come to realize they adore me in small doses, love me in moderate doses and question their life choices when I’m around 24/7," he said.
During Hager’s time off the air, he was able to focus on other projects. Ferris, his mobile video app, has secured funding from investors and he’s also been active with On-Airstreaming, his business venture that records high-quality videos for new and established musicians from inside an authentic Airstream trailer.
Feedback from fans continues to pour in, Hager said, and the positive notes from longtime fans have meant a lot.
"I was so flooded with messages via email and Facebook … I still haven’t caught up with them all," he said. "Every single day there are private messages or a Facebook post about how pissed people are. They hate their mornings and want us back.
"I would love to have interacted with all those messages, but we were under pretty strict scrutiny legally from our previous station. Their legal team was down our throats the entire time and pretty much put a gag order on us. Their legal could outspend us any day and they knew it."
When listeners tune in Monday, Hager says they’ll hear a show that’s similar in many ways to the one they previously hosted – but with more personality and conversation.
"It will be us, but the handcuffs will be off," he said. "We were poorly coached over the last few years. We were told to be short, generic, don’t talk about yourselves, broad … you name it.
"We lost our connection with the audience doing generic radio and not talking about Austin. We were working with new management every year who weren’t from Austin and weren’t likely to stay here very long. We felt like beat dogs."
With Cole at the helm, and Seggern using his advertising background to seek out ways to monetize the station that don’t involve an overabundance of commercials, Hager says he’s highly optimistic about what the future holds.
"We’re lucky benefactors that Bob Cole went through this and figured out how to make the local model a huge success," he said. "It will be like radio used to be and better for this city. In a way, we are pioneers of the new model of doing radio as corporations strip down or sell off to pay off years of debt."