In its latest branding deal, Austin City Limits, the longest-running music series on American television is expanding its reach into radio. Starting today (Sept. 6), Austin, Texas’s Triple-A stalwart, KGSR, becomes Austin City Limits Radio.
After playing songs about “change” all day, the official flip happens at 6:30 p.m. CT, Thursday with assistance from Austin Mayor Steve Adler during a live broadcast from Austin’s Arlyn Studios.
While KGSR’s call letters will remain the same, the station’s tagline and branding will switch to Austin City Limits Radio and, more importantly, the programming will change to reflect the eclectic musical offerings of the television show, which kicks off its 44th season Oct. 6 with St. Vincent.
The programming will also embrace the wide scope of artists who play the other ACL-branded entities, which include the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival (the 2018 edition runs Oct. 5-7 and Oct. 12-14 and features Paul McCartney, Metallica, Odesza and Childish Gambino) and the 2,750-seat ACL Live at the Moody Theater in Austin, which hosts around 100 concerts per year.
Tom Gimbel, Austin City Limits GM, says the idea evolved from conversations with KGSR on-air personality Andy Langer. “We had talked for a long time about if there was an ACL radio opportunity,” Gimbel says. “I think we were leaning toward satellite digital when this opportunity to pair with a tremendous brand came along -- two iconic Austin brands coming together in the market -- it didn’t take a lot of time to know that it was right. This is the first 24-7 extension of the ACL brand.”
In addition to KGSR paying a licensing fee for the 5-year deal to Austin City Limits and KLRU-TV, Austin’s non-profit public television station which owns and produces Austin City Limits, the radio station will also share a portion of ad revenue with KLRU-TV and Austin City Limits.
The branding move is a first for KGSR parent, Emmis Communications, which owns 15 radio stations in Austin, New York and Indianapolis. “We were watching some of the things ACL was doing with the festival and ACL Live that allowed them to expand the definition of their brand and esthetic in ways that couldn’t have even been thought of years ago, that would have been resisted, [and] we loved the idea of putting that together with KGSR,” says Scott Gillmore, senior vp and market manager for Emmis Austin Radio. “This gives us the opportunity to expand KGSR’s brand and expand the definition of KGSR in ways that make it more contemporary and [reflect] the way people listen to music these days --people jump across genres and listen to different types of music like when they go to a festival and they go to different stages."
Gillmore estimates that 50 percent of the music heard on Austin City Limits Radio will be artists played on KGSR prior to the switch, while the remaining will be new to the station’s listeners. “We'll certainly still be your home for mainstays like Coldplay, Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran,” says KGSR program director Emily Parker, “but we're excited to expand the playlist on both ends of the spectrum. Songs from heritage Austin City Limits performers like Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and new hits from artists like Kendrick Lamar, Alessia Cara and Miguel. We'll also continue to support music of emerging Austin artists.”
While still honoring Austin City Limit’s history, “Austin City Limits Radio will be a very current-based station, leaning into the artists that are currently streaming, Shazam-ing and selling out stadiums,” Parker says.
The 28-year-old radio station has a strong and devoted following and Gillmore hopes this switch brings even more listeners to the station. According to Nielsen, KGSR’s ratings have hovered in the 1.8 range, placing the station around 15th in the market. “If you look at the cume numbers, we’re outside the top 10,” he says. “We believe this will bring us back into the top 10,” he says. Concurrent with the move, KGSR, which occupies 93.3 on the FM radio dial, is adding a second frequency, 97.1. The second signal will fill in some areas around downtown Austin and Central Texas where 93.3 drops out.
KGSR already had a strong relationship with the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which continues, but will not immediately expand. For example, there are no plans to simulcast the festival on the station.
The radio station will also continue its own slate of events, including its Blues on the Green monthly summer concert series at Austin’s Zilker Park, and its long-running Thursday night concert series, Unplugged at the Grove at Shady Grove.
With this deal in place, Gimbel says there is still a missing piece -- "liberating the archive,” as he calls it. "We’ve got probably the most amazing treasure trove of live music performances that have been filmed at Austin City Limits over the last 44 years." However, due to rights limitations, KLRU can only air an episode four times over three years and then it goes into a vault. Limited deals have seen the release of some of the content -- most recently a pact with New West for home videos that expired five years ago -- but almost all of what airs on the station remains hidden from the public after the license expires, not to mention all the footage that isn’t shown due to time constraints. "We’ve digitized the catalog and preserved and protected the content," Gimbel says. “The question is how do we take that and make it available to fans."