Two weeks ago, KUT celebrated its 51st anniversary of broadcast, and if there were any lingering questions over how vital Central Texas’ public radio station continues to be, one only has to look to the ongoing controversy over recent programming changes for the answer: Yes, people still care. A lot. KUT, a charter member of National Public Radio, offers a mix of both national and local programming. It was one of the first stations to pick up All Things Considered, NPR's flagship news program in 1971, and since then, such nationally beloved shows as This American Life and Car Talk command KUT airtime alongside such homegrown shows as Latino USA, the nationally syndicated Latin issues program hosted by Maria Hinojosa on the UT campus. Hinojosa is just one of many personalities that have come to feel like family for KUT listeners. It’s the nature of radio that, going on voice alone, we fill in the blanks for the faces, and feel a closer kinship for it. Not to mention the fact that you can tell the time by who's purring in your ear: Who needs a sundial when you have KUT's Morning Edition host Jennifer Stayton on the morning commute and Bob Branson, with his rush-hour traffic reports, on the way home? But it’s the music hosts, with their hours-long blocks of programming, that Austinites have grown especially attached to, hence the citywide uproar over the significantly reduced hours of KUT mainstays Larry Monroe and Paul Ray and the canceling of Eklektikos host John Aielli’s podcast, Aielli Unleashed. All three radio personalities have received "Best of Austin" awards over the years and have come to emblematize KUT. But rocky economic times and flat listenership – we'll leave be the conspiracy theories – have resulted in a not-so-subtle shuffling of all three if not out the door then very near the frame, to the mighty wrath of longtime listeners. Then again, there's a (quieter) contingent that's pleased at the opportunity for new voices at the station. The Chronicle is of course no stranger to public blowback when a formula is tweaked, so we’re on the fence about the changes. Here's what we know: When KUT began broadcasting 51 years ago, Austin looked a lot different. The city and the station have grown up together; truth be told, both are going through some growing pains right now. And that's okay. We couldn't quit either one of you if we tried.
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