KGSR Rebrands as Austin City Limits Radio

New licensing deal will re-invent frequency’s format

KGSR announced this morning that the radio station is officially rebranding as Austin City Limits Radio KGSR. Behind the name change, the iconic local station at 93.3 on the dial resets its programming by expanding into a much more eclectic mix across genres.

Steve Miller and Austin’s Jimmie Vaughan in Zilker Park during KGSR’s premier annual live music series Blues on the Green in 2015 (Photo by Gary Miller)

“We launched the station in December of 1990, so it has a really wonderful heritage here in Austin, and the ACL brand of course goes back even longer than that,” noted Scott Gillmore, VP and market manager at Emmis Radio, which owns KGSR. “We thought it would be a great way for KGSR to evolve, by joining that heritage with ours. It turned into something that allows us to move into the future, essentially.”

KGSR’s well-established Austin presence includes regular live music series like Blues on the Green and Unplugged at the Grove, as well as their annual benefit compilation disc, KGSR Broadcasts. Those events and efforts will continue under the new ACL Radio name.

The station, which currently ranks 11th in the Austin market, struggled to find its ideal format after Emmis Communications bought it in 2003, attempting to balance programming between hometown roots and more popular adult alternative. Those challenges were highlighted when longtime programmer Jody Denberg left the station in 2009, eventually relocating to KUTX, the NPR affiliate whose eclectic mix of music seems the most obvious comparison for what an ACL Radio format might resemble.

“People had varying views built up over the years of what they expect KGSR to be,” admits Andy Langer, longtime KGSR personality and newly named Brand Marshal. “We do such a good job in the community that we are often confused with being a noncommercial station. The reality is that this is a commercial enterprise and ratings matter, and there were attempts over the years to improve that ratings picture.

“That being said, if you look at the Triple A's all over the country, they either went out of business outright, or shifted to an emphasis on classic rock or pop or alternative. We may have done all of those shifts over the years, but we were also, every time, the most eclectic Triple A in the country.”

As ACL Radio, KGSR will range even more broadly among genres and artists that fit underneath the ACL umbrella.

“It becomes far more eclectic on either end,” adds program director Emily McIntosh. “We’ve got the historic artists from the Austin City Limits television show, and we can now play a little more Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett and Stevie Ray Vaughan. On the other end, you have these mass appeal artists playing the festival and the venue, so we can lean in a little harder to Drake and Jay-Z and some of these breaking artists.”

“Yes, there will be Metallica,” adds Langer.

The multi-year licensing agreement also creates yet another outlet for Austin City Limits Enterprises’ expanding empire

The multi-year licensing agreement also creates yet another outlet for Austin City Limits Enterprises’ expanding empire, which, in addition to the flagship television show, also licenses the name to C3 Presents/Live Nation for the ACL Music Festival and to the Downtown venue ACL Live at the Moody Theater. The ACL brand now includes the television series, festival, venue, and radio station.

“It’s a daily touchpoint with the brand,” offers Tom Gimbel, general manager of the Austin City Limits television show. “On KLRU, the show airs Wednesdays and Saturdays; the venue is going to program a certain number of nights a year; the festival is here two weekends in October. But this is going to be a 24/7, 365 days a year connection with the ACL brand. Certainly in our world, radio is an obvious extension of the brand and this was just the right fit at the right time.”

The deal is certainly unique for terrestrial radio. While satellite radio has long programmed stations around a personality or aesthetic, such as Willie’s Roadhouse or Margaritaville Radio, terrestrial stations largely still follow genre. ACL Radio may well open the door to programming radio in entirely new ways. It’s not difficult to imagine an L.A. station rebranding as Tom Petty Radio or a New Jersey station building a format around Bruce Springsteen.

“What we have planned obviously mirrors the way people consume music now, because they’re not just fans of one genre,” offers Langer. “They don’t have that myopic vision anymore, and a lot of that is because of streaming. But if you’re a station that does just one thing, I think that sells short the taste of your audience in this modern era.”

“People don’t listen to music in such a strictly formatted way anymore,” echoes Gimbel. “That’s the beautiful thing about digital music market plays and things like Spotify, where you have the universe of music at your fingertips and people hit shuffle. People are not tying themselves to Triple A or hip-hop or rock or country. They’re all over the map. I think we’re going to see a lot of people in Austin listening the same way.”

It’s not difficult to imagine an L.A. station rebranding as Tom Petty Radio or a New Jersey station building a format around Bruce Springsteen.

In fact, the digital component of ACL Radio may be the most interesting for the radio station. The station currently tallies about 70,000 listening hours per month on the KGSR online stream. A branded ACL Radio would likely have a much wider appeal outside of Austin, therefore making the digital interface that much more valuable.

“Right now, as a terrestrial radio station, our strategy is to be a local medium and go local,” acknowledges Gillmore. “We really haven’t encouraged out-of-market streaming or listening, because we have to pay significant royalties on streaming, so we have a hard time monetizing if people are listening. Right now for KGSR, it’s not a big enough group that we could monetize a national buy, so we don’t encourage it or promote it all really. With something like [ACL Radio], though, maybe we would change our strategy on that.”

The current licensing deal for ACL Radio is specifically limited to the Austin market and defined by the terrestrial signal, according to Gimbel. That leaves the door open for how ACL or ACL Radio may expand further through digital channels in the future.

“A lot of flagship stations around the country, whether it’s KXPN or KEXP, have a national listenership, and I think as this station evolves into what it’s going to become, the online component and reaching outside of Austin with ACL Radio could be really interesting,” says Gimbel. “That’s one of the areas that's still unexplored, but could be a really cool opportunity.”

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KGSR, Austin City Limits, Emmis Radio, Emmis Communications, Blues on the Green, Unplugged at the Grove, Scott Gilmore, Andy Langer, Emily McIntosh, Jody Denberg, Tom Gimbel

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