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Saying goodbye to KGSR. Is Austin radio dying?

2010 March 8

I’ll just put it out there: I’m not a KGSR listener. Their music is too light for me, and I don’t drive a car. I do, however, respect what they do for the Austin music scene. Their “Unplugged at the Grove” series on Thursday nights at Shady Grove and their concerts in Republic Square park are summertime staples that have made it one of Austin’s most beloved stations.

Imagine my surprise when I logged into my Facebook account yesterday to discover the white-bread station was embroiled in controversy. Nope, the station manager wasn’t tagged in inappropriate photos. Instead, Facebook suggested I become friends with “Say Goodbye to KGSR.”

My first thought was: “Oh snap, KGSR is going off the air! What will the waitstaff at Shady Grove do on Thursday nights?” But then I took a deep breath and clicked around the profile.  It turns out, KGSR is not going anywhere; they’ve watered down their programming and a lot of people aren’t very happy. After a couple of emails with peeps in the Austin radio industry, I got the skinny, and surprise, it all boils down to ratings.

Austin radio ratings are about to change.

A company called Arbitron determines the ratings. Since the dawn of time, people in Arbitron’s sample have kept journals chronicling the stations they listen to throughout the day. Arbitron then tallies the information and determines the ratings.

Last year, Arbitron began rolling out a device called a Portable People Meter, a kind of pager-like device that listens for digital signatures embedded in broadcasts.  Since the PPM is always on, it tracks what people are actually listening to. It turns out that people who previously filled the full day with one station actually channel surf.

Austin gets PPMs later this year. Because they’ve seen how the new ratings affect other cities, KGSR is watering down their programing by cutting local music and adding more pulp in an effort to attract those channel surfers. In so doing, they’ve also alienated a chunk of their fan base. In fact, another Facebook fan page called “I want the old KGSR back…NOW!!!!!” has more fans than either the official KGSR Page or the fan page for KGSR’s Local Music Show Lone Star State of Mind.

Why KGSR’s change pisses me off.

Couple of things about the KGSR format change piss me off. First off, appealing to the lowest common denominator as marketing strategy doesn’t always work.  A better strategy: Differentiation and innovation.

The second problem is indicative of a larger problem in Austin radio: For a city that prides itself as being the Live Music Capital of the World, the radio stations do next to nothing to support Austin bands and musicians. Back in the early days of radio, local stations would break local artists: Think Elvis in Memphis, the Motown artists on Detroit radio stations, or even Biggie on New Yorks’s Hot 97. If our own radio stations don’t play local artists, how can we expect them to ever break outside of Austin?

Can Austin radio be saved?

Maybe KGSR’s move from bland to blander will open the doorway for other radio stations to stand out.  KUT 90.5 has been increasing their play and coverage of Austin musicians. Maybe pissed off KGSR listeners will flock there. Or maybe MIX 94.7 will dominate the adult contemporary space by increasing their local music selections and adding a little edgier content, like this Internet station they launched last week that streams a selection of SXSW picks.

And 101x: I love you. I grew up with you, but PLAY MORE LOCAL MUSIC!! That would truly be alternative. :)

COMMENT: Is Austin radio dying? Can it be saved? What do you listen to?

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. March 8, 2010

    Great post. I wrote one recently about KGSR as well, not quite as well-researched as yours!

  2. mud dauber permalink
    March 8, 2010

    I’d have to agree. Great post.

    Unfortunately KGSR is now my 3rd or 4th option. In order:

    KEXP Seattle - 1st in music quality, 1st in DJ quality.
    KUT Austin - good mix of national news, interesting music. (would be higher if American Routes hadn’t been demoted.)
    KGSR Austin - tolerable. Quality varies greatly from one day to the next.
    KCRW Los Angeles

  3. mizzzlaura permalink
    March 8, 2010

    I’d like to point out a radio gem on the Austin airwaves (and online!). KOOP radio does pretty much all you’re hoping for above, and more. LOCAL MUSIC? check. Varied programming? check. Local community/political affairs? check. Care about what their listeners WANT to hear? check.

    They have two paid employees and the rest of the radio station is run by volunteers and members. Volunteers host the programming, which is VERY eclectic and like nothing else on the radio. They also do everything from website work, to technology, to fundraising.

    KOOP is true Austin radio, run by Austinites for Austinites.

    Check out KOOP at 91.7fm and I think you’ll really like it.

  4. AusJeb permalink
    March 8, 2010

    Interesting. This explains what I’ve been hearing on KGSR. Their programing has also changed back in the last week or so to more of their old style as they’ve ramped up for SXSW.

    I’ve cut back on my listening to KGSR, though, since they moved to 93.3. For some reason, I’m not able to get the new station at my house.

  5. March 9, 2010

    Twitter Comment

    Keeping Austin Ordinary? RT @jbhager RT @ATX4U Saying Goodbye to KGSR. Is Austin radio dying? | Republic of Austin [link to post]

    - Posted using Chat Catcher

  6. March 9, 2010

    Twitter Comment

    NEW POST: Saying Goodbye to @KGSR. Is Austin radio dying? | Republic of Austin [link to post]

    - Posted using Chat Catcher

  7. March 9, 2010

    Twitter Comment

    RT @ATX4U NEW POST: Saying Goodbye to @KGSR. Is Austin radio dying? | Republic of Austin [link to post]

    - Posted using Chat Catcher

  8. March 9, 2010

    Twitter Comment

    NO! I love @KGSR RT @ATX4U: NEW POST: Saying Goodbye to @KGSR. Is Austin radio dying? | Republic of Austin [link to post]

    - Posted using Chat Catcher

  9. March 9, 2010

    Twitter Comment

    NOOOO! RT @SarahatDell: NO! I love @KGSR RT @ATX4U: NEW POST: Saying Goodbye to @KGSR. Is #Austin radio dying? [link to post]

    - Posted using Chat Catcher

  10. March 9, 2010

    Twitter Comment

    @KOOPradio breathes life into local radio. 91.7fm or RT @ATX4U Is Austin radio dying? | Republic of Austin [link to post]

    - Posted using Chat Catcher

  11. March 9, 2010

    Twitter Comment

    Austin radio does little to support local music. :( RT @ATX4U Saying goodbye to @KGSR. Is Austin radio dying? [link to post] #austin

    - Posted using Chat Catcher

  12. March 9, 2010

    Twitter Comment

    RT @jbhager: RT @ATX4U Saying Goodbye to KGSR. Is Austin radio dying? | Republic of Austin [link to post]

    - Posted using Chat Catcher

  13. Carl Spackler permalink
    March 9, 2010

    Your missing a lot of the parts to this story, your close but you dont have it all.

    1. Jodi Denberg resigning. Theres a whole lot to him stepping down and suddenly the re-format getting pushed through.

    2. The Switch from the South Austin transmitter to the Cedar Park transmitter, probably more dealing with installing PPM and less dealing with providing a quality broadcast. Plus South Austin (Where MOST of the musicians are) now has a harder time actually getting a signal on the broadcast. You’d think Travis County would come first, but they’re moving to Wilco.

    3. Jon Dee Graham, whom once wrote about KGSR in song, prophecized this the day Denberg left.

  14. Pat Doyle permalink
    March 9, 2010

    Same as it ever was. Local radio doesn’t support local music because there’s no money in it, and for all the strum and drang about Austin’s music scene, local fans don’t attach much value to it either. If they did, we wouldn’t need SIMS and HAMM. Music as a product is becoming a quaint artifact of the previous century faster that terrestrial radio is - why should an industry that’s already circling the drain attach itself to another one that’s also on life support?

  15. Chris M in Dallas permalink
    March 19, 2010

    You people in Austin never cease to amaze me. Never satisfied. KGSR is a ton better than anything we have in Dallas. And Apollo - you’ll never be happy with any radio station if KGSR is too light, you headbanger. :)

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