A New Aesthetic For Commercial Radio?

Yesterday’s launch of Austin City Limits Radio may go down as a flash in a pan attempt to salvage a failing AAA, but there are also multiple pieces within there that can become a template for commercial radio going forward.


Austin City Limits Radio 93.3 KGSR 97.1In the past big local radio brands were big enough to stand on their own. Everyone in a town no-matter if they were a dedicated listener or not knew KISS-FM, 99X, K-Rock, WGN, WBLS. That started to fade with the proliferation of drop-in signals in many markets in the 1990s but with all of the digital options it is much, much harder for a new brand or format to break through. The KGSR of 2018 was a far cry from the KGSR of the 1990s and early 2000s. It had lost its way and faced increased FM competition from University of Texas’s 98.9 KUTX and the “Sun Radio” network let alone all of the streaming options in a very tech-friendly market like Austin.

By pairing with the well known Austin City Limits and tying in with their cross-platform marketing, KGSR has a leg up on any other new format launch would have. If they became “Star 93.3” or “More-FM” the common listener would have no idea what the station is prior to listening. As “Austin City Limits Radio” those who know what ACL is have a general idea on what to expect on the station before ever tuning in.

Platform Agnostic

In addition to not having the frequency in the station’s branding; as most imaging simply says “Austin City Limits Radio“, the two FM frequencies 93.3 and 97.1 are only mentioned a couple times per hour. The station knows that as we enter a post-radio era, it will be just as important to be heard online as it will on-air. Emmis has had one of the biggest successes in turning an individual station into a global brand with “Hot 97” in New York. If they can duplicate that even slightly with KGSR they will be positioning the station for long-term success.


The AAA format has been one of the few to adapt to the realities that listeners don’t listen to one genre of music all of the time. ACL Radio takes that to the extreme. The playlist features Alternative, Hip-Hop, Dance, and Pop currents, Classic Rock, Blues, Red Dirt Country, and AAA gold. The station emphasizes it as being an “aesthetic” rather than a format and that makes it one of the first stations to directly recognize the importance that playlist services like Spotify have had on listeners habits.

The station also is one of the few AAA or Alternative stations to realize that Hip-Hop is something people do not mind hearing next to rock leaning songs. Childish Gambino and Drake can work next to Foo Fighters and Tom Petty if you’re seeking male 18-34 audiences. To a common radio listener who hasn’t made the move to streaming the segues may come off as jarring, but also as a breath of fresh air. One CHR programmer described the new format to me as “Hipster Hot Hits”, while WAPS Akron PD Brad Savage noted that it fits the sound heard on many European CHRs.

For more on the music of ACL Radio, see Sean Ross’ First Listen of the station.


For someone like me who observes radio stations constantly the lack of imaging after every song is noticeable. For someone who listens to radio just to hear music it gives them more of what they want with less clutter. It also makes the breaks from a host or the John Frost voiced sweepers sound more important.

The Future

The new KGSR format looks to be male 18-44 focused, which would duplicate what Emmis is targeting with Alternative “101X” 101.5 KROX. It does complement its market-leading Variety Hits “103.5 Bob-FM” KBPA as the format picks up where the other ends.

The addition of the 97.1 translator helps boost KGSR’s coverage in downtown Austin, but 93.3 holds a Construction Permit to move its transmitter just a few miles west of the translator. At that time there will be no reason to simulcast on both frequencies. A unique digital emphasized “Austin City Limits Radio” on just 97.1 will still reach Austin proper while opening up the regional Class C2 93.3 signal for a traditional mass-appeal format.

If the new brand succeeds, it will be through ancillary data points such as streams. This is not likely to be a PPM friendly station, but if there is any growth that can be measured an industry that is known for cloning ideas will be quick to duplicate some of the elements above.

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  1. johndavis says

    I don’t know if I’d call this station hostile to PPM. I recognize all of the songs they play, whereas I can name the title or artist on maybe 1 out of 4 songs on Sun Radio. I mean, I’ve heard both Under The Bridge and When I Come Around in the space of 15 minutes.

  2. johndavis says

    You know, the longer I listen to this, the more adept the comparison to Bob-FM is. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep, just not centered in pop music. And it just might work.

  3. Eric Jon Magnuson says

    I overlooked it yesterday, but Billboard’s “exclusive” preview story (at https://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/legal-and-management/8473815/austins-kgsr-becomes-austin-city-limits-radio-through) contains this section on the planned playlist…

    “[Emmis Austin senior VP and market manager Scott] 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.'”

    1. Eric Jon Magnuson says

      Here’s Ms. Parker, as quoted in the American-Statesman’s story (at http://music.blog.mystatesman.com/2018/09/06/austin-city-limits-radio-deal-with-kgsr-brings-iconic-brand-to-the-airwaves)…

      “Asked for examples of what might carry over from the current KGSR format and the new ACL Radio vision, she suggested that ‘center-lane, big-brand heralds of AAA’ such as Coldplay, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Mumford & Sons would remain. ‘But we’ll go to the left of that,’ she said, with Texas legends such as Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Stevie Ray Vaughan, all of whom were KGSR staples in the 1990s. […] ‘And we’ll widen on the other side for artists like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and others who have played the festival[.]'”

    2. Eric Jon Magnuson says

      Also, here’s how she’s quoted in a Chronicle story (at https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/music/2018-09-06/kgsr-rebrands-as-austin-city-limits-radio)…

      “’It becomes far more eclectic on either end[.]’ […] ‘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.'”

      (This story then adds Andy Langer saying, “Yes, there will be Metallica[.]”)

  4. maytableinc says

    While this format is new to the US, it’s quite common in contemporary stations where English is not the first language; take CKOI in Montreal, they’ve got a great eclectic music playlist that sounds upbeat. This may not be PPM friendly in an American based market, but worth a shot to see where this station goes.

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