KUT Radio

Bartenders Chris Lueck and Andrew Alter serve drinks to concert goers at Cactus Café Saturday night. With the help of KUT, Cactus Café has remained operational through publicity and higher attendance.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

A year after the Cactus Cafe announced its partnership with KUT Radio, the iconic cafe is financially stable while still upholding the Bohemian-refuge vibe guests have always loved, managers said.

The University announced the partnership last year on May 19 after budget woes nearly forced the University to permanently close the Cactus’ doors. A massive reaction from students and citizens forced the University to reconsider and explore other options.

Administrators eventually decided a relationship with KUT would be best to increase Cactus Cafe attendance, publicity and sustainability according to a May 2010 statement from Juan Gonzalez, the vice president of student affairs. The management officially transitioned in August.

The Cactus has varied its music program and added fresh talent to its weekly band listing in preparation for this summer, said the Cactus’ director Matt Munoz, who coordinates the relationship between KUT and Cactus Cafe. He said the partnership between the two has allowed both entities to benefit from one another.

“We definitely see more people in [the Cactus Cafe] when we push shows through KUT,” Munoz said. “In April, we did an artist-in-residence show with David Ramirez. KUT did a live studio session with him and [featured him by] playing a song of the day of his. He also performed every Wednesday at the Cactus Cafe.”

Munoz said 150,000 to 200,000 people listen to KUT every quarter hour. He said he tries to book artists that will cater to the younger local crowd that is tuning in to the radio station.
“Texas music matters,” Munoz said. “We look for somebody who has a draw locally, regionally and even nationally.”

The partnership has allowed the Cactus to hit all of its budgetary goals, and KUT has helped to generate donor support, Munoz said. He said operations are under control and now he is focusing on what the partnership can do creatively.

Chris Lueck, the Cactus Cafe’s bar manager, said the Cactus has moderate business during summer days but attracts full houses during evening shows. He said the cafe has extended its happy hour, allowing students to enjoy better-priced drinks from 4 to 7 p.m.

“We keep in mind that we serve students and they have a student budget,” Lueck said. “It’s a fairly quiet place where you can get some studying done. It’s much better than going to a library.”

Lueck said new sound and light systems have given the cafe a more professional setting for incoming artists. He said the Cactus has a rich tradition of musical shows for every taste in music and the new managers are trying to uphold that tradition.

A new menu, which will include different coffee and food items, will be released this fall. Food from Tacodeli is in the works to be added to the menu.

Environmental science senior Kendra Bones said she is always surprised to see endless lines for coffee at Starbucks when just next door, the Cactus offers organic coffee at an affordable price. She said many professors and teaching assistants hold their office hours at the Cactus, making it a place not just for socializing, but for studying as well.

“I think this bar is underestimated by students because they think of it as an older place,” Bones said. “It’s the kind of place where you can make it what you want it to be, social or study.”

Although the KUT studio might not be visible to many students on campus, KUT Radio has shown that it has a voice in the Austin community and that it is only getting stronger.

The station’s semi-annual membership drive, which began Oct. 19, raised a record-setting $900,000 during the eight-day fundraiser. An affiliate of National Public Radio, KUT 90.5 is Austin’s listener-supported public radio and is based on the UT campus in the Communication complex.

KUT depends on individuals, businesses and program grants for more than 80 percent of its annual operating budget, and the increase in pledges indicates a growing audience.

“We have a large and consistent audience and without that, we would certainly be going the other direction,” said KUT Director Stewart Vanderwilt.

The station has received some listener feedback about the NPR commentator Juan Williams, who was fired for saying he gets nervous when he sees Muslim people on airplanes. The negative publicity does not seem to have impacted the drive.

“Most of our audience sees that the daily service that KUT provides transcends the incident,” Vanderwilt said. “What our day-to-day value provides is not defined by this, and our audience has been very open-minded about that.”

The money from the semi-annual fundraiser is used for direct programming and broadcasting expenses and supports KUT’s mission to offer national and global perspectives, news about Central Texas and a way to participate in the Austin music scene.

The financial momentum and increased audience comes at a good time for KUT, as the station anticipates moving into the Public Broadcast Center in June 2012.

“The way KUT is currently situated, it’s not easily accessible to the community,” said KUT spokeswoman Erin Geisler.

Though it’s currently under construction, the new building on Dean Keeton and Guadalupe streets will enable KUT to be more prominent and accessible to both the UT and Austin communities, making the station more of a destination with its increased technological capabilities and audience capacity.

The new broadcast center will also allow departments to work together in a bigger space, providing a better learning experience for interns and a more collaborative environment.