Most first birthday parties involve a party at Chuck E. Cheese’s, but KUTX is celebrating a different way. Its anniversary benefit concert will take place Saturday night at Bass Concert Hall and will feature performances by Iron and Wine, Neko Case and Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.
KUT has been running continuously at UT since 1958, and has been a member of NPR since 1971. KUT used to focus on both news and music programming, but, early last year, it split into two separate stations: KUT for news and KUTX for music.
In August 2012, UT approved KUT’s purchase of KXBT 98.9 FM, and the station was renamed KUTX and launched in January 2013. The split from KUT gave the new music-oriented station time to play more music instead of news programming, and gave station administrators more time to focus on event planning. KUTX music director Matt Reilly emphasized that the split has given the station a lot more freedom.
“If the president did a press conference, we’d have to stop and switch over,” Reilly said. “Not having to think about the news as much was really freeing.”
While raising awareness for a new radio station was going to be a challenge, KUTX did well in its first year. Stewart Vanderwilt, general manager of KUT and KUTX, said the station drew more listeners than initially projected, but also admitted their expectations were probably too low since there was a lot of uncertainty at the time of the division.
“It’s done about twice as well as we projected, but we didn’t know what to expect,” Vanderwilt said.
Last year, the station held morning concerts at the Four Seasons and also sponsored larger concerts at Auditorium Shores. The event Reilly was most proud of was Map Jam, KUTX’s day-long traveling music festival that took place in East Austin and featured performances in unconventional locations — such as the back of a lumber mill. Reilly said the festival will be an annual event.
KUTX’s autonomy gave the station the chance to host more studio performances in its office inside the Belo Center for New Media. Over the last year, it had artists like Patti Smith, Robert Plant with Patty Griffin, Lyle Lovett and Ryan Bingham visit. Vanderwilt was enthusiastic about getting to focus more on these performances.
“The amount of live music we have brings people together,” Vanderwilt said. “That was something that we strove for, but we didn’t know how substantial it would be.”
Reilly said KUTX still faces challenges, such as local competition, streaming services, awareness and other stations doing similar things. Vanderwilt sees these challenges more as daily obstacles to overcome.
“The challenges are to continuously keep it fresh and seek ways to make it relevant and interesting,” Vanderwilt said. “That’s what we wake up and try to do every day.”
Going forward for the next year and beyond, KUTX’s main focus will be on its events and face-to-face interactions with listeners. Reilly explained there would also be a larger emphasis placed on working with up-and-coming local acts. The station also expects to grow its video content through YouTube clips of its in-studio performances.
“It’s a big opportunity for us to share the music experience more broadly,” Vanderwilt said. “I think you’ll see a continued and refined focus on video.”