One of the worst kept secret since Anderson Cooper came out of the closet news….Austin is getting a new radio station!
A new, locally owned radio station with iconic call letters — KOKE-FM — is set to sign on Sunday, airing primarily Austin- and Texas-centric country music and featuring a roster of personalities who are well known to Central Texas listeners, including former 98.1 KVET-FM morning host Bob Cole and meteorologist Troy Kimmel.
Cole has teamed with Austin attorney Jason Nassour and former KVET morning show producer and afternoon host Eric Raines to acquire the 99.3 FM frequency from broadcaster Dick Oppenheimer. Until the sale is completed in the next few months, they will lease the station, Cole said.
The 99.3 frequency was previously a Christian talk format, and that format will move to 1490 AM, a station also owned by Oppenheimer.
A handful of “strategically picked” Central Texans have also contributed funds to help with the purchase of 99.3 FM, Nassour said. The purchase price wasn’t released.
“I’ve represented clients for 15 years, helping them get deals done,” Nassour said, “but it’s not often I get involved in one. This was just a heck of an opportunity. I want what everyone else in Austin wants, and I wanted to make sure we got it.”
The original KOKE — which saw those call letters disappear in 1987 — made a splash on the national radio scene in the early 1970s when it helped launch a format known as “progressive country” that featured an eclectic mix of country acts as well as other, noncountry performers. The playlist included songs from Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Gary P. Nunn, Kris Kristofferson, the Rolling Stones, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, among others, Cole said.
The new station will feature a similar format.
Although Austin has a handful of locally owned noncommercial radio stations on the FM dial, Cole said KOKE will be the city’s only locally owned commercial — or advertiser-supported — station.
“We’re as close to mom and pop as you can get,” Raines said.
“Our story is being all about Austin,” Cole said, “and the best way to be part of Austin is to be owned by people in Austin.”
KOKE will be simulcast on 98.5 FM, through a deal with another broadcast company. Together, the two stations should cover most of the market, Cole said.
KOKE enters a marketplace dominated by big-name broadcasters such as San Antonio-based Clear Channel Media and Entertainment and Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications.
Together, Clear Channel, which owns KVET, and Emmis have more than a dozen Austin-area radio stations.
“Austin doesn’t matter to corporate radio; Austin’s dollar is all they are seeking,” Nassour said.
As for the financial challenges of being a locally owned station, Cole said, “Sure, there’s a David and Goliath aspect to this endeavor. Regardless, we are comfortably confident that we are re-creating a product that reflects this community — and only this community. ‘Homegrown and local’ is as much our motto as ‘Come and take it.’ We serve no corporate master.”
Being owned by Central Texans gives KOKE an opportunity to differentiate itself from corporate radio, where out-of-towners typically call the shots, said Pittsburgh-based broker Roger Rafson, who has brokered a number of radio station sales across the nation. If done right, he said, KOKE will be a boon for both listeners and station management.
Rafson was not involved in the KOKE deal.
“Having a local radio station is a wonderful thing,” he said. “With on-air talent who know what’s going on around town, with local news, weather and sports to keep listeners informed, with local events and promotions to involve the area businesses and advertisers, the new KOKE will do very well,” he said.
In 1974, when it was broadcasting on the 95.5 FM frequency that’s now occupied by Entercom Communications-owned KKMJ-FM, KOKE was called the “most innovative station in the country” by Billboard magazine.
“I knew about KOKE-FM long before I came to Austin,” Cole said. “It’s legendary. That’s what we’re out to re-create.”
“Everybody has that perfect radio station in their head,” Raines said. “We’re going to be putting our arms around the local and Texas music scenes. It’s going to be a mix of everything we consider cool.”
Some of the artists who will probably be featured on the playlist, according to Raines, include Asleep at the Wheel, Bob Schneider, Hank Williams, the Josh Abbott Band and the Randy Rogers Band.
“We’ve got over 1 million people in this community, and we don’t have any place to regularly hear this type of music,” Nassour said.
KOKE debuts Sunday with a weekly gospel brunch program that will run from 8 to 11 a.m. Cole’s first morning show hits the air at 6 a.m. Monday.
In addition to Cole, Kimmel and Raines, folks who tune in will also find Jimmy Carter, whose entertainment reports were heard on Austin radio for almost two decades. Local musician Ray Benson will serve as the station’s announcer.
“We’re bringing back the folks they want to hear,” Cole said.
Cole left KVET in December after 20 years, one of several staffers to leave the Clear Channel station in 2010 and 2011 as managers tweaked the format.
The new KOKE, Cole said, isn’t out to emulate the two country stations owned by his former employer.
“We’re not trying to be KASE or KVET,” he said. “We’re going to be a 2012 version of what KOKE was back in the day.”
I’m not sure if y’all in Austin can get the station yet. I haven’t been able to, but THIS Dale Watson song is being played on a loop until things kick off.
“That’s Country My Ass”