(Click play to hear an interview with KUT director and general manager Stewart Vanderwilt.)
For decades, KUT 90.5 FM has provided a mix of music and news programming. But that’s all about to change.
The University of Texas’ Board of Regents voted unanimously this morning to approve the purchase of KXBT 98.9 FM. KUT will expand into two broadcast frequencies, with one station for music and one for news.
The deal still needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission. KUT Director and General Manager Stewart Vanderwilt says audiences won’t notice any changes for a few months.
“We’re saying by the end of fall because certainly we’ll be planning for the launch of these, and the planning begins in earnest immediately, but we have to follow the FCC process," says Vanderwilt.
The purchase of KXBT will cost $6 million dollars. Of that, $4 million comes from a ten year loan from the University of Texas. The remaining $2 million dollars will come from donations to KUT. That’s an important condition, according to Joshua Benton who runs the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University.
"One of the questions you’re going to have to face is how do the people who give money to the station feel about this?" says Benton.
KUT has drawn ire from its audiences and donors in the past decade over several programming decisions. Those included changes to the programming schedule that resulted in longtime DJs Paul Ray and Larry Monroe being reduced to a shift per week, and a successful bid to take over management of the Cactus Café.
But Benton says the model of two public radio stations – one for music one for news – has worked in other markets.
“I think the major question for KUT going forward is that they’re going to have a lot more air time, and it’s whether they’re going to use that to invest in creating more local programming, or whether they’re just going to be a repeater for national programs that can leave one public radio market to sound a lot like another public radio market," says Benton.
KUT says the music station will have a focus on Austin and Texas artists. It also plans to increase local programming on the news station. Music programming will move to KXBT 98.9. News will remain on KUT 90.5.