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KUTX is the Highest Rated Triple A Station. What’s Working?

KUTX/Austin is on a run. With a 4.6 share, it’s tops in the format. We spoke to Program Director Matt Reilly to get some insight…

KUTX PD Matt Reilly

By Paul Marszalek

It’s been eight years since dual-format KUT birthed the full-time music station KUTX. In recent months, the NON-COMM Triple A has posted its best ratings, currently a 4.6 – it’s the best number in the format. We talked about it with PD Matt Reilly.

The Top 22: My recollection is that, despite years on KUT, the music format did not kick in immediately. When did you sense that it was really starting to gel?

Reilly: About three years ago is when we started noticing that more people were aware of us, and then particularly in the last seven months based on the data.

The Top 22: Can you point to anything – marketing?

Reilly: We did an outdoor campaign and that helped, but we’re real good about being in the news, so a lot of that was just organic.

The Top 22: Glad you mentioned organic — Ad and PR agencies will call that earned media, and it can be a huge. A lot of stations simply don’t or can’t take advantage of it…

Reilly: It’s not easy to quantify, but pretty much all of our on-air hosts live in town, so everybody is out and about a lot and we know all the other players in the scene – including other media outlets. So we’re top of mind and our PR person, Erin Geisler, does a really great job of placement for individual DJs.

For example, Jody Denberg’s a legend with all these deep connections. When he does something noteworthy it gets picked up. We also have Jay Trachtenberg and John Aielli who have been on for decades – they’re celebrities in Austin.

The Top 22: The 4.6 is amazing; your cume is about 91k. Have you experienced the drastic cume drop that a lot of NON-COMMs have endured during the pandemic, or is the 91k an average number for you?

Reilly: We definitely saw a drop when the pandemic hit, but it has climbed back over the past couple of months. In terms of the 4.6, that’s 6+. I look at 18+ because we have no audience between the ages of 6 and 18. So 18+ we’re actually 5th in the market with a 5-share.

Regarding cume, a couple of months ago we were over 100k and top 10. The lowest we went was about 65-70k, so we’ve climbed back. My goal is to cume 10% of the market. We haven’t gotten there but my goal is to cume between 150 and 180,000 people.

The Top 22: Achieving a 4.6 with a 91k cume means you’ve definitely got some meters with fans right now, giving you strong TSL. This leads me to ask how you do it: You have a lot of strong legendary personalities with very particular musical points of view. How do you give the staff creative influence while preventing a disjointed, inconsistent sound that would destroy TSL?

Reilly: In the prime listening hours, they’re still relying on our library. There are opportunities for the hosts to have their individual influence, but the library is a consistent thread running through the radio station. And that library has grown in the past year, and become more diverse.

The Top 22: Talk about that…

Reilly: I think I always had a healthy amount of fear around opening up and expanding the library – particularly in the gold categories around R&B and Hip Hop from the 90s and early 2000s. Once I decided to just let go, the numbers went up. We started a Slack channel called ‘New Golds’ and there’s stuff in there that a year ago would have been a firm “no.” But now I’m like, “Let’s try it and see what happens,” and so far so good.

The Top 22: Beyond the numbers do you have anecdotal response either way?

Reilly: Yes, people have noticed our push for diversity and have appreciated it. I’ve also diversified the host lineup a bit. It’s really been about giving the younger and more diverse voices a seat at the table. One host said to me, “This is not a Stevie Ray Vaughan town anymore, that’s gone. We’ll pitch you an artist and you’ll shrug, but some average song comes in from Abilene and it gets added.” That really resonated with me.

So now I see myself as guardrails – only jumping in if I see something that’s about to go wrong in a big way. You also need to trust your audience. Diversification is a growth strategy. Too many stations are afraid of their aging audience.

The Top 22: How devastating a year has it been for the station in such a festival-centric city?

Reilly: Well, we have a podcast talking about exactly that called “Pause/Play,” which has turned out to be out most popular podcast across both radio stations.

For the station, there has definitely been lost revenue around events, but we didn’t put all of our eggs in that basket, so it hasn’t been completely devastating. Given the growth of Austin and the general energy around the city, we’re already seeing proposals for summer and fall – so we know it’s going to come back in a big way.

The Top 22: Circle back to the podcast…

Reilly: We’re basically trying to ask, “We’re the live music capital of the world; what does a global pandemic do to the live music capital of the world?” Each episode has a different focus – we talk to artists, fans, business owners, service industry workers, and we basically try to impart useful information about how this has affected our live music scene that is worth $2 billion to our local economy annually.

The Top 22: If we’re cautiously optimistic about vaccinations, what does your plan look like for calendar quarters 3 and 4?

Reilly: Targeted events. We had a spring and fall event called Rock the Park, which is a family focused outdoor event, so we’re cautiously optimistic that will return in the fall. In terms of attaching our name to someone else’s event, we’re just going to be a lot more selective about what we do and how we spend our energy — understanding consumer confidence, understanding that there are still a lot of people out there who are not comfortable. We need to be cognizant of that.

The Top 22: What would you say to stations who are envious of your 4.6?

Reilly: It’s okay to not know. PDs feel that they need to have all the answers, so they dig in and don’t stay malleable. Give it a try, you can always correct it. Trust your staff, trust your audience, stay playful.

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