Austin PBS Moves to New Campus at ACC Highland in its 60th Year
The nonprofit celebrates many years of broadcasting their signature shows, such as Austin City Limits and Central Texas Gardener
By Bryan C. Parker
Photos courtesy of Austin PBS
From Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood to Bob Ross’ happy trees, public television has a storied history of iconic and beloved shows that also serve an educational purpose. But few PBS programs established a city’s brand so thoroughly as did Austin City Limits’ famous skyline that serves as the backdrop for the long-running live music television program.
Austin PBS’ value to the community lies in its mission to provide “informative content that’s accessible to anyone and everyone,” says Chief Operating Officer and acting CEO Lori Bolding, who has been with the nonprofit broadcasting group since 2013.
Public broadcasting in Austin, Texas surprisingly predates PBS itself. Before there was KLRU, the first public station in Austin was founded at the University of Texas in 1962 and fittingly dubbed KLRN.
PBS was not founded until 7 years later, in 1969, two years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act. KLRN, whose primary broadcasting studio was in San Antonio, first began to broadcast Austin City Limits from the UT campus in 1974. Those cozy live performances in studio 6A in UT’s Communications building helped Austin cement its identity as the “Live Music Capital of the World.”
Eventually the Austin arm of KLRN rebranded itself as KLRU in 1979, but remained a subsidiary of KLRN until it established itself as an independent entity in 1987. Most recently, KLRU rebranded once again, becoming Austin PBS in 2019. This year, the station celebrates its 60th anniversary.
“From a local perspective, which is what makes a station unique, our flagship is Austin City Limits,” says Bolding.
From its home on the UT campus, and later from its roomier digs at the Moody Theater in downtown Austin, Austin City Limits has informed the public about some of music’s most storied performers, especially those from Texas, like Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and Townes Van Zandt.
Many viewers may associate the PBS name with the period dramas, such as Downton Abbey, that have garnered widespread appeal in recent years.
“The community loves Masterpiece and the dramas, but our local content is vitally important,” says Bolding.
While most known for Austin City Limits, the station serves the public with an incredible range of programming, including Central Texas Gardener, the beloved horticulture show that lets viewers explore gorgeous gardens and teaches them about how to grow their own. This type of regionally responsive content is what defines public broadcasting and makes it so important.
Austin PBS also has programming that digs into heavier topics concerning the citizens of Central Texas.
“Decibel and ATX Together are programs that focus on local community issues and how those issues are affecting Central Texans,” Bolding says. One recent story focused on Del Valle residents’ fraught relationship with local police, for example. Austin PBS’ viewing area spans 20 counties, and Bolding says the station aims to “make sure that local stories are told and that diverse voices reflect those 20 counties.”
Soon, the station will receive some new tools to reach out to its local community, as they settle into a new home at ACC’s Highland campus. Since its inception, Austin PBS’ offices were housed on UT’s campus but were scheduled to relocate in the fall of 2020. However, a global pandemic and a freak ice storm delayed the move by years. Austin PBS lost its office space at UT in March 2020 and has operated out of 60 bedrooms across Central Texas since that time; although, UT still allowed the station to use broadcast facilities to stay on the air.
The station’s new facilities at ACC Highland will allow Austin PBS to grow and serve the community even more thoroughly. According to Bolding, the station will soon have a much more robust internship program, increased capacity to provide support to student parents (an abundance of which are enrolled at ACC) and upgraded broadcasting technologies as a partnership with ACCTV.
In the end, everything comes back to the station’s emphasis on supporting and interfacing with the community. “In PBS, many people think the ‘S’ is for ‘system,’ but the “S” is for ‘service,’ Bolding says. “Public Broadcasting Service is a service to the community.”