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Future is sunny for KCTI-FM

Future is sunny for KCTI-FM

Monday, 27 June 2016

By Erik McCowan (The Gonzales Inquirer)- If you have been wandering around the radio lately, you may have noticed something happening left of the dial. There’s music happening, the strains of a dormant and feared forever lost station coming back to life.

It’s KCTI, back from the dead. And it will soon find its way back to Gonzales airwaves permanently.

“We’ve been on and off the air for a couple of weeks now just testing,” said Sun Radio president and founder Daryl O’Neal.

He was in town with son Denver and underwriting specialist Ryan Schuh for another round of testings at the old radio tower. For now, it is hit-or-miss if you turn to 88.1 FM, which will be the new frequency for Sun Radio KCTI. O’Neal explained it as a soft opening as they tune the station to its parent studio to get a proper signal. But once it is fully-functional, expect a variety of Americana music that will slowly bend to the desires of the listeners of Gonzales.

“We want to have local elements,” O’Neal said. “Eventually we want to find someone here locally to be doing local morning shows, local afternoon shows, but initially it will be local weather and news, church services, those will be the first things.”

If his name sounds familiar, it’s because it is. O’Neal has deep family ties to the area and spent many summers here. His family is from here. Cousin Bobby served as Gonzales mayor and his lineage traces its county beginnings to Leesville. Though O’Neal was raised in Austin and lives near there, he has always held a desire to come back “home” to be in radio, ever since he started in the profession.

“I’ve always wanted to have a radio station here because I’ve had a desire to come back here,” he said. “We spent all of our childhood down here going to honky-tonks, the old Circle J and Hermann Sons Hall. It’s just home.”

O’Neal met the younger Schuh while he was at hard-rock station Z Rock in Austin back in the mid-1990s. Schuh was a Boy Scout who interned at the station and O’Neal joked that he hasn’t been able to shake him yet.

From there O’Neal transitioned to portfolio management, which meant he spent time with corporate radio flying to different markets and being the guy that fired an employee in the name of fiscal management. He wasn’t having fun in radio anymore and decided it was time to get out.

But in 2010 he was living in Dripping Springs and came across a station — KDRP — which was off the air. He knew he could do football games and air church services, so he called his son and Schuh together to help him resurrect the station out of his home, and Sun Radio was born. Several disc jockeys from larger Austin stations who had become weary of the corporate culture of the town migrated to KDRP to spin their own tunes with freedom, one being the iconic Larry Monroe with his “Blue Monday” staples. He added online listening and the station was a hit.

It is a model that O’Neal has adopted for other defunct small-town radio stations, and one that he hopes to use with KCTI.

“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a blast. We are really fired up about this,” he said.

The road to resurrection for KCTI was long, though. A couple of years ago he attempted to purchase the old KCTI 1450 AM station outright, but the deal failed.

“Being that this is home and my family is from here, this was a personal thing,” O’Neal said. “We wanted to save KCTI because it was off the air. It was in a point of disarray. They turned it off last year and so I started looking at other stations.”

That station turned out to be a Spanish religious station, 88.1, broadcast in Gonzales. It happened to be owned by some friends of his based out of deep South Texas, and they finally decided to sell it to him. But he still wanted the KCTI call letters.

As per the rules put forth by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), call letters can only be used by another radio or television station if the original owners of the letters give their permission. So O’Neal contacted the old KCTI AM owners, which had since been purchased by Texas Public Radio in San Antonio since it closed shop here last year, and asked to use it. And they agreed.

“And that’s how KCTI migrated to FM,” he said.

When asked about what exactly the new KCTI would play, O’Neal jokingly said that it would feature Japanese speed metal while his son said that he heard that Spanish comedy would go over well here. But listeners to the original Sun Radio know better.

“The format is an interpretation of a traditional Americana format,” O’Neal said. “Our interpretation is anything that is of America, which could mean The Rolling Stones, the Muscle Shoals [sound of] music, anything out of the Mississippi Delta or that’s born from the Mississippi Delta.

“Then what we do is blend Texas artists. It’s about new music discovery. We’re constantly trying to find new Texas artists that has that sound. The music has to be iconic and interesting. That’s the idea. You’re not going to find a traditional country pop artist on that station. If it’s mass-produced by Los Angeles or Nashville, you’re probably not going to hear it.”

The play list can be blues, rockabilly, country or Americana — which Nashville country music has kind of rebranded traditional country music as. But a lot of that will be up to the DJs what gets played, and they are looking for personalities that will leave the typical goofiness at the door in exchange for explaining to the listener why they grouped a set of songs together. The radio will be their canvas, and they expect to make mistakes. But he says it will be much more interesting than what syndicated country radio stations are currently offering.

So it will be less Jason Aldean and more Jamie Lin Wilson. No Florida Georgia Line but plenty of Tom Petty and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The format is likely to swing to the mood of what Gonzales wants to hear. O’Neal talks about adding local sounds and truly making it a community radio station. So much so that Apache football will be broadcast each week this fall. And they have brought on former KCTI play-by-play caller Quincy Johnson for that job. And they hope to bring in a local student to help with the stats and learn the station if they are interested in a radio career. And other activities may follow. They even like airing the marching band at halftime.

“Lets get football going and see how much the public embraces it,” he said. “There’s some other sports we’d like to get involved as well. If the parents are into it, we’ll do it. We know football here is a big deal, we’ll see what happens with the other sports.”

Best of all, the games will be available to stream live from their website or their upcoming app. And yes, staying true to their name — Sun Radio — the station will buy its electricity from green energy providers and look to go fully solar like their other stations.

“Our bill at our Austin studio last month was negative $38. And out tower site is completely off the grid, and we’ve never had a bill there,” he said.

So you will notice different music than what the old KCTI was used to, but it should be fresh and new. And commercials are gone, instead using “underwriting,” which per FCC rules on public radio stations, allow for only spoken-word acknowledgement of sponsors rather than blustery commercials. All of this should bring a welcome addition to Gonzales airwaves.

“We’re having fun. We’re creating radio,” O’Neal said.

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