Arts & Culture News

Radio Flyers: 91.7 KXT Marks 10 Years as North Texas’ Soundtrack

Paul Slavens’ band made waves on the young 91.7 KXT.
Paul Slavens’ band made waves on the young 91.7 KXT. Can Turkyilmaz
At 7 a.m. on a cool November morning in 2009, KXT took its first breaths, barking out the initial notes of its first Morning Show, to become the first adult album alternative radio station (triple-A station) in Dallas-Fort Worth since the 1990s.

This year, North Texas’ independent public music radio station will celebrate its 10th trip around the sun.

Over the course of a decade, KXT has hollowed out its place in regional airwaves and in North Texans’ hearts. No other station has done more for local artists in the region, and no other station has lent more force to North Texas’ voice in the great musical conversation.

The End
And the Beginning

Despite bringing life to a host of unforgettable cartoons and endlessly recyclable fashions, the 1990s brought with them the death of local music radio in Dallas-Fort Worth. For one reason or another, the wells of independent music dried up one by one before President Bill Clinton finished his second term.

In 1996, 90.1 KERA became a news station, broadcasting precious little music in obscure time slots. The station had been playing music on the air since its creation in the 1970s. Three years later, the only triple-A station operating in the region — 93.3 The Zone — became The Merge and dropped its triple-A designation.

After that, Chris Douridas' old show, 90.1 at Night, was the last beacon lit for independent music on North Texas airwaves.

Before gaining national notice as a radio tastemaker at California’s venerated KCRW, Douridas was shaking up KERA’s old folk regimen in the 1980s with his signature mix of musical eclecticism, which he would showcase during 90.1 at Night.

Douridas wasn’t afraid to let local music speak its piece on the airwaves. His vision for local music inspired a young prog-rock musician from Denton. His name was Paul Slavens.

Now we know Slavens as the enthusiastic voice of The Paul Slavens Show, an eclectic Sunday night show in which he takes listeners' requests. But back then, Slavens was sporting a sweet mullet and gigging with his band Ten Hands during the Deep Ellum renaissance of the late 1980s. Douridas was the first to play the band's music on the air, and the experience changed Slavens’ life.

“It blew my mind. I was shivering. I remember standing by the radio, like, shaking,” he says.

Soon after, Douridas left 90.1 at Night to strike gold in California — but not before Slavens caught the fire that led him to do as Douridas did.

Ten Hands formally disbanded in the mid-1990s, and Slavens started doing comedy. He joined a troupe called the Four Day Weekend and dreamt of becoming a young man’s Garrison Keillor, marrying his love of comedy and music on the airwaves — Prairie Home Companion reborn.

He pitched his idea to Abby Goldstein, KERA’s program director at the time, and they put together a couple of shows that never took root. But Slavens tango with public radio was far from finished.

In 2004, Goldstein gave Slavens reign of the board on Sunday Nights, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. He leaped at the chance to step into Douridas’ shoes and use the booth to the betterment of North Texas. His show — though slightly changed over the years — remains a pillar of North Texas radio culture and a clearinghouse for local music.

“It meant so much to me [to hear my music on the radio] that I made my show specifically so that I could do that for other people,” Slavens says.

From 2004 until Nov. 9, 2009, Slavens was local music radio’s last man standing, holding the torch aloft every Sunday night in the empty KERA station.

click to enlarge Paul Slavens was an early contributor to KXT and now runs The Paul Slavens Show on Sundays. - CAN TURKYILMAZ
Paul Slavens was an early contributor to KXT and now runs The Paul Slavens Show on Sundays.
Can Turkyilmaz
New Life

Opportunity dawned in June 2009. Religious radio station 91.7 KVTT “The Truth” was on its way out. The station’s owners needed an exit strategy. KERA was the escape hatch. The Truth approached KERA’s leadership with the prospect of a buyout.

KVTT’s signal was one of only three non-commercial FM radio licenses in Dallas and serviced the same area as the 90.1 frequency. Longing to bring music back to its wheelhouse, KERA jumped at the chance to buy the 91.7 frequency, dropping a cool $18 million for it.

“The support for this kind of music in our community never went away, and hopeful listeners were always asking if we could ever bring it back,” says KERA Vice President of Radio Jeff Ramirez. “The idea was always there, so when we were able to purchase the station and make it KXT, we were more than delighted to bring back the music.”

“As far as having a station like that in Dallas the time when KXT went on the air, there really wasn’t one. There was a huge hole in the market.” — Amy Miller

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Gini Mascorro, KXT’s silken-voiced host and music coordinator, had already been working at KERA for 10 years when rumors of the return to music radio began to foment around the station.

“I had heard some rumblings here and there," Mascorro says. "I tried not to think about it too much, you know how if you think too much about something it doesn’t happen? I just kind of let everything settle before Jeff Ramirez, our VP, took me aside and said, ‘I want to talk to you about this.’”

Every once in a while, Mascorro would fill in on the Sunday night show. She was good at it, and Ramirez noticed. He liked what he heard and asked her to become one of KXT’s first hosts.

“I said, ‘Uh, twist my arm,’” Mascorro says jokingly.

It was a dream come true for her, and an opportunity for an entire region. Mascorro was all in.

The days leading up to the launch were long and secretive, with the KXT team burning both ends of the candle and keeping their preparations quiet.
“I didn’t get a lot of sleep,” Mascorro says.

The station's early days had a wild, rebel air about them that savored of the legendary pirate radio stations of yesteryear. Under the triple-A flag, almost anything was fair game, and listeners ate it up.

“As far as having a station like that in Dallas the time when KXT went on the air, there really wasn’t one,” KXT program director Amy Miller says. “There was a huge hole in the market.”

KXT gained steam quickly in a market hungry for a station to call its own, hosting bigger events, putting on concerts, and bringing musicians from near and far to play live studio sessions.

click to enlarge Amy Miller is KXT's program director. - COURTESY KIM LEESON/KERA/KXT
Amy Miller is KXT's program director.
courtesy Kim Leeson/KERA/KXT
The Station

In 2014, Amy Miller joined the KXT’s crew as a host. Miller got her start in radio as a DJ for the station at University of Santa Cruz. She had always been fascinated with music. Like so many young ones, Miller’s mother made her start piano lessons in third grade. But unlike so many young ones, it stuck. Miller would go on to study piano and music composition at UC Santa Cruz.

Miller was so steeped in her instrument that by the time she was in college, she was able to test out of two years of music theory, freeing her up to pursue psychology as a second major.

Miller’s love of radio was born in middle and high school. She and her friends would spend their summers calling radio stations to win tickets to shows. Many of her first concerts came courtesy of their summer pastime.

She remembers the Bay Area’s legendary Live 105 alternative rock station as a particular favorite and one of the most formative influences in her musical journey. At 12 or 13, Miller was deep in the 1990s alt-rock wave, falling in love with Nirvana, Hole and everything else Live 105 would play.

In college, her love for radio led her to work at UCSC’s station and intern with many of the major commercial stations in the Bay Area during the summers.

Out of college, she got a part-time job as a programming assistant at Bay Area triple-A station, KFOG. Miller worked there for two years, leaving in 2005 to take a full-time job in Williamsburg, Virginia, as a program assistant to a startup station owned by former Grateful Dead member Bruce Hornsby. She helped build the station’s library from the ground up and kick-started the fledgling station's live session culture.

Miller also started the band that would lead her to leave Hornsby’s station: The Panic Years.

The Panic Years was gaining momentum and wanted to have a home base with better access to the East Coast’s culture hubs, so they packed their bags and shipped out for the City of Brotherly Love.

Miller stepped back from radio life in Philadelphia, working instead for jazz PR firm DL Media Music, rubbing shoulders with jazz virtuosos in the most prestigious venues.

After a while, the booth began calling again, and Miller had to answer. She started applying for radio jobs around the States, including a little 5-year-old public radio station in Dallas.

“[The interview process] was thorough,” she recalls, with added emphasis in her inflection.

“The thing about this organization [KERA/KXT] is like, I love everybody that works here, and the building is full of intelligent people that are good at their jobs and they want to make sure that they bring in the right people for those jobs. … I really respected the way that they did it.”

Miller signed onto the air, quickly making a name for herself in the region and the station, moving up to assistant program director and program director after that.

As program director, Miller is in charge of everything that emanates from 91.7. From music to promos to hosts, the onus is on her to ensure that KXT fulfills its mission and continues to grow.

Every week the hosts meet to discuss what will be on the air. Baskets and baskets of CDs litter the KXT staff offices. Even more music waits in their inboxes. They comb through it for the next great find, intent on giving new music a chance to speak for itself in the great musical conversation. Each host brings a personal, unique flavor to the weekly roundtables.

Brad Dolbeer is the keeper of classic rock; Mascorro is hardwired into the new music pipeline and has a special knack for spinning the best of the '80s; and Miller is all about new music, local music, the '60s, and '70s.

Together, they create one the most diverse and well-curated lineups on the air, day in and day out.

Local artists owe a hefty debt of gratitude to the station, and aren’t afraid to show it. Love for KXT runs deep in the music community, and many artists point to the station’s advocacy as a factor in their success and motivation.

Richard Hennessey, frontman of Henry the Archer, is one such local artist who has benefited from KXT’s programming.

He remembers in particular when he sent his music in to the station, thinking no one had listened, to have people start calling him to excitedly to tell him they heard his song on the radio.

“All of a sudden I have people telling me that they’re playing my song ‘Means Nothing’ on the radio. That was maybe within a year and a half of that record coming out, and now the one song that they started playing on the radio has over half a million plays on Spotify,” Henessey says. “KXT is an outlet for alternative artists in an area that’s not so alternative.”

Local music month, one of Miller’s contributions to the yearly KXT rhythm, is a big deal for artists who scrimp and save to record their music only to have it sit unappreciated in dusty digital archives and merch boxes.

“If it was not for KXT, the dream I’m currently living would be dead. They are the veins that carry fire back into the heart of the artists." — Abraham Alexander

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“Music means the world to me. [It is] my lifeblood and passion,” says Abraham Alexander, who is wrapping up his first-ever tour.

“If it was not for KXT, the dream I’m currently living would be dead. They are the veins that carry fire back into the heart of the artists. Their support is so important in our DFW community. Hearing my song on the radio for the first time is a feeling I could never explain and will be forever grateful for.”

In a world saturated with noise and commodified music, KXT takes a stand for authenticity and makes room for local gems to shine.

“This day and age, it’s just we’re saturated with content from all different sides,” E.B. The Younger frontman Eric Pulido says.

“I appreciate the research and the ear that they have for what’s happening … because they could just phone it in and say, ‘You know what? We’re going to play (Echosmith's) All the 'Cool Kids' and all the indie breakthroughs that this publication talks about or that one or we’re just going to play top 40, let’s go through Spotify and see who’s the best,’ but that’s boring. …That’s what I love about radio stations like them is that there is a lot more care and curation into what they’re putting forward.”

click to enlarge Gini Mascorro is KXT’s silken-voiced host and music coordinator. - COURTESY KIM LEESON/KERA/KXT
Gini Mascorro is KXT’s silken-voiced host and music coordinator.
courtesy Kim Leeson/KERA/KXT
What’s Next

After 10 years, it’s safe to say North Texas is better for KXT’s presence on the airwaves. From stitching the national and the local into one big, beautiful musical tapestry to bringing great artists in and raising great artists up, KXT has made North Texas culture that much richer.

Miller says the goal for the station's second decade is more of the same: helping artists break through the noise by championing the region’s live music scene and continuing to push listeners to broaden their horizons.

“We always want to expose our listeners to new music,” Miller says. “To be able to support an artist their first time through town when they’re playing a small club and then seeing them come back and play a second time playing a club twice the size and then seeing them play a place like The Bomb Factory, it’s always really, really satisfying to us.”

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, KXT is throwing a birthday party at The Rustic on Nov. 9. The concert will bring Grace Potter, Devon Gilfillian and — true to form —the winner of the KXT “Tiny Cake Contest,” modeled after NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest.

The party promises to draw a horde of faithful listeners, a mark of the station’s ever-deepening impact on the community, wanting to say a sincere thank you to KXT.
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