AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — KLRU, the public television station that has operated from the University of Texas since it went on the air in 1962, will move to Austin Community College’s Highland campus in 2020, where it will have more space as well as an expanded role in community initiatives and workforce development.
“This is going to be a great collaboration,” Richard Rhodes, ACC’s president and CEO, told the Austin American-Statesman. He added on a lighter, rhetorical note, “Big Bird will be here with R.B.,” referring to the Sesame Street character and the Riverbat, ACC’s mascot.
Bill Stotesbery, KLRU’s CEO and general manager, said, “We’ve had a great relationship with UT and the Moody College of Communication. There’s so much history here. But at the same time the opportunity to build a partnership with a college like ACC that has the kind of community mission they have is very exciting for us.”
KLRU is looking forward to getting more involved in various community-oriented projects, Stotesbery said. For example, the station has secured a $200,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to distribute short-form videos intended to raise the visibility of workforce initiatives that help people develop new skills. That plays right into ACC’s wheelhouse, where students can earn a wide variety of workforce credentials.
The station’s move to the Highland campus also will give ACC students opportunities for paid internships and hands-on learning, Rhodes said.
“It fits very well with our programs that we’re bringing over here — radio, TV, film, creative writing, marketing, journalism, visual communications, electronics and advanced technology. It’s what they do and what we do,” Rhodes said, adding that ACC’s cable TV station, which has been based at the now-closed Pinnacle campus in Southwest Austin, is moving to the Highland campus.
“This partnership between ACC and KLRU is beyond exciting,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. “We’re taking two of the most trusted institutions in our city and they’re joining together. This is one of those homegrown collaborations that is truly one of the transformative moments happening in our city that makes this city a magical and exciting place.”
The Moody College also needs more space, said Kathleen Mabley, a spokeswoman for the UT college, which is exploring ways to use about 25,000 square feet that KLRU will be vacating on several floors in Communication Building B at the southeast corner of West Dean Keeton and Guadalupe streets.
“This offers a real opportunity for both organizations to grow and thrive,” Mabley said. “Moody College intends to also invest in preserving Studio 6A as one of the best stages in Austin for live music.”
Studio 6A was for 36 years the home of “Austin City Limits,” the longest-running music performance show in TV history, until the show moved downtown to the Moody Theater at the W Austin Hotel. Studio 6A is currently the venue for such shows as “Central Texas Gardener” and “Overheard with Evan Smith,” as well as for town hall meetings.
The opportunity for the PBS affiliate to relocate to ACC’s Highland campus arose when Rackspace US Inc., a San Antonio-based cloud hosting company, canceled plans to move more than 500 employees to the former mall site.
“We always recognized that the growth of the college and KLRU would, likely, eventually lead us to look for a new location,” Stotesbery said. “When I heard that Rackspace pulled out of the Dillard’s building, I contacted ACC to see if there was any possibility that the space could be adapted to our needs.”
The Highland campus building where KLRU will set down new roots once housed a Dillard’s women’s store. It has been stripped to its steel girders and will be renovated by ACC for a spring 2020 opening at a cost estimated by the college at $55 million. So-called public facility bonds, for which the college did not have to seek voter approval, will underwrite that expense.
KLRU, which expects to have about 35,000 square feet on the first floor of the four-story building, will pay for furniture, fixtures, equipment and any custom space, Stotesbery said. The station will pay rent in an amount yet to be determined that ACC will use to help pay off the bonds. KLRU currently pays about $226,000 a year in rent to UT and plans to announce a fundraising campaign later this year, he said.
Mabley said the Moody College and KLRU will continue working together on a variety of projects, including collaborations between the TV station and KUT, the college’s radio station, and initiatives involving UT professors, students and organizations. Stotesbery agreed, noting that KLRU has long worked with UT faculty members who make films and other content to distribute their material into the PBS system.
Nonetheless, it seems likely that the relationship between KLRU and UT won’t be as close as it has been for more than half a century. Students seeking internships and other experiences at the station will be at a disadvantage because it won’t be nearly as convenient for them after it moves 3.5 miles north to the Highland campus.
UT is the only home the station has ever known, with roots dating to 1958, when UT Professor Robert F. Schenkkan created a closed-circuit educational TV system for the university. Thanks to him, UT officials and local civic leaders, that system evolved into KLRU, a private, nonprofit organization that now has about 70 employees. Its rarely uttered legal name is Capital of Texas Public Telecommunications Council.
Stotesbery said KLRU produced the first bilingual children’s program for national television, was the first public broadcasting station in the nation to institute full-time programming on Sundays and, when it later added Saturday programming, was for a time the country’s only public TV station on the air 365 days a year.