Country Music

Austin's New (C)KOKE-FM Can't Beat The Real Thing

Lonesome, Onry and Mean had been hearing about the new KOKE-FM progressive country station in Austin for a few weeks. One friend in particular kept raving about the station, so today we finally sauntered over to KOKE-FM (99.3) on the world wide web.

Back in the day when we were in Radio/Television/Film school at UT-Austin, KOKE-FM broke the mold for country radio when it announced its progressive country format that featured not only Waylon, Willie, Coe, Jerry Jeff, Jimmy Buffett, Michael Murphy, and Asleep at the Wheel, but also corralled such outlaws as Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen and the newly formed Gram Parsons band with Emmylou Harris.

There was also space for Austin treasures like Freda and the Firedogs and Greezy Wheels.

With Joe Gracey and Rusty Bell as the principle voices, the station drew national attention immediately, with Billboard declaring it the most innovative station in the U.S. in 1974. Gracey, Bell, and other jocks like Skip Lamb, Henry "Hank" Williams, Ken Moyer, Candy Kicker, Larry Dinger, Jim Ray, Jim Rankin and Fermin 'Speedy' Perez were known in the burgeoning redneck rock community not only for playing a wide, imaginative, unique range of music but also for their continual barely concealed references to pot. There was definitely a stoner audience and they played to it.

LOM spent the last couple of days listening to the new KOKE-FM (actually based in Thorndale). Is this the old KOKE-FM? Hardly. Is this good radio? One day of listening went something like this when we opened the link: Ray Price and Willie singing "Faded Love" (winning!), Don Williams, Dierks Bentley (say what!), the Highwaymen doing Shaver's "I'm Gonna Live Forever," and Hank Jr.'s "Born To Boogie."

But then it veered off into that Texas "new country" stuff, Bart Crow Band, Jack Ingram doing "Wherever You Are," and then "That's Why I Pray" by Big & Rich. They segued out of Big & Rich's barely concealed pandering political pabulum into Johnny Cash doing the Sun Records version of "Rock Island Line" and that's when that little taste of vomit rose up in the back of the throat and we switched the station off before we went postal on our speakers.

Sorry, KOKE-FM, nice try at fooling us with your so-called "return to progressive country." This thinly disguised middle-of-the-road, just-for-the-white-folks hokum is about as inclusive as the Republican Party platform and not in any way what the original KOKE-FM was ever about beyond playing Willie once in a while. Big fail. Huge.

This is, in fact, nothing different from the other safe, homogenized "Texas mix" and "rebel radio" formats springing up across the state, the kind of radio Rick Perry can be proud of. Shame on you for having Guy Clark and Big & Rich in the same stream. That's sacrilege.

Remember New Coke? Right, neither do we. This is the radio equivalent.

No thanks. We'll stick with Houston locals like KPFT, KTSU, and KCOH.

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William Michael Smith