Major Shakeup in Austin Country Radio as KOKE Moves Online

The country music radio landscape in the “Live Music Capital of the World” has just gone through a major shakeup, with the legendary KOKE going fully online, and a new radio station launching catering specifically to Texas country.

First founded as a “country rock” or “progressive country” station in 1972, KOKE helped set the foundation for the musical revolution that would turn Austin, TX into the crossroads of country and rock, and the Live Music Capital. KOKE is one of the reasons why Willie Nelson found such a warm reception when he moved to Austin a few months after the station launched its pioneering format.

KOKE played classic country music from The Carter Family, to the songs of Willie and Waylon, and into to the rock and roll realm with The Rolling Stones and others. In 1974, Billboard named KOKE as the most innovative radio station in country music.

Of course over time, format and ownership changes left the legacy of KOKE in limbo. But in 2012, primary DJ Eric Raines and others worked to revitalized the iconic Austin radio station, and brought it under new ownership. On July 2nd, 2012, the 99.3 signal started “stunting” by playing Dale Watson’s “Country My Ass” on loop along with voice promotions by Willie Nelson. Soon, the original spirit KOKE was alive and broadcasting once again.

Over the next dozen years, 99.3 KOKE FM became one of the most cherished country radio stations in Austin, even if it was regularly beat in ratings by the more pop country-oriented 98.1 KVET. The difference was that KOKE listeners were devoutly loyal to the station, and the annual KOKEFest drew huge crowds. KOKE also drew a sizable national and international audience through streaming online.

But the first sign of trouble was when the 2023 installment of KOKEFest was cancelled abruptly just a few weeks before the August event. Then on April 19th, it was announced that the KOKE signals had been sold to Norsan Media, which operates many Hispanic-oriented radio stations. Though there was initially no word on what the new owners might do with the legacy radio station, on June 1st they officially re-branded it to “Mexicanísima 99.3.”

If there was any silver lining, it’s that KOKE was still allowed to live online via and the KOKE app. However earlier this week, the now exclusively online radio station announced the departure of the legendary DJ Bob Cole, who was inducted to the Country Music Radio Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2008, as well as Eric Raines, who was the award-winning face of the radio station for the last dozen years.

Though in the streaming age it may seem like local radio is passe, reading through the comments of the announcement on Facebook about the departure of Bob Cole and Eric Raines speaks to the personal relationships listeners can forge with radio personalities when they’re kept local. They almost feel like family. That is what was so cool about KOKE. It still had that local flavor, from the on-air personalities to the playlist.

KOKE has announced a new lineup of 6am-10am of Scotty & Amber, and 3pm-7pm with Rita Ballou who has been part of KOKE for many years, and used to co-host with Eric Raines.

Meanwhile, just as Austin airwaves have lost a Texas-oriented country radio station, they’ve also added one. Just as KOKE went off the air, the hip-hop station “Hot 95.9” has switched to “95.9 Texas Country.” This is not to be confused with 95.9 The Ranch out of Fort Worth, TX, which is another beloved local Texas music radio station with a strong national online following.

95.9 Texas Country says, “Austin’s 95.9, Texas Country is the perfect blend of Pure Country from All time legends like George Strait, Willie, Waylon & the Boys, today’s Texas Country scene with Aaron Watson, Cody Johnson, Kacey Musgraves, and Cody Jinks and lots of other Austin Country stars. We’re not the same ole Country, we’re taking new and old Country Highways through Hill Country!!!”

On-air talent has not be revealed just yet, but some KOKE listeners are hoping Bob Cole and Eric Raines might end up at the new station. We’ll see.

All of this is happening as the complexion of country radio is changing in the digital era. But as KOKE continues on as a digital-only station, it will be interesting to see if this is the future for radio, including legacy radio stations that for whatever reason, can’t survive on the airwaves.

As radio continues to fall out of favor due to nationalized playlists and national personalities that don’t cater to local communities, it also opens a door for other more local and regional options online. The future of radio may not be “the bigger the better,” but local and independent, serving the underserved.

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