- By Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
My sister, Kathleen Barnes Klingshirn, served as a part-time KMFA disc jockey during the mid-1970s, while she was a music student at the University of Texas.
She drew an early Sunday morning shift at a time when one could safely conclude that there would not be an enormous audience of listeners for Austin’s only classical station.
One week, however, she was called into the office of program director Leonard Masters, the longtime “Voice of KMFA.”
Masters: “Miss Barnes, we do not play segments of music. Ever. We play the whole piece or not at all.”
Clearly, KMFA 89.5, which turns 50 this year, was built on high standards.
While it always depended on on-air membership drives — a seemingly sacred act of public broadcasting — the classical station has never staged a big benefit event.
BEHIND THE MUSIC: Classical radio KMFA switches to more local programming
Until now. Following those early traditions, they drafted a benefactor with the highest standards, Nancy Scanlan, to chair the event on Nov. 4 at music-themed Hotel Van Zandt. That guarantees a classy evening that will put the emphasis on the music and the history as well as the station’s future — launching a drive for a new KMFA home — not on the kind of trivial distractions that often undermine other such events.
Pause for a second to consider this timeline of KMFA’s history, provided by the station and lightly edited.
1965: When Austin’s commercial classical music station switches to a popular music format, Dale Jones and N.W. “Nockey” Willett submit an FCC application to establish a classical station with the call letters KMFA, “Klassical Music For Austin.”
1967: KMFA takes to the airwaves with Rossini’s William Tell Overture on Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. The new station is under the leadership of Board Chairman Hoyle Osborne, Program Director Leonard Masters and Station Manager Dale Jones. At the time, KMFA is housed in donated office space in the Perry Brooks building at the corner of East Eighth and Brazos streets in downtown Austin.
1970: Broadcast hours increase to a total of 99 hours a week.
1971: KMFA’s membership grows to 1,000. Kenneth Byrd is appointed as the first salaried station manager.
1979: In the station’s first-ever remote broadcast, KMFA presents a live performance by classical guitarist Liona Boyd.
1980: Because of the growing operation, the station moves to its current headquarters in the Steen building at 3001 N. Lamar Blvd. KMFA also debuts a new 6,500-watt “Tower of Power” transmitter, enabling it to reach more listeners than the earlier 1,300-watt transmitter.
1983: The compact disc is born and KMFA embraces the technology as the first Austin radio station to broadcast the new medium.
1990: Founding Program Director Leonard Masters and longtime Board Chairman Charles Alan Wright retire from the station.
1992: To meet FCC requirements, KMFA changes to a new antenna in West Lake Hills, vastly increasing the station’s reach.
1992: For the station’s 25th anniversary, internationally recognized flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal performs at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin.
1997: KMFA joins the World Wide Web with the launch of kmfa.org.
1999: Broadcast hours increase to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
2000: KMFA receives the Silver Medal for Best Classical Format in the New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards.
2002: The station moves its transmitter and antenna to a radio tower with a height of 1,200 feet, making KMFA available to most of Central Texas.
2005: With a revamped website, KMFA’s broadcast becomes available online.
2006: KMFA joins the roster of stations meeting eligibility requirements for annual support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Membership reaches an all-time high with over 6,000 individuals contributing to the station.
2008: KMFA begins broadcasting a digital HD signal in addition to its standard FM signal, improving the overall sound of the station.
2011: With support from the Austin Optimist Club, KMFA launches a new summer radio camp, Kids Recording Kids, which teaches eighth- and ninth-graders to produce, record and edit a classical music radio showcase.
2012: iHeartRadio invites KMFA to be the third all-classical station added to its platform. After launching its own mobile app that same year, KMFA is now able to reach expanded audiences across the globe.
2012: Partnering with the Hispanic Alliance and Austin Soundwaves youth orchestra, KMFA sponsors the first annual “Fall Into Music” instrument drive, which each year places donated musical instruments into the hands of young music lovers at schools throughout greater Austin.
2016: More than 100,000 listeners tune into KMFA each month from throughout Central Texas. With sustaining memberships at an all-time high, KMFA is able to shorten its on-air fund drives from 10 to seven days. The station introduces its tagline, “On Key, Offbeat,” with a giant Twitter-powered metronome displayed in downtown Austin.
2017: KMFA celebrates its 50th anniversary with a public block party on Jan. 29 that brings in 2,000 attendees. The station releases a revamped mobile app that includes the “Soundtrack of Austin,” a classical audio tour of city landmarks.