Perhaps you are aware of Sun Radio, the amalgamation of six FM frequencies (and one AM) that is the talk of Austin, Texas.
Sun Radio [link] goes by the call letters KDRP. It is a low power FM station based in the Austin exurb of Bee Cave.
In a few short years Sun Radio has become an inspiring success story and is MVP in Austin music and cultural scene. And it operates on pennies a day because it is almost totally solar powered.
Sun Radio founders Daryl O'Neal and his son Denver literally made something out of nothing. It started when the O’Neal’s acquired defunct KDRP-LP in 2009. At the time KDRPwas a silent 5-watt construction permit that didn’t even have a studio.
Today KDRP/Sun Radio is the fastest growing noncommercial station in the area. On the left are the February Nielsen Audio PPM ratings. When compared to February 2017, Sun Radio increased their number of estimated weekly listeners by 39%.
The story behind Sun Radio is a remarkable climb that is a lesson in perseverance and radio smarts.
In the 1990s Daryl O'Neal was sales manager at Shamrock Communications, a respected commercial radio group owner. Shamrock sold out to corporate consolidators. O’Neal left and became the CEO of Independence Media Holdings (IMH), a private company that specialized in fattening-up commercial stations so the owners could sell them for big bucks.
It was soulless work. O'Neal hated it because it was so far from the kind of people-to-people radio he had known. Then came an Oh Wow! Moment.
One of O’Neal’s clients was Brad Hockmeyer, owner of KTAO, a commercial station in Taos, New Mexico. KTAO was the world’s first solar powered radio station. After seeing KTAO and talking with Hockmeyer O’Neal decided to build a similar operation in the Austin area, a much bigger market than Taos.
|Daryl O'Neal (right) with sons Josh & Denver|
O’Neal founded a nonprofit organization that bought KDRP’s license in 2009.
O’Neal was still working for IHM then. To avoid a conflict of interest, Daryl O’Neal brought his son Denver into the business.
Denver O’Neal became the legal director. O’Neil left IHM in 2011 to concentrate of Sun Radio.
After KDRP, Sun Radio acquired frequencies at 88.9FM in Johnson City, 99.1FM in Fredericksburg, 100.1FM here Austin, and 107.1FM south of Austin. In every location they put solar power to maximum use.
As Sun Radio expanded, personalities from other Austin stations began knocking on the door.
The first person jump on board was the late KUT disc jockey Larry Monroe, an Austin legend. The story goes that Monroe had just one question for O’Neal: Can I play what I want to?
O’Neal said “Yes” and that sealed the deal.
The next person to jump on board was Jessie Scott, a founder of the Americana Music Association and the person credited with coining the term "Americana.”
Then came Kevin Connor, a popular morning host on an Austin AOR station, followed by Bo Chase from Z102, KLBJ’s John Dromgoole, Roger Allen defected from KGSR and Ed Miller for KUT. Some of these folks left high-paying corporate jobs to work at Sun Radio for pennies. Sun Radio meant that much to them.
Since then Connor has become the Program Director and Denver O’Neal now runs the operation. Daryl O'Neal is still Sun Radio’s visionary, working on expanding coverage by finding new signal.
Another person who has been part of the organization from the start is Ryan Schuh. Schuh has had an amazing career in commercial rock radio. He was there for the beginning of Z-Rock, programmed stations for Infinity/CBS and hosted a radio show with Larry the Cable Guy, but nobody holds that against him.
Schuh was the first employee at KDRP. According to local lore, to get to work he drove over 60 miles a day for two years. He is now Director of Affiliates for Sun Radio.
Sun Radio is still run on a tight budget where every dollar counts. That is one reason to rely on solar power. According to a local source, last September Sun Radio’s electric bill was negative $17.12.
STEWART VANDERVILT IS NEW PRESIDENT OF COLORADO PUBLIC RADIO
Since we are talking about Austin radio, we say congratulation to longtime KUT manager Stewart Vanderwilt who has accepted the job to be President of Colorado Public Radio (CPR). As you might know CPR’s founding President, Max Wysick, announced his retirement in 2017. Vanderwilt begins his new gig on July 1, 2018.
Vanderwilt is a perfect choice to lead CPR. We’ve know him since he was at Ball State. Congratulations!