Musicians Off the Record: Jody Denberg

Jody Denberg is a Texas music industry alchemist whose prose and efforts as Program Director for KSGR 107.1 FM radio in Austin have helped cultivate the scene’s cooperative spirit. The New York native found his way to the capital city in 1976, enrolling at the University of Texas as a journalism major, and never left. Texas music has been all the better for it. “Austin fosters a greater sense of community. It is really one of the great characteristics of Austin. Everyone treats each other as equals.”

After serving as student newspaper music critic at the Daily Texan, Denberg challenged the local radio establishment “bemoaning the fact that KLBJ (radio) had become conservative. Essentially they said, ‘well if you know so much, do your own show.’” He helped advance classic rock station KLBJ-FM identity as the uber-champion of the local scene. Denberg’s program, “Critic’s Choice,” not only gave him the opportunity to support independent artists, it paved the way for mass consumption of their product. Still, he hesitates to “think of myself as being in the music business . . . part of it is luck, part of it may be talent and part of it is also knowing how to socially operate.”

In 1990, ten years into his KLBJ tenure, he was persuaded to move KSGR. The switch gave Denberg further creative freedom to program a mainstream radio station with music that is “a lot less pop and a lot more roots music. Which doesn’t mean we won’t play a Sheryl Crow or Coldplay record, but that’s sort of the salt and pepper on the stew; the stew is Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Allison Krause, Patti Griffith. I think the station has really defined and focused on that niche,” says Denberg. “We want to play as much great local music as we can. It has to be as good. It has to be played next to Bob Dylan or anyone you think is great and it has to stand up next to it. The local music we play has to be as great as the other proven musicians we play… The lucky part for us is, that there’s plenty of that local music here that is just as great and recognized on a national basis.”

Denberg, a long time advocate of music and social involvement, is most proud of the Broadcast CD, an annual collection of live on-air productions whose sales support charities. The project has raised over one million dollars for the Services Invested in Musician Support Foundation (SIMS), a group which offers low cost mental health services to Austin musicians and their immediate families, as well as to the Austin Parks Foundation. “Any promotions that help the community while focusing on music,” says Denberg.