Producing a show as wildly successful as Austin City Limits has brought the wizardry of its producer, Terry Lickona, into more living rooms across America while allowing Texas musicians unprecedented exposure. With a background in radio in upstate New York, Lickona moved to Austin with no intention of getting involved in television, much less building a singular reputation in music. But being at the right place at the right time, figuratively and literally, was his fate, and today Lickona is the heart and soul behind the most influential phenomenon in Texas music.
Lickona was an enigma to broadcast personalities in the cool, laid-back music scene that flourished in Austin in the 1970s when he arrived at public radio station KUT-FM, which by chance was housed in the same building as the PBS studios on the campus of the University of Texas. He eventually volunteered to be a production assistant for the new KLRN television series, “Austin City Limits.” After coming on board in 1977, the ground-breaking program hit the airwaves bringing mass exposure to Austin music, particularly of the country variety.
Still in its infancy, the program underwent personnel changes which left Lickona as ACL’s producer. Some three decades later, Lickona has made ACL, indisputably, Texas’ most famous music export and the vehicle which best personifies Austin’s eclectic music community. As the program’s popularity has increased, it’s become a staple of public television and offered both tried and burgeoning acts a wide audience. As various music genres are added to the shooting schedule, Lickona excels at nurturing its strengths while guiding the evolution of its ever-more exhilarating showcases.
“It’s a really great opportunity to mix the music up like that and actually get away with it.” Although public television has been forced to weather threats by Congress to cut funding, Lickona remains optimistic and points to the strong response from supportive viewers. “It’s a good thing when people rise up from their lethargy and rally around the flag, so to speak, rally around PBS, and they let the politicians and the corporations know—don’t mess with our public TV.”
Lickona has produced a number of other music series and specials over the years, including two series for the Nashville Network (TNN), and events for cable networks HBO and Cinemax. In addition to his work in broadcasting, Lickona has served as the Chairman of the Board for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, producers of the Grammys. Through the position, Lickona has helped support charities which provide instruments to low-income schools, assist aging musicians with medical needs and advocate for the rights of artists against piracy.
To add support for live music, Lickona’s latest success is the popular Austin City Limits music festival which is produced in partnership with Charlie Jones and Charles Attal of Capital Sports and Entertainment. The festival, now an annual fall staple and arguably America’s strongest new music event, has only added to Lickona’s legacy as a legend of Texas music.