- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

AUSTIN, Texas Like her mother before her, Luci Baines Johnson presides over a Texas radio empire with the emphasis on Texas.
Home-state musicians Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and Willie Nelson get plenty of airtime. So do up-and-comers from Austin's music scene. At the flagship KLBJ-AM, local news is a mainstay. Throughout LBJS Broadcasting Co., employees promote community service.
"In a day and time where communications, especially radio, has an increasing march toward homogenization, we have resisted that march," says Luci Johnson, daughter of Lady Bird Johnson and the late President Lyndon B. Johnson. "We believe that the edge for radio as an entity is being local."
Market figures appear to support her.
The six stations of LBJS Broadcasting, all in Austin, are, in combination, the local leader in the 25-to-54 age group in share (percentage of people listening) and total number of listeners, according to Arbitron ratings.
Being in the market for nearly 60 years has helped, says Luci Johnson, 54, who as chairwoman of her family's privately held LBJ Holding Co. oversees its radio business.
She explained her business philosophy in a recent interview in her downtown office.
Ian Turpin, her husband, is president of LBJ Holding Co., which also includes real estate ventures. The couple returned to Texas from Canada in the early 1990s to work more directly with the company after an economic downturn that took a toll on the Johnson family operation.
Luci Johnson's sister, Lynda Johnson Robb, is married to Chuck Robb, a former Virginia governor and senator, and has a lesser involvement in the Texas business.
Luci Johnson frequently repeats her parents' belief: "The best fertilizer for a man's land is the footsteps of its owners."
Lady Bird Johnson, 89, remains on the holding company's board and attends most of its meetings. She started the business when she bought the family's first radio station in 1942 with $17,500 in inheritance money while her husband was in Congress.
Then known as KTBC, the station had frequency problems, sales problems and personnel problems. Lady Bird Johnson's close attention gradually improved the station's bottom line. She sold commercial time and even helped clean floors.
Later she obtained one of the first FM signals at a time when the potential of FM radio was unknown. The family acquired a TV station, KTBC, but sold it and its call letters in 1973. That's when the designation KLBJ for the flagship radio station was born.
With telecommunications deregulation in the 1990s, other radio companies, such as industry mammoth Clear Channel Communications, a publicly traded company based in San Antonio, began to acquire hundreds of stations nationwide.
The Johnsons set out to expand their ownership in Austin, now permissible under deregulation.
LBJS Broadcasting has found a way to compete effectively against larger companies, says Tom Taylor, editor of M Street Daily, a radio-industry newsletter.
In 2000, the Johnson family's cluster of stations numbering five at the time had $27 million in revenue, second in the market only to the $31.3 million generated by Clear Channel's stations, according to estimates by Duncan's Radio Market Guide.
A large corporation with hundreds of stations may benefit from cost savings and efficiencies, but the smaller, private LBJS Broadcasting does not have to meet outside analysts' profit projections and can concentrate on serving a niche in a local market, Mr. Taylor says.
An example is KGSR-FM, which joined the Johnson empire in a merger with Sinclair Telecable in 1997.
The station offers a mix of folk, blues, country and rockabilly. Program director Jody Denberg likes to call it "roots music."
Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Lucinda Williams are featured alongside emerging artists such as Eliza Gilkyson, Slaid Cleaves and Alejandro Escovedo. Although the station promotes Texas musicians, being one is not enough to make it on the air, Mr. Denberg says.
"We don't have an affirmative action program for local music," he says. "It just needs to be a great song."
The company's other stations feature traditional rock, oldies, talk and news radio, alternative rock and dance-club music.
The stations also make their mark with community fund-raisers. For instance, KGSR and KLBJ-FM produce compact discs of recordings of well-known musicians' on-air performances and sell them to benefit the SIMS Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps musicians obtain mental health services.
Now that the former first lady has "passed the baton" as leader of the family's broadcasting business, Luci Johnson says she is working to live up to her mother's standards.
"It is what I try to do," she says. "I had a great teacher, a remarkable mentor."


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