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Another LBJ Presides in Texas (Radio, That Is)

January 11, 2002|KELLEY SHANNON | ASSOCIATED PRESS

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 air time. 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," said 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 back her up. Combined, LBJS Broadcasting's six stations are the local leader in the 25-to-54 age group in audience share and total listeners, according to Arbitron ratings.

Being in the market for nearly 60 years has helped, said Johnson, 54, who, as chairwoman of her family's privately held LBJ Holding Co., oversees its radio business.

Ian Turpin, Johnson's 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 took a toll on the Johnson family operation.

Luci's sister, Lynda Johnson Robb, is married to Chuck Robb, a former Virginia governor and senator, and has less involvement in the Texas business.

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 television station, KTBC, but sold it and its call letters in 1973. That's when the designation KLBJ for the flagship radio station came about.

LBJS Broadcasting has found a way to compete effectively against larger companies, said Tom Taylor, editor of M Street Daily, a radio industry newsletter.

A large corporation with hundreds of stations may benefit from cost savings and efficiencies. But the smaller, private LBJS Broadcasting doesn't have to meet outside analysts' profit projections and can concentrate on serving a niche in a local market, Taylor said.

Now that the former first lady has "passed the baton" as leader of the family's broadcasting business, Luci Johnson said she is working to live up to her mother's standards.

"It is what I try to do," she said. "I had a great teacher, a remarkable mentor."

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