Bill Arhos, the founder of the long-running PBS performance series Austin City Limits and the inspiration behind the Texas capital’s now-annual music festival, passed away April 11th at the age of 80, the Austin City Limits site reports. A longtime executive at Austin’s KLRU, Arhos helped create the Austin City Limits concept in 1974. That same year, the show’s debut episode, featuring a performance by Willie Nelson, aired on the public television station.
“I’ve never met anyone like Bill Arhos,” ACL executive producer and longtime colleague Terry Lickona said in a statement. “He was a real character, known and loved not just in Austin but throughout the PBS system. The idea for Austin City Limits was not just his alone, but he brought it to life, and he kept the show going and growing through some difficult times. Whether they know it or not, millions of music fans, artists and PBS viewers owe a debt to him for his enormous contribution to what’s become a cultural institution.”
Arhos served as ACL‘s executive producer from 1975 until his retirement in 1999. In that time, Austin City Limits‘s reputation grew from a Texas mainstay to one of the most revered music programs in television history; ACL celebrated its 40th season on air this past year. In April 2014, Arhos was among the inaugural class of inductees into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame, joining Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble and University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal. “It’s a little intimidating to be in a class of the first inductees, and three of the four have bronze statues around town,” Arhos said of the honor.
Willie Nelson – “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (Austin City Limits debut episode)
As one of the few performance shows with nationwide accessibility, Austin City Limits influenced an entire generation of musicians. For the Foo Fighters’ travelogue HBO series and corresponding LP Sonic Highways, Dave Grohl mandated that the Austin City Limits stage be one of the eight U.S. venues where the album was recorded. The Sonic Highways track “What Did I Do?/God as My Witness” was made at KLRU-TV Studio 6A, the original home of Austin City Limits. Foo Fighters’ visit also resulted in an ACL episode that aired during the series’ 40th season.
“I was 7 or 8 the first time I saw it. I was just learning how to play guitar and there weren’t too many shows like Austin City Limits back in the day,” Grohl told Rolling Stone. “Here was a show that you could watch an entire live performance of a band – not just one song after Johnny Carson walks off the couch – in front of an intimate audience. Those experiences translate. When I was young, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s music! That’s how it’s done! Now it’s in my living room and it makes me want to do that too.’ You watch these brilliant musicians ripping on that stage week after week and it could only inspire young musicians. Maybe that’s what it was for.”