David Kobierowski, TheAustinPost.org
The phrase “Keep Austin Weird” has become so popular numerous other cities have copied it. “Keep _____ Weird” movements have popped up in Boulder, Colorado; Portland Oregon; Louisville, Kentucky, and other cities. Wimberly, Texas even has its own phrase: “Keep Wimberly Weirder.”
Have you ever wondered who started this saying? Possibly it was a PR campaign started by the City of Austin that wanted to preserve and celebrate the unique aspects of Austin? Nope, that’s not it.
And what is so weird about Austin? According to the 2010 book “Weird City” by Joshua Long, some of the weirdness includes:
– Leslie Cochran, local homeless transvestite icon who has run for Mayor multiple times, including finishing 2nd to winner Kirk Watson in 2000 when Cochran captured 7.7 percent of the Austin vote!
– Eeyore’s Birthday – this event was initiated in 1963 by a University of Texas professor who wished to provide a pre-final exam stress reliever for students. Held annually on the last Saturday of April (the 2011 event is scheduled for Sat., April 30th) it draws over 20,000 people to Pease Park for live music, food, drum circles, intermittent nudity and recreational drug use.
– Ann Richards Congress Ave Bat Bridge – the largest urban bat colony in the world and a very popular tourist attraction. Over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats live under the bridge. The 1980 renovation of the bridge created new crevices in the bridge that these bats love to make their home.
– Hippie Hollow Park – the only clothing-optional public park in Texas. Situated on over 100 acres on the shores of Lake Travis, it’s been in regular use since the 1960’s.
– Austin Yard Art – examples are all over the city.
Some may have thought that the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan has been around for as long as Austin has been. But here’s the story behind it, according to Long’s “Weird City” (P. 15):
“The legend of “Keep Austin Weird” goes something like this: In the Spring of 2000, a local Austin Community College librarian by the name of Red Wassenich was calling into pledge his donation to an (almost) all volunteer Austin community radio station, 91.7FM KOOP Radio. While many would argue this station is weird (playing everything from rockabilly Tejano to Czech melodies), Red was calling in specifically to support The Lounge Show, a segment which he describes as featuring ‘smooth crooners’ such as Bobby Darin and Louis Prima, along with strange tunes such as Bing Crosby’s ‘Hey Jude’ and William Shatner’s ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'”.
“When the DJ asked why Red was making a donation, he responded with a simple, “the show keeps Austin Weird”. Red mentioned it to his wife and said, “that sounds like a slogan”. Shortly after that, Red’s wife, Karen Pavelka, ordered a thousand blue and white bumper stickers beseeching fellow citizens to “Keep Austin Weird”. There were no financial considerations. As Red says ‘We never set out to make money and have been successful at that’ (at NOT making money).”
Since then, local corporations and financial opportunists have made a lot of money off of what Red started. I’m told Red and Karen never copyrighted this saying and thus made no money from it.
91.7FM KOOP Radio is still going strong. It’s the only 99 percent volunteer-run cooperative community radio station in the country. The station has increased it’s listenership by over 80 percent over the last few years and has had the most successful membership drives of it’s 16 year history recently and raised over $12,000 for it’s “Sweet 16” at Antone’s Night Club in January of this year with Kelly Willis, Sara Hickman, and Slaid Cleaves performing to 350 people. 91.7FM was also rated the “Best Little Radio Station in Texas” last year by Paste Magazine, the 3rd largest rock magazine in the world, and KOOP was honored by the Austin Mayor and City Council with a Proclamation in Dec 2010 for their continued 16 years or service to the Austin community.
Disclosure: Karie Meltzer, Editor-in-Chief of the Austin Post, and I (David Kobierowski) host a radio show on 91.7FM KOOP Radio every Wed., Noon-1pm called “A Neighborly Conversation.” We hosted a live interview with author Joshua Long on this show earlier in the year.
More information about Josh Long’s book “Weird City” at http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/books/lonwei.html
More information about 91.7FM KOOP Radio at www.koop.org