The River has run dry in Austin.

In its spot on the FM dial, listeners can now find Spirit 105.9, a station serving up a round-the-clock mix of songs from contemporary Christian artists.

The change occurred late last month after Seattle-based CRISTA Broadcasting acquired the frequency — its first outside Washington state — from radio giant Clear Channel for $6.25 million.

"We felt expanding our group of radio stations was the right thing to do," CRISTA vice president Stan Mak says. "Contemporary Christian music is our only format, and we ought to be able to leverage our success in other markets."

Even though Austin is a long way from Seattle — about 2,000 miles — the city landed on the company's radar for several reasons.

"It's not too small, has a fairly healthy economic base, and there wasn't an existing station already doing what we do," Mak says. "There would have been no reason to go there if the audience was well-served."

The station's only been on the air about two weeks, but it's already developing a loyal fan base.

"I am very pleased with it," listener Sharon Henderson says. "Austin is so big. It's ridiculous that we can't get and keep a Christian radio station."

Henderson says she's already "spammed" her e-mail and Facebook contacts hoping to get them hooked, and she'd be more than willing to slap a bumper sticker on her car.

Many, including Nicole Ward, say Spirit 105.9 sounds a lot like the River did when it launched nearly five years ago — before Clear Channel started adding in mainstream secular artists in an effort to broaden its reach.

"The River had started to play more and more pop music, which was upsetting," Ward says. "When they first started, they were almost exclusively Christian rock."

The tweaks in recent years had sent many contemporary Christian devotees to 92.1 and 106.3 FM, which air programming from the national K-LOVE network. Now, with a local option available, those folks are coming back.

"I listen to and financially support K-LOVE, but prefer to support local businesses instead of national chains," listener David Longacre says. "I enjoy K-LOVE's music and on-air personalities, but they do not have local news, weather and traffic, which is important to people in Austin."

CRISTA's goal is to be as local as possible, Mak says.

The company hired Tim McCoy, an Austin radio veteran, to run Spirit 105.9. McCoy is in the process of assembling a local staff of about 20, including an on-air team that should be in place by year's end. He's also working to find permanent offices for the station which, right now, is housed in borrowed space at Clear Channel's Austin studios.

"Our goal is to build Spirit 105.9 into a very local radio station," Mak says. "We want the station to be very meaningful to the people of Austin."

That's why CRISTA has been surveying Central Texans to find out which artists they like best. The songs already on the radio scored the highest, Mak says. Listeners interested in being a part of the station's Music Team can sign up at spirit1059.com.

"Some radio companies would just replicate the playlist we're using in Seattle and call it a day," Mak says. "We're not comfortable with that."

The company's research already has turned up some differences in taste between the two cities. For example, Tenth Avenue North, an up-and-coming contemporary Christian band, ranked No. 1 in Seattle, but didn't even break the Top 10 in Central Texas. (MercyMe is tops in Austin, in case you're wondering.)

Area nonprofits and churches will also have a voice on Spirit 105.9. The station plans to offer up airtime for groups to make announcements and promote upcoming events.

"For a station to be successful, it needs to reflect the flavor and texture of the market," Mak says.

So far, so good, says listener Dena Melancon, who hopes Spirit has a long run on Austin radio.

"If the Christian community in Austin does the right thing and steps up to be supportive, then, yes, I believe the station has staying power," Melancon says. "With the right talent, the right team of sales people to sell radio spots, and if they stay aligned with God's will, then they can't go wrong."

gdinges@statesman.com; 912-5987

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