Bill Arhos. 2006 photo by Mark Matson for American-Statesman

Bill Arhos, whose long career at Austin public television station KLRU included founding the landmark music program “Austin City Limits,” died Saturday, KLRU announced in a press release Monday morning. He was 80.

Born Nov. 3, 1934, and raised in Bryan, Arhos began working at KLRU in 1961 and eventually became president and general manager of the station. In 1974, he was the driving force in getting Willie Nelson’s pilot episode for the fledgling music show “Austin City Limits” on more than 50 stations nationwide, paving the way for “ACL” to become the longest-running music television program ever. Arhos remained the show’s executive producer until his retirement in 1999.

“I’ve never met anyone like Bill Arhos,” current ACL executive producer Terry Lickona said in the KLRU press release. “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 was a fan of country music as a youth and attended East Texas performances by country stars of the day including Hank Williams, Ray Price and Johnny Horton. He began his career at KLRU — then called KLRN, before a split that made KLRN the San Antonio PBS affiliate — shortly after graduating from Rice University, where he was a pitcher for the Owls’ baseball team. He rose up through the station’s ranks over the years from producer to program director to vice president of programming before finally becoming president and general manager in 1986.

“Bill Arhos was a legend in public media, respected for his creativity, energy and persistence,” KLRU general manager Bill Stotesbery said in the station’s press release. “From day one, he dedicated himself to building a station that was a national leader in production, and he set a standard that others seek to achieve.”

Bill Arhos and Terry Lickona in 1998. Photo by Lynne Dobson / American-Statesman

Arhos also served for a stretch on the boards of PBS and the Country Music Association. In 2007, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Association of Rice Alumni. Last year, he became one of the inaugural inductees of the “Austin City Limits” Hall of Fame, honored in an April ceremony at the show’s original Studio 6A home along with Willie Nelson, Darrell Royal and Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble.

“It’s a little intimidating to be in a class of the first inductees,” Arhos said at the ceremony, “and three of the four have bronze statues around town.”

KLRU’s press release also stated that “Arhos will be buried in a private ceremony at the Texas State Cemetery. Details about his service and a celebration of his life will be forthcoming. The family requests donations to the Bill Arhos Fund at KLRU in lieu of flowers.”

At the ACL Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the following short video about Arhos was screened: