There's no need to hop on Interstate 35 to hear radio stations based in San Antonio and the Waco area.

Many come in loud and clear across portions of Central Texas, offering music and other programming not available in our area. And some even outdraw our local stations in the Arbitron rankings.

One of the top performers is Killeen-based KNCT 91.3 FM, with studios on the Central Texas College campus. The station offers a format not found in Austin – serving up easy listening hits from a mix of artists that includes Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Michael Bublé – and frequently has more listeners, according to average quarter-hour ratings, than all four of Austin's sports radio stations, as well as Talk Radio 1370 AM, among others.

"We hear almost constantly from listeners in the Austin area, particularly Williamson County," says general manager Max Rudolph. "In fact, it has become our primary listening base."

A non-commercial broadcaster, KNCT routinely receives donations from Georgetown, Round Rock and other area communities, particularly from older listeners, Rudolph says. The Sun City retirement development in Georgetown even opted a few years back to make KNCT its go-to radio station for resident notifications.

"Our audience tends to be very strong among traditional radio listeners," he says.

Williamson County's proximity to Bell, Coryell and McLennan counties is mutually beneficial. Broadcasters in the Waco/Temple/Killeen add to their audience, and listeners get more choices.

"For some rock listeners in the northern Austin metro, we fill a gap in Austin's radio landscape, the gap in between KLBJ-FM and 101X," says Brent Henslee, director of rock programming for Waco's 102.5 the Bear and 107.3 the Fox Rocks serving Temple and Killeen. "We're much more modern than KLBJ and, at the same time, much more ‘meat and potatoes' than 101X. Some of our core artists, like Godsmack and Disturbed, get very little airplay in Austin."

Heading south, another out-of-towner with a strong Austin-area listener base is San Antonio's NewsRadio 1200 WOAI, Clear Channel's flagship station. Its news/talk programming comes in crystal clear across Austin all day long. And, at night, station execs say WOAI's super-strong signal can be heard in portions of 38 states.

"I think we hear from Austin listeners every day," says Peter Bolger, director of AM operations for Clear Channel's San Antonio stations. "Some call in to our shows, others may write to ask a question about programming, and some even win prizes."

Bolger says the station, which airs a mix of local and syndicated programs – including Rush Limbaugh, heard here on NewsRadio 590 AM, and Sean Hannity, a staple in the Talk Radio 1370 AM lineup – doesn't actively target listeners in our area. But having them certainly doesn't hurt.

"I think, for the most part, it's an added bonus due to our signal strength, rather than a marketing strategy," Bolger says.

The desire to be as local as possible, he says, means stations aren't likely to start actively targeting out-of-market listeners, even as Austin continues to creep north and south.

"If we start programming more regionally, we become less localized and unique, and I think that would work against us."

National nods for 2 locals

The winners of this year's Gracie Awards have been announced, and Austin broadcasters are well represented.

Two local stations — KMFA and KOOP — have been honored by the Alliance for Women in Media for their "programming created for women, by women and about women."

In the Outstanding Portrait/Biography category, KMFA 89.5 FM music director Sara Hessel is being recognized for "Michael Nyman: Motion and Emotion."

"In producing ‘Michael Nyman: Motion and Emotion,' I hoped to draw attention to the full scope of his activities as a composer, beyond his famous score for ‘The Piano'," Hessel says. "His music is so immediately appealing, and his musical language manages to be contemporary and timeless all at once. It's an incredible honor that this program was chosen by the Alliance for Women in Media to be the recipient of a Gracie Award."

Over at KOOP 91.7 FM, "Idea Lounge with Khotan Shahbazi-Harmon" has been named Outstanding Interview Program or Feature. An interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Shirin Ebadi won a Gracie last year, making this "Idea Lounge's" second win. The show airs Thursdays from 6 to 7 p.m.

The awards will be presented during a ceremony May 25 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Around the dial ...

Talk Radio 1370 AM now has a home on the FM side of the dial. Catch a simulcast of the station's programming at 96.3 FM. Find competitor NewsRadio 590 AM a few clicks away at 99.7 FM. ... Speaking of NewsRadio 590 AM, congrats are in order. KGSR, too. Both are finalists for this year's National Association of Broadcasters Crystal Radio Awards, which honor stations for their community service. Winners will be announced next month.

gdinges@statesman.com; 912-5987