Bill Arhos, who founded "Austin City Limits" and helped propel the public television show into a forum for music's biggest influences, has died in Texas. He was 80.
Arhos died Saturday in Austin after a long illness, according to a spokeswoman for the show, now in its 41st season.
Arhos began working at Austin's PBS affiliate in 1961 and eventually became president and general manager of KLRU. In 1974, he was the driving force in getting Willie Nelson's pilot episode for "Austin City Limits" on more than 50 stations nationwide, paving the way for the hourlong show to become the longest-running music television program ever.
Among the hundreds of stars who have taped shows since are Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris, Roy Orbison and Pearl Jam. Arhos remained its executive producer until his retirement in 1999.
Last year, Arhos joined Nelson as an inductee into the inaugural Austin City Limits Hall of Fame.
Born Nov. 3, 1934, and raised in Bryan, Texas, Arhos was a fan of country music as a youth and attended East Texas performances by country stars of the day including Johnny Horton, Ray Price and Hank Williams. After graduating in 1957 from Rice University, where he was a pitcher for the Owls baseball team, he earned a master's in education from Texas A&M.
Survivors include two daughters and a son.