René Engel is a pioneering country music deejay and public radio visionary who was instrumental in developing two national radio formats; AAA and, with Citybilly, the roots and alt-country Americana sound.
René Engel began Citybilly at KCRW in 1980. In the early days, the notion developed to feature some country music icons each week, to “anchor” the programming and remind loyal listeners of the core sensibility of the show. The original "regulars" were Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard and George Jones.
Then, to mark the occasion when moving to KPCC radio in 1988, another “regular” was added to the mix. That 4th regular was Conway Twitty. After a short bit of time, the feminists in the listening audience demanded that Citybilly include women among the artists featured on a weekly basis. Rene conducted a survey to decide which women to add to the Citybilly regulars, and the top two vote-getters, by a large margin, were Patsy Cline and Emmylou Harris. For those who listened carefully, another regular had been evident in the mix for many years, but never announced officially -- Bob Dylan.
Also at KPCC, Engel created and hosted, with colleague Matt (Fritz) Wright and producer Mia (Marty) Karnatz, the innovative “Wednesday Music Magazine,” a program truly without borders. The same show could host a live set from conjunto accordionist extraordinaire Steve Jordan, feature sets by Neil Diamond, jazz legend Charles Lloyd and Sonic Youth, as well as a symphony from Dmitri Shostakovich.
In 1996 René Engel moved to KUSC as the afternoon drive-time host at L.A.’s #1 classical music station. In an unprecedented example of fraternal radio cooperation, Citybilly and the Music Magazine continued to be heard on KPCC, with Engel producing programs for two stations simultaneously.
Then at the beginning of 1997, Engel was hired to run KCSN radio. As General Manager, Engel brought Citybilly with him and also created “Let’s Do Lunch.” This daily arts conversation program became a lightning rod at the dawn of the millennium, must-listen radio and central to the cultural fabric of Southern California. "Let's Do Lunch" had its roots in the venerable "Luncheon at the Music Center" from KFAC.
In 2001, Engel was recruited to help build a jazz empire for KLON and left KCSN to become Program Director for the highest rated jazz station in the country. While at KLON, Engel oversaw the change of call letters to KKJZ (K-JAZZ), added the Inland Empire to the broadcast area served by the radio station, helped improve sagging ratings and increase revenue, and guided the station through the tragedy of 9/11.
Citybilly had been on hiatus since then…until it was resurrected on KCBX in April of 2012.