ACL audio engineer recounts 40 years of recording, mixing show

Cat Cardenas

When ACL audio engineer and UT alumnus David Hough was in high school, he played the drums and mic’d up the jazz band he had with friends. He wanted to pursue music, but with the Vietnam War drafting musicians to perform for troops overseas, he decided to study electrical engineering at UT, finding every excuse he could to visit the school of music in his spare time.

“It was a love for the music that I kept coming back to," Hough said. "I kept sneaking over to the music department as much as I could because it was what I really wanted to do."

Shortly after graduating, Hough worked at KLRN where he met ACL co-creator Bill Arhos and several other people instrumental in the creation of the iconic TV show. When it came time for the show’s first episode, Hough assumed the role of audio engineer, a position he’s maintained from day one. 

Though he’s been there for decades, Hough said in the early years of ACL, he briefly flew to California, where he considered moving to pursue another job but couldn’t bring himself to leave the family he found at the show behind.  

“Everyone [in California] wanted to hire me,” Hough said. “I came back confident, and that’s when we started getting that family feeling. I didn’t need California. I didn’t need the money. What was more important to me were my friends.”

Since then, Hough said the show and the equipment he used to record it with continued to evolve together. But once each taping is through, his 40-year-old routine remains the same — he shuts the door to his soundproof room, letting the music fill the space so he can focus on piecing together the episode’s audio. 

For years, Hough has seen and worked with the show’s musicians. He said the friendly atmosphere that kept him there is what attracts the musicians as well. 

“When Johnny Cash came to the show, he was used to Nashville’s style,” Hough said. “He came to our show just terrified. But after he finished the first song, he realized no one was going to stop him, and the audience was paying attention to his performance. Afterward, he said it was the most pleasant experience he had on television.”