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KTRU

KUHA sale completed

Say goodbye to classical music on your terrestrial radio.

Houston Public Media’s classical musical station transitions to an all-digital format starting at 9 a.m. Friday, July 15.

It’s a result of Christian radio station KSBJ agreeing to purchase the KUHA 91.7 FM signal from the University of Houston — which holds the license — in February 2016.

“We are happy that the ownership of KUHA will stay in local hands and we are excited about the future,” Houston Public Media Associate Vice President and General Manager Lisa Shumate said in a statement. “Houston Public Media’s commitment to multi-platform arts and culture content, in addition to classical music, is stronger than ever.”

[…]

KUHA 91.7 FM was purchased from Rice University for $9.5 million in 2010. Most of the classical music and arts programming produced by Houston Public Media moved to the new station, along with live broadcasts with the Houston Symphony, the Houston Grand Opera and local performing artists and groups. KUHF then adopted a 24-hour all news and information format.

See here for the background. KUHA continues to exist as an HD station, and of course there’s always streaming. But if you like to listen to classical music in your car, and you don’t have an HD receiver, you’re out of luck. And so it goes.

Former KTRU to become Christian station

Well, that’s different.

KSBJ Educational Foundation, which owns and programs noncommercial Christian music radio stations, acquired the 50,000-watt KUHA (91.7 FM). Subject to Federal Communications Commission approval, the station could switch from its current classical format to NGEN by late May or early June.

UH in 2010 acquired the station for $9.5 million from Rice University, where it was known for years as KTRU, and aired classical music on the signal before deciding last year to put the station on the market and move its classical programming to digital formats.

“It’s a good result for Houston because classical service continues and the station stays in the hands of local owners and experienced broadcasters,” said Lisa Shumate, general manager of Houston Public Media. “It enables us to continue to provide multi-platform arts and culture coverage and use our resources for continued focus in news and other local content initiatives.”

[…]

Classical music will continue on 91.7 FM until the sale is approved and also can be heard at KUHF (88.7 FM HD-2), the Houston Public Media mobile app, at HoustonPublicMedia.org, on over the air television at Channel 8.5 and through iHeartRadio and TuneIn and other free mobile applications.

We first heard about this last August. Whatever you think of the whole KTRU situation – and for what it’s worth, KTRU is back on the air, if you can find it – this now means there will no longer be a non-HD FM station devoted to classical music in Houston. That just feels wrong, but then no one asked me.

KTRU returns

On another frequency, with different call letters, and a less powerful signal. Other than that, it’s like it never left.

After five years off the radio dial, Rice University’s popular college radio station KTRU Rice Radio will return to FM on Friday (October 2).

Listeners located within approximately a five-mile radius of the school, stretching from 610 South to the Buffalo Bayou, will be able to enjoy the university’s station on 96.1 FM. After spending four years pursuing a new FCC-approved FM license — an effort spearheaded by Rice students, alumni, staff and community volunteers — the station will be able to broadcast on FM from an antenna placed atop Rice Stadium.

“Returning to the air is truly turning the page to a new chapter in KTRU’s history,” said one of KTRU’s music librarians, George Barrow, in a statement. “We’re returning to our roots with the on-campus, low-power transmitter.

“Not only is this an important step in KTRU’s story, but it’s also extremely important for the Houston music community, since no station on the FM dial right now focuses on exposing local and emerging talent quite like KTRU does. It’s amazing to be a part of this organization during one of its most important transitions.”

The station will also continue to broadcast live on the Internet through its website, as well as apps like i-Heart Radio and Tune-In.

[…]

The official call signs for the new Rice radio station are KBLT-LP since the KTRU call signs are currently licensed to a noncommercial station in La Harpe, Kansas, but the station will continue to be referred to as KTRU.

See here for the background. What do you think, travesty or victory? Leave a comment and let us know. The Press, the Chron, and Radio Survivor have more.

91.7 FM will be sold again

The radio station formerly known as KTRU will have another new home soon.

Houston Public Media, which operates the University of Houston’s broadcasting properties, says it will sell the frequency and transmitter for KUHA (91.7 FM) while retaining the station’s classical music format via online streaming and an HD Radio subchannel of KUHF (88.7 FM).

The university paid $9.5 million in 2010 to purchase 91.7 FM from Rice University, which operated the station as KTRU. It was relaunched as UH’s third broadcasting property along with KUHF, its news and National Public Radio outlet, and KUHT (Channel 8).

Lisa Shumate, general manager of Houston Public Media, said the decision to sell, which was approved by UH regents Thursday, reflected the organization’s need to focus on “the best piece of technology and the best use of donor funds.”

“We are already in HD and are streaming (with the classical music format),” Shumate said.

“Why would you pay for another transmitter and tower when if you take the time you can tell the public how they can get better sound using (HD Radio) at 88.7?”

See here for the KTRU story. I’m not going to relitigate any of that, but I suppose one could argue that if the frequency and transmitter no longer count as “the best piece of technology” out there because of HD radio, then Rice sold at the right time and probably got a pretty good price. That doesn’t address how the sale went down or any of the other issues around it, so I doubt that will make any KTRU backer any happier, but it’s something. KUHF, which had the story first, has more.

KTRU will be back

Awesome. And unexpected.

Rice University’s popular student-run radio station, relegated to the Internet when the university sold it in 2010, is returning to the airwaves.

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday approved the construction of a low-power FM broadcast station at Rice, signaling a return of the station that long highlighted local artists and other musicians rarely heard on the radio.

[…]

“KTRU is making its return to the FM airwaves!” station manager Sal Tijerina wrote in an email to station supporters. “By the end of this year, you can expect to tune into KTRU through an FM radio.”

The signal will cover about a five mile radius around Rice, Tijerina wrote.

The station is to be broadcast on 96.1 FM, the former home of KDOL, a country radio station that also broadcasts on 105.5 FM.

The story quotes former station manager Joey Yang saying that the plan was always for KTRU to come back. After almost four years away, I’m sure some folks had lost hope. According to their Facebook page, the call letters are yet to be determined. It will be weird if KTRU comes back under some other name, but that’s still better than them not coming back at all. It will be good to hear them again, if only withing five miles of campus. Swamplot, Rocks Off, and Free Press Houston have more.

KUHA debuts Monday

KTRU is now off the air, but 91.7 on your dial won’t be dead air for much longer. KUHA, the spawn of the KUHF takeover of 91.7, begins broadcasting Monday.

KUHA Classical programs will include The Front Row, Exploring Music, Metropolitan Opera, Performance Today and From the Top plus recordings from Houston cultural institutions such as the Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera.

KUHF News will offer programming from NPR, American Public Media, PRI and the BBC, in addition to local news, weather and traffic.

As I said at the beginning of this saga, having a real 24-hour news station in town is good. Sacrificing KTRU to get it, especially given the gallons of effluvia elsewhere on the dial, is not. But like it or not, it’s what we’ve got now.

KTRU’s last day will be Thursday

29-95:

Last week the FCC approved a license transfer from Rice University to the University of Houston which was the end of the road for Rice’s student-run KTRU/91.7 radio station. [Wednesday] came news of the shut off date. KTRU will no longer be broadcast from 91.7 starting at 6 a.m. on April 28.

KTRU plans to continue its programming on KPFT 90.1 HD2 and streaming online at ktru.org.

Save KTRU mentioned it as well. Mark your calendars.

FCC approves KTRU sale

It’s official now.

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved the controversial sale of Rice University’s radio station, KTRU, to the University of Houston.

The decision comes after a group called the Friends of KTRU filed a petition and three radio listeners submitted objections hoping to scuttle the deal. They argued the sale violated FCC rules and state law because it was not in the public interest, but the FCC, in its order, said the sale was “consistent with the public interest, convenience and necessity.”

[…]

Rice student and KTRU station manager Joey Yang said he wasn’t happy with FCC decision.

“It’s disappointing in terms of the FCC preaching localism and local programming,” Yang said. “In the decision they said programming content was not their concern. It seems contradictory.”

In the petition, supporters argued that the change of format contradicted the commission’s policies promoting local programming. The FCC, however, found no grounds for the objections.

“Although the commission recognizes that the station’s program format has attracted a devoted listenership, it is well-settled policy that the commission does not scrutinize or regulate programming, nor does it take potential changes in programming formats into consideration in reviewing assignment applications,” the decision states.

You can read the FCC’s decision here. Not surprisingly, Save KTRU isn’t happy with it.

The decision shows a lack of commitment on the part of the FCC to its own public statements regarding the importance of localism and diversity in American broadcast media.

If the segment of the FM radio dial reserved for noncommercial stations is now also subject to the unobstructed machinations of the free market, it is highly likely that local voices will increasingly disappear from American broadcast radio. Indeed, evidence of such a trend is already overwhelming, and it is quite clear that market forces are promoting uniformity at the expense of diversity. Only through protection by a government agency properly enforcing its mandate to regulate this resource on behalf of the public, and thus maintaining sources of relevant locally produced programming, will such stations continue to exist and enrich the public cultural discourse of their communities.

The degree to which a station serves its local community can be evaluated independently of its particular format. We propose that in the future, the FCC not hold itself hostage to outmoded precedents running contrary to its stated goals, but instead consider and base its regulations and actions on what is truly in the public interest, to spare other communities the fate of a media bereft of meaningful local voices.

KTRU has been broadcasting on KPFT’s HD radio channel and will continue to do so. It’s not been determined yet when new station KUHC will be up and running, but according to Rocks Off, Rice and UH have ten business days to transfer the money from the sale. One way or another, the era of KTRU on 91.7 is at the end.

More on the KTRU/KPFT deal

After I read about the KTRU/KPFT deal, in which KTRU will broadcast over one of KPFT’s HD radio channels, I wondered what the folks at Save KTRU thought of it. At the time I posted, there wasn’t anything on the website about the deal, but there is now:

Friends of KTRU, a group of students, alumni and community members devoted to stopping the assignment of KTRU’s non-commercial (NCE) FM license, as well as KTRU’s student management, reject any notion that the dispute over the future of KTRU’s FM license and transmitter has been resolved by the agreement, announced today, regarding the simulcasting of KTRU’s programming on KPFT’s HD2 channel.

“HD radio is better than no radio,” said KTRU Station Manager Joey Yang, “but is orders of magnitude less viable than our current FM broadcast.”

Potential and actual listenership of HD radio is a fraction of that of conventional FM radio, and reception of HD radio broadcasts requires the purchase of a specialized receiver, putting it out of the reach of those with limited financial means.

The FCC has not yet ruled on Friends of KTRU’s Petition to Deny the transfer of KTRU’s FM license. Both Friends of KTRU and KTRU’s student management remain committed in their opposition to any sale of KTRU’s assets.

That quote by station manager Joey Yang seemed to contrast with what he had said in the earlier Chron story:

“We’re excited,” said Joey Yang, KTRU station manager and a junior at Rice. “We think HD radio is going to be a viable option for us.”

I was curious about that, so I sent him an email and asked him to elaborate. This is what he said to me:

Yes, I’m happy with the deal. HD radio, as I’ve said before, is better than no radio. We realize the value of FM, though, and still seek to deny the transfer of the license. That’s still the main goal. HD radio is still an up-and-coming technology, hence my comments in the Friends of KTRU release, but it’s important to note that FM was an up-and-coming technology once upon a time. So, to clarify, FM is much more ubiquitously available than HD radio, but I, and the DJs at KTRU, are very excited about the possibilities that HD radio holds.

Fair enough. I also asked him what will happen to the KPFT deal if the FCC ultimately denies the sale of KTRU’s license, as SaveKTRU and others have advocated:

If the FCC denies the sale of KTRU, then I guess we’ll have both an HD stream with KPFT and an FM stream. Two is certainly better than zero.

So there you have it.

KTRU joins forces with KPFT

KTRU will broadcast over the air again, just from a different spot on the dial.

[Rice University] said Saturday that KTRU will broadcast over a digital channel assigned to radio station KPFT, beginning Feb. 14.

“We’re excited,” said Joey Yang, KTRU station manager and a junior at Rice. “We think HD radio is going to be a viable option for us.”

The deal was reached with the Pacifica Foundation, which owns KPFT, and appears to resolve one of the most contentious issues that arose after Rice agreed to sell the KTRU tower and license to the University of Houston for $9.5 million.

[…]

KTRU’s programming — featuring student and volunteer disc jockeys, playing an eclectic mix of music – will be available through KPFT’s HD2 channel, as well as over the Internet and, for now, its 91.7 FM frequency.

[Rice President David] Leebron said the overlap will give KTRU more time to promote the HD channel and Internet broadcast.

[…]

Yang said KTRU will expand its focus on local music, “music being made in and around Houston.”

KPFT General Manager Duane Bradley said that fits with Pacifica’s mission of “exposing unexposed artists.

“We look at a lot of what Rice does as an extension of our mission.”

KPFT will continue to broadcast at 90.1 FM and its HD1 channel. It currently has news and other programming on the HD2 channel but will move that to a third high-definition channel, Bradley said.

Here’s the press release from KPFT. All things considered, I think that’s about as good an outcome as one could hope for. KTRU and KPFT were the two most like-minded stations on the radio to begin with, so this kind of partnership should be a good fit. Plus, UH will provide some paid internships for Rice students for the first three year. It won’t satisfy everyone, as Leebron said, and the way Rice went about selling the station was still crappy, but it’s an acceptable ending. Kudos to all for getting it done.

KTRU supporters go to the FCC

I wish them luck, but I would not hold out much hope.

Supporters of Rice University’s student-run radio station have formally asked the Federal Communications Commission to deny the station’s sale to the University of Houston, contending it would weaken the educational mission intended by the FCC and harm listeners.

Joey Yang, a Rice student and KTRU station manager, said the goal is to stop the $9.5 million sale, which was approved last summer.

[…]

“There’s nothing like KTRU on the air right now,” Yang said. “(National Public Radio) and classical music are both well-served by KUHF’s current format. We think the loss of the independent, eclectic format is a net loss to the community.”

The petition was filed Friday, the final day public comments on the proposal were accepted by the FCC.

No date has been set for a decision, but FCC spokeswoman Janice Wise said the commission tries to act “in a timely manner.”

The full Petition to Deny is at Save KTRU. Here’s their press release, with a brief summary of what the petition contains:

  • The proposed programming for the new station would significantly decrease community-oriented programming, in contravention of the FCC’s emphasis on broadcast localism
  • The proposed assignment would be contrary to the educational purpose of the non-commercial FM license
  • Internet transmission of KTRU would be a poor substitute for FM broadcast
  • Houston-area non-commercial, educational FM licenses would be overly concentrated in the hands of UHS and non-independent operators
  • Questions exist as to the qualifications of UHS holding an additional NCE FM license
  • Rice and UH’s secrecy, deception excluded student and community participation
  • Characterization of FM radio license as a “declining asset” and sale at a below market price is harmful to the public interest

These are all valid points, I just don’t think they’re going get anywhere with them. I could be wrong. Regarding that penultimate bullet point, I refer you to the Houston Press “Turkey of the Year” award for David Leebron. I’m hard pressed to think of how they could have done this any worse.

KTRU deal signed

Just in time for Rice’s homecoming weekend.

[Wednesday] afternoon, Friends of KTRU announced they had been informed that Rice and UH have signed an agreement to transfer the station’s ownership, and have retained the law firm of Paul Hastings in an attempt to thwart the sale.

B.J. Almond, Rice Senior Director of News and Media Relations, confirmed to our sister blog Rocks Off by phone that the agreement has been signed.

The announcement came in a letter from Rice President David Leebron to Rice students, faculty and alumni, he said.

In the letter, President Leebron said the sale will now go before the FCC for approval, a process that may take several months.

“We will consult with KTRU’s student managers about the timing for turning the tower over to KUHF, but we expect that to occur by the end of the semester or calendar year,” Leebron said in an excerpt from the letter posted on Rice’s Web site. “In the meantime, KTRU will continue to deliver its programming on 91.7 and online through www.ktru.org.”

Not surprisingly, KTRU supporters saw it a little differently.

“It is shameful that the Rice University administration has not heeded the thousands of voices asking to stop the sale of KTRU,” KTRU station manager Joey Yang said in the Friends of KTRU statement. “Instead, Rice has chosen to throw away more than 40 years of student-run tradition in favor of a new cafeteria for the campus. For this reason, we must pursue legal avenues for stopping the sale.”

I can’t say I expected anything to come from the valiant efforts to save KTRU, but for those who were invested in it this is the end of that chapter. I have a feeling there’s going to be some unrest among the alumni this weekend. Leebron’s letter is reproduced beneath the fold.

(more…)

What about the classical music?

This Chron story adds a dimension to the KTRU debate that I haven’t seen discussed before.

Classical music fans in the city’s southern and western suburbs may not be able to hear the station intended to serve their interests.

“It’s all static,” Clear Lake resident Jay Bennett said of the radio signal that would be designated for classical music and arts programming if the deal goes through. “It seems odd that they would degrade their (classical music) signal and alienate a lot of their listeners.”

[…]

[N]ot everyone in the sprawling metropolitan area now served by KUHF would be able to hear static-free programming on the new station, which would be renamed KUHC.

The 50,000-watt KTRU tower is north of Bush Intercontinental Airport, with its signal reaching about 30 miles in all directions, UH spokesman [Richard] Bonnin said.

Some people can hear it farther out, depending on the terrain and the listeners’ radio equipment.

KUHF’s 100,000-watt transmitter in Missouri City reaches 50 miles or more in all directions, Bonnin said.

The university knew about the limits to KTRU’s reach when it began negotiations for the transmitter and license, he said.

Their proposed solution to this is HD radio, which is to say pretty much what had existed before for those wanted classical or NPR 24/7. I have three questions:

1. How expensive would an upgrade to a 100Kw transmitter be? My guess is “very”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not feasible.

2. Would there be any technical reason why KTRU couldn’t be upgraded to 100Kw? Like another station nearby on the dial whose signal would be obliterated by a stronger one at 91.7, for example.

3. If the transmitter cannot be upgraded for whatever the reason, would this be grounds for the FCC to disapprove the sale?

I don’t know, so that’s why I’m asking. If you do know, please leave a comment.

The KTRU rally

The Houston Press, which has largely owned this story, reports from today’s rally to save KTRU.

Early this afternoon, protesters met at Valhalla, Rice’s on-campus pub, to make signs and t-shirts for the protest before marching as a group to the statue of William Marsh Rice in near triple-digit heat. The timing of the protest and the weather no doubt kept some people away, but the event was still 100-plus strong, with people lining the perimeter of the quad where trees provided shade.

Event organizers also set up tents, handed out cold water and gave away noisemakers to the protesters. Tables held “Save KTRU” stickers, petitions and poster-making supplies.

Even before the event started, one “KTRUvian” climbed atop the Willy statue to speak. “If we don’t take a stand now, nothing will ever change,” he said. “I invite you to create a little chaos.” He then had to be asked to climb down by the rally’s organizers, who had a tight schedule of speakers to get through.

Student DJ Joey Yang, who helped organize the rally, spoke of Rice’s upcoming 100-year anniversary and the station’s 40-year history as a student-run entity. He said he’d learned that over a year ago Rice began looking for someone to take the station “off of their hands,” to which someone in the audience angrily replied “It’s not their station!”

Yang said the University had adopted a new slogan for it’s anniversary “Unconventional Wisdom”.

“KTRU embodies what a Rice University education is supposed to be about.”

The Chron has some photos; they also opined about the sale.

Another UH rationale for the purchase was to increase the capacity of KUHF to produce quality local programming. In the past, critics have judged both KUHF’s classical music programs and local news and public affairs programming mediocre at best.

Simply adding another broadcast station at UH won’t solve that problem. It’s going to take strong leadership and talent, something that doesn’t automatically come with a new broadcasting tower and frequency. If the sale goes through, the ultimate justification for the expenditure must be a sharp upgrade in the quality, rather than the quantity, of programming.

Recent history suggests that’s not going to happen. I’m rooting for that outcome, too, but I can’t say I’ll be surprised to be disappointed.

I guess the question I have at this point is, how exactly do the Save KTRU folks hope to affect the final outcome? Both boards of regents have voted to go ahead with the sale. There’s a 30-day public comment period, after which the FCC must give its approval, but what are the odds that it won’t? More to the point, what are the conditions under which they won’t? (Yeah, there’s the Open Meetings Act issue, but 1) that’s a question for the Attorney General, not the FCC, and 2) far as I know, nobody has asked the Attorney General to investigate that yet.) I don’t see what leverage exists for those who oppose the sale. The Burn Down Blog suggests Rice President David Leebron is prepared for the possibility of losing the fight over KTRU, but he doesn’t suggest how Leebron might lose it. I admire the passion of the KTRU supporters, but I don’t know what their plan is. How exactly are they going to achieve the result they want? Help me out here, because I don’t see it.

UPDATE: More photos from the rally here.

UPDATE: And here’s the Chron story of the rally.

KTRU rally

For those who are into that sort of thing.

Join us in a peaceful, non-violent protest to Save KTRU this Sunday, 2:00 pm at Rice University, in the Academic quad in front of the statue of William Marsh Rice. The rally will feature speeches from station manager Kelsey Yule, community DJ Greg Starks, specialty show DJ Lindsey Simard, Rice University/KTRU alumnus Heather Nodler, Rice student DJ Kevin Bush, and more! Wear your KTRU t-shirt, make a clever picket sign, bring your friends, and be prepared to make some noise for college radio.

There will be an informal pre-protest gathering before the rally starting at 11am, Sunday, August 22nd, at Valhalla in Rice University where you can help us make signs, write chants, and print t-shirts before we walk over to Willy’s statue at 1:30pm.

I have no idea how effective any of this will be – the protests, the Facebook page, the petition, the Twitter feed, and of course the SaveKTRU.org webpage – but I have a pretty good idea of where it’s coming from. Rice students and alumni, at least the ones with whom I am acquainted (I was a grad student at Rice and have been a member of the MOB since 1988; I have many Rice alumni friends and I root for Rice sports teams), take a lot of pride in the fact that the place is a bit different, a bit weird, a bit offbeat, and very much not for everyone. It’s a critical aspect of the Rice identity, that it is Not Like Anyplace Else. KTRU, along with things like the colleges, Beer Bike, the MOB, the honor system, is a cornerstone of that. Take KTRU away, especially in this unilateral, out of the blue fashion, and big piece of that identity crumbles. Now Rice is that much more like everybody else, and I don’t know a single Owl who wants it that way. It doesn’t matter if you ever worked at KTRU or even if you ever listened to it – I’d bet a chunk of money a lot of my alumni friends spent very little time with their radios tuned to 91.7 – it’s that KTRU was there and it was unique and it made Rice stand apart. And now it’s going away, and people feel betrayed. I really don’t have a dog in this fight – I’ve never listened to KTRU, and none of this is part of my identity – but I sure do understand where the protesters are coming from, and I have a lot of sympathy for them.

And there’s the secrecy of the deal, too.

“I am shocked, betrayed and disgusted by how the Rice administration handled the sale,” says Rose Cahalan, Rice and KTRU alumnus. “They did it swiftly and secretly, without consulting faculty, staff or students, or even informing us until the day it happened. This secrecy was clearly designed to prevent any protests from being effective–there just wasn’t time to act. A ‘Call to Conversation’ was a major component of President Leebron’s Vision for the Second Century, and this utter lack of dialogue clearly violates that supposed value.”

“Hopefully, if nothing else, Rice is going to get a black eye over their handling of this — it’s just so underhanded,” [former DJ Matt] Brownlie says. “It baffles me that a university with the prestige and seemingly progressive leanings would pull something like this on their own students … it’s so disrespectful, like they are saying, ‘Go on and do whatever campus and community work that interests you — until we decide to make money off of it.'”

“Gotta love that they decided this when no students were around,” commented alum Stephanie Taylor. “Reminds me of when they decided to charge hundreds for parking during finals. The only difference is that then Rice at least had the courtesy to tell the students what was happening instead of letting them read about it in the news.”

Alum Teresa Monkkonen agrees, “It’s not just about the radio station, it’s about not involving any talking to students before making this decision and killing a student club at the expense of the bottom line.”

I don’t think there’s any way the administration could have presented this that would have been widely accepted – again, selling off a piece of your identity is a big deal – but for the community to hear about it in the newspaper is a slap in the face. People would have been sad and upset, and would have pushed back no matter what, but not to get the courtesy of being informed directly by the administration, that’s got to be driving a lot of the anger.

So, while I like the idea of having a real news radio station in Houston again, I hope the groundswell against this action by the Rice administration leaves its mark. Show up for the protest, threaten to never donate another dime, pursue the potential Open Meetings Act violation, write impassioned open letters, I wish you luck. One hopes that at the very least, the administration will learn a little respect.

UPDATE: You can also say good-bye to Rice University Press, though I doubt anyone will get too worked up about it.

Reactions to the KTRU sale

Unsurprisingly, the Rice community is not happy.

“We are totally opposed to the sale,” said Joey Yang, a junior at Rice and program director of the station, which relies upon student and community volunteers for its eclectic music programming. “This is our radio station, and we’d like to keep it.”

[…]

KTRU launched a campaign against the sale Tuesday, urging supporters to flood Leebron and other administrators with “sincere and civil” protests.

Kelsey Yule, a Rice junior and KTRU station manager, said she had e-mailed Leebron and tried to call other administrators, to no avail as of late Tuesday.

“So many people are devastated that they won’t be able to listen on their commutes or at work anymore,” she said.

Wi-Fi access is widely available on campus, so students still will be able to tune in, she said. “But we really consider ourselves a cultural institution for the city.”

Rocks Off rounds up a bunch of reactions from local music scene folks, and nobody thinks the transition of KTRU to Internet-only is a win. Among the points raised are that very few people can listen to an online radio station in their car, and that nobody will want to work an overnight shift any more – why bother, when you can just make a podcast? At least with terrestrial radio, you can believe someone is awake with you and listening in.

Linda Thrane, vice president for public affairs at Rice, said administrators will meet with students about the issue, although no date has been set.

“We want to hear their ideas about what we can do to make the internet station better,” Thrane said.

She acknowledged that some students are upset about the proposed sale.

“KTRU is not going away,” she insisted. “It’s going to remain a student-managed operation. The students aren’t losing anything.”

Well, no, as noted above they are losing something – a much wider audience and influence over the local music scene, among other things. The administration would know this if they had involved any of the stakeholders in the process, which is of course another bone of contention here. I don’t think the administration fully appreciates how much of the discontent is driven by that.

UH buys KTRU

I’ve never been a regular listener of KTRU, but as a Rice partisan and someone who thinks radio in general is too bland, this is a bit of a shock.

The University of Houston is planning to buy the radio station operated by students at Rice University for almost 40 years in a $9.5 million deal that would give UH the broadcast tower, FM frequency and license used by Rice’s KTRU.

UH’s governing board will vote Tuesday on whether to give Chancellor Renu Khator authority to complete the deal. Rice spokesman B.J. Almond said its trustees already have given similar authority to administrators there.

UH currently operates one public radio station, KUHF, which offers both news and classical music and other arts programming.

If the deal goes through, the university would have two stations, one to provide news 24 hours a day and the second to offer classical music and arts coverage, according to a fact sheet prepared by the school to explain the plan.

KUHF would be converted to a 24-hour news and information format, heard at the station’s current frequency, 88.7 FM.

The new station, to be known by call letters KUHC, would broadcast classical music and arts on the 91.7 FM frequency used by KTRU.

Both stations will be affiliates of National Public Radio, as KUHF currently is, UH spokesman Richard Bonnin said Monday.

As neither school is in session yet, neither the Rice Thresher nor the Daily Cougar has anything to say about this, which is too bad. It’ll be interesting to see what the students’ reactions are. I can tell you that the folks who run KTRU will have something to say about it. The following is from an email sent to KTRU’s mailing list, which was forwarded to me:

After paperwork is filed with the FCC, there will be a 30 day period in which comments can be filed by the public. This will be an important way for us all to channel our arguments.

Until the end of the thirty days, operation will continue as usual. Please keep us legal (and extra awesome on the music side) for the time that we have left.

[…]

In the meantime, I would encourage you all to express your thoughts in a variety of ways… comment on the news articles you see (in a respectful manner, that does not cause us to lose credibility), use facebook, twitter, myspace and face to face social networking to spread awareness.

We will be resurrecting savektru.org and doing our best to be heard through a variety of media outlets.

Finally, I just wanted to let everyone know that no students were involved in (or even notified of) these discussions.

SaveKTRU.org, which is not live right now, was created back in 2000 after the Rice administration pulled the plug on the station following a dispute over broadcasting athletic events. See these archived Chron stories for the details. For those who want to get involved in that, there’s already a #saveKTRU hashtag on Twitter, and here’s a blog post by a former KTRU board member about this.

From my perspective as someone who consumes a lot of news and who didn’t listen to KTRU, the idea of having a real news radio station, which is something KTRH long ago abandoned to the screeching monkeys of wingnut talk radio, is appealing. I certainly understand the anguish about this, however, and losing a unique voice like KTRU, even if they continue as an Internet station, is a blow. Something Tiffany wondered about when we first saw this story is what the deal is with KUHF’s HD radio stations, which already broadcast news and classical music 24/7. Neither the official KUHF press release nor the story they’re airing addresses that point.

UPDATE: Via the comments, SaveKTRU.org is now live again.

UPDATE: Here’s the official email that was sent out about this:

Date: August 17, 2010

To: Rice colleagues

I am writing to let you know that we have reached a preliminary agreement with the University of Houston System to purchase Rice’s 50,000-watt radio frequency and broadcast tower for use by Houston’s local public broadcasting station, KUHF. Rice’s station, KTRU, will continue to operate a Web-based radio station at www.ktru.org.

We made the decision to sell the radio tower and frequency for several reasons. The economic downturn which began two years ago has forced Rice — and virtually all colleges and universities across the country — to make hard choices to prioritize spending and maximize the use of our resources. As we have implemented necessary budget cuts over the past two years, our goal has been to focus on our core missions of teaching and research and, to the extent possible, to avoid layoffs. We have constantly asked, and will continue to ask, how we can best apply our resources to achieve our aspirations.

The KTRU tower stood out as one of the university’s most underutilized resources. In an era when Internet radio is rapidly growing in popularity, it became apparent that the 50,000-watt radio station that broadcasts KTRU’s programming is a valuable but vastly underutilized resource that is not essential to providing our students the wide range of opportunities they need, including media opportunities.

A recent Arbitron report showed that KTRU’s audience was so small that it did not even register in the ratings. Most college radio stations around the country have less than 5,000 watts, and since the late ’90s a number of them have added the online format and moved to online only.

At the same time, KUHF, Houston’s National Public Radio station, was looking for a way to provide both 24-hour all-news and all-classical music programming. Houston is the only major city in the country that lacks these dual services. To fill that gap, the University of Houston System expressed an interest in purchasing Rice’s FM frequency and tower, and we eventually agreed on a price of $9.5 million.

The sale must be approved by the UH Board of Regents at its meeting today, and then by the Federal Communications Commission.

Some of the sale proceeds will go toward the cost of the new East Servery, which will be adjacent to Lovett and Will Rice residential colleges on the south campus. This will both provide one of the most desired improvements to the residential experience in the south colleges, as well as help us achieve the overall capital plan approved by our board of trustees. We also plan to form a committee including students to provide input on other uses of the proceeds, such as for scholarships, improvements to recreational facilities and enhancements to the online station and other student media facilities and programs.

KTRU will continue to serve its campus and external audience with student-managed programming via www.ktru.org. The Internet already brings KTRU to national and global listeners, and there are opportunities for that audience to grow. Will Robedee, the station’s first general manager, will continue in that role.

KUHF plans to use the additional frequency to broadcast 24-hour classical music and fine arts programming on 91.7 FM; 88.7 FM will become its all-news channel. KUHF will raise funds to pay for the acquisition.

We realize that some loyal fans of KTRU may lament these changes, but it is important to remember that KTRU is not going away. Fans can still find KTRU’s unique blend of music and programming online. Meanwhile, a greater number of students can benefit from the improvements in campus facilities and offerings made possible by the sale of the broadcast tower.

As much as I prefer to consult widely and involve all stakeholders in important decisions, this sale required months of complicated and, by necessity, confidential negotiations. My management team and I approached those discussions always with the best interests of our students, faculty and alumni and the future of our university as our highest priorities.

For more information about the KTRU plans, see the story and FAQs on rice.edu.

Thank you, as always, for your hard work and dedication.

Warm regards,

David W. Leebron

President, Rice University

I am sympathetic to the justifications Dr. Leebron cites. Certainly, this is preferable to layoffs. But I am also sympathetic to the complaints about not involving students and alumni, who are the primary users and audience of KTRU. This kind of secrecy isn’t an isolated incident, and no doubt contributes to the bitterness that many folks will feel.

UPDATE: Hair Balls weighs in.

UPDATE: More NPR is nice, but if that’s all we’re getting news-wise, it ain’t much.