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.
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.