There’s more sad news on the college radio front today, with the report that Rice University is selling off the 50,000 FM signal for their long-time college radio station KTRU. According to a press release issued today, University of Houston System plans to buy KTRU’s tower, frequency, and broadcast license for $9.5 million in order to expand their public radio network. They plan to air classical music and fine arts programming over KTRU’s frequency and will devote their current station KUHF’s frequency (88.7 FM) to news and talk. The press release states,
“‘The acquisition of a second public radio station delivers on our promise to keep the University of Houston at the forefront of creating strong cultural, educational and artistic opportunities that benefit students and the city of Houston,’ said Renu Khator, chancellor of the UH System and president of the University of Houston.”
Ironically, these same arguments about the cultural and artistic benefits of the radio station are also being used by fans of KTRU who don’t want Rice University and listeners to lose an existing cultural institution.
KTRU, which began as a student experiment in 1967, will continue to operate as an online-only college radio station, but this option is not being embraced by those who see the ongoing relevance of having a terrestrial signal.
Official word from Rice University indicates that they believed that KTRU’s audience was too small to merit a the 50,000 watt station. According to a set of FAQs on the Rice University News and Media relations website,
“The economic downturn, and the resulting losses to Rice’s endowment, led to careful evaluation of how the university prioritizes and spends its resources, both its annual operating budget and its assets. In KTRU’s case, it became clear that the radio tower and 50,000-watt frequency served very few people. Because of Internet technology, KTRU can continue to serve its audience through www.ktru.org, while the university applies the proceeds from the sale to programs and services that will serve more people and help achieve the university’s aspirations.”
Students, alumni, and fans of the station couldn’t disagree more and are already stating their displeasure and have set up a number of groups in order to try to convince the administration of Rice University to reconsider. According to the website Save KTRU, Rice University abruptly shut down KTRU in 2000 and after talks with station members failed, the university agreed to continue running KTRU after more than 400 alumni wrote to the school stating that they would no longer donate to the university. Those with an interest in saving the station are encouraged to write letters to university officials, sign an online petition, join the Save KTRU Facebook page, follow Save KTRU on Twitter, and spread the word about the plight of the station.
A post on the Burn Down blog expresses the important role that KTRU has played both on campus and in the wider Houston community:
“KTRU provided a sense of community, creating a joint pride that despite our research-oriented ways, Rice was one of the hippest places in Houston. KTRU’s eclectic music requirements ensured that it constantly played music that was on the edge. More so than any other Rice institution, KTRU provided new and exciting art to anyone with a radio. Not just the Rice campus, but all of Houston benefitted from KTRU’s artistic endeavors. By selling KTRU, Rice is selling one of Houston’s most valuable artistic centers, and it was located on Rice University.”
Personally I’m disappointed to see another example of a university selling off a station for some quick cash. The result of this particular transaction will be that the Houston airwaves will become less diverse, with yet another public radio station (and presumably national programming) taking the place of a long-standing, well-respected local college radio station. FM does still matter, why else would University of Houston offer to pay over 9 million dollars for it.
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