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Rice University Plans to Sell Off KTRU's FM Frequency

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, 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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12 Responses to Rice University Plans to Sell Off KTRU's FM Frequency

  1. Save Ktru August 17, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    We’re hoping that Rice will find that ktru’s audience was not that small and certainly not irrelevant. The airwaves are important; they cannot be replaced by a website. Thanks for the support!

  2. Jennifer Waits August 17, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    Good luck! It does seem from what I’ve read that KTRU’s audience is actually quite large. Plus, as you know, it’s impossible to completely measure the benefits of a college radio station to both students/campus and the surrounding community. I think local radio should be cherished much more than it currently is.

  3. DS August 17, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    As a former Houstonian and Rice alum, it has long been my impression that the Rice administration was uncomfortable with having a platform as prominent as a 50k watt radio station that was not directly under their control. This, of course, was what made ktru so wonderful – as a student-run station, it was free to be experimental, local, unpolished, and eclectic. It stood in stark contrast to everything else on the Houston airwaves, and it will be missed.

  4. Gentry August 17, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    Welcome to the reality of radio. Stations get sold. And with the sale of KTRU an quirky part of the Houston culture is lost. But if it is that valuable and if it truly has the audience you say it has, the programming will find a new home. No, I didn’t say it would be easy to create or find that new home but it can be done.

  5. Matthew Lasar August 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    ” . . . it was free to be experimental, local, unpolished, and eclectic. It stood in stark contrast to everything else on the Houston airwaves, and it will be missed.”

    Anybody listen to Pacifica station KPFT-FM in Houston?

  6. Jeff Greer August 18, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    Rice just isn’t cool anymore. It hurts to say that; I’m an alumnus. First, they took away the gun range under the basketball court. (I enjoyed shooting my HK USP40 down there when I was a student.) Then, they tried to strong-arm KTRU into becoming the Rice Sports Radio and Fundraising Channel. When that failed, they just decide to sell it out from under the students. Bastards.

  7. Will_Tucker_FMX August 18, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    It’s a shame that so many college administrators no longer see the value a broadcast radio station has for their students, staff, and faculty. It’s been my experience that schools increasingly view these stations as semi-autonomous auxiliary enterprises, rather than extracurricular activities that enhance the educational experience.

    I’m also sure Rice’s administration and KTRU’s student staff were unwilling to compromise their respective positions to come up with a viable plan that would have ensured the station’s continued operation.

  8. Larry Pirkle August 24, 2010 at 7:42 pm #

    The ONLY winner in this fiasco is NPR. If it goes down, KUHF’s classical music listeners will see their music move from the 100,000 watt station to a 50,000 watt station with a shorter tower that is farther away. Reception will surely suffer. KTRU’s listeners will lose their radio signal entirely. NPR however will succeed to 100% of the programming on a 100,000 watt station. NPR 1, music listeners (KUHF AND KTRU) zero. NPR is a corporate raider.

  9. mixer440 August 26, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    This is a terrible decision to sell KTRU. The whole premise for the original license granted by the FCC was to provide a place for student experience and serve the interests of the “college” and public community.

    I hope people who support KTRU will:

    1. Write the FCC and petition the proposed sale and deny the transfer based on public/community interest. Most sales require a 30 written notice period.
    2. Write to each radio station and ask to have your comments about the proposed sale/transfer and any other supporting information placed in the public files. Stations must respect this federal FCC requirement.
    3. Write or call your local leaders.

    Remember, doing nothing will cast a vote for the sale.

    This is why I put together two parodies on YouTube. Enjoy


  10. Herbert October 5, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    I will miss KTRU radio.Is there any chance it will be picked up by another commercial free listener sponsored radio station?

  11. Jennifer Waits October 5, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    Herbert…the sale is still not a done-deal. KTRU is asking for people to continue to write letters and lend their support. As Mixer440 points out above, you can also write letters to the FCC signaling your dismay.

  12. Erika October 28, 2015 at 9:37 am #

    Thank you Helena for your comment. Although much of the Houston area now has acescs to Classical Music 24-hours per day, we are also aware that some cannot hear the service. Listeners can acescs the classical service on-line and also on KUHF’s HD channel. We assure you that KUHF is aware of this issue, and we have forwarded your message to the KUHF management team.

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