It’s been about 3 weeks since word came out that Rice University was planning to sell of the transmitter and broadcast license for its college radio station KTRU. Ever since that time there’s been an active campaign by KTRU staff members, Rice alumni, fans of the radio station, and students to convince both Rice University and the institution planning to purchase these assets (University of Houston) to reconsider. Amid it all there has also been humor and some strange coincidences, including a lightning strike on the purchasing station’s radio tower, prompting one blogger to argue that the proposed sale of KTRU has even angered the gods.
I’m happy to see that there are many constituencies still fighting the KTRU sale and one of the most active groups is made up of KTRU alumni who don’t want to see their cherished radio station dwindle away. Alumni have helped to clarify some facts about the history of the station, as this opinion piece in the Rice Thresher points out:
“While it is true that the Rice University administration owns the KTRU transmitter and frequency, KTRU began in 1967 as a student-initiated project, and was supported by the university with little interference for decades. In last week’s Thresher, Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane questioned ‘the fairness in tying up millions of dollars for one student activity – KTRU – when those resources could be used for a diversity of purposes that serve many more students…’
To clarify, Rice has not invested millions of dollars in KTRU; the commercial classical station KRTS donated the transmitter in 1991, along with an endowment to pay for operating costs, so that they could increase their wattage without interfering with KTRU’s signal. In our view, the administration should appreciate KTRU as a win-win – a student-initiated and maintained organization that generated goodwill for the university across Houston at very little cost.”
This week I spoke by email with Julie Grob, who was a KTRU DJ, Music Director and Promotions Director in the 1980s. She made the point that the sale of the station is not a “done deal” and outlined some of the projects that Rice alumni have been doing in order to keep the conversation going about the plight of KTRU.
Jennifer Waits: What was your reaction to Rice trying to sell off the station?
Julie Grob: When I learned about the secret deal to sell KTRU to another university, I was deeply shocked and distressed. Many of my happiest memories of my student years involve working at the radio station. But I was also dumbfounded that the President and Board of Trustees would consider selling a Rice tradition to the highest bidder. Rice University is known for all kinds of quirky features like the annual Beer Bike race, the MOB (a band that marches in everything but formation), and the eclectic FM station KTRU. As I wrote in an e-mail to President Leebron shortly after receiving the news, “Clearly the Rice administration doesn’t value the special things about Rice that are valued by me.”
Jennifer: Tell me a bit about the efforts made by alums to persuade the administration to maintain KTRU as it currently is.
Julie: The alumni have done a great deal to make our voices heard. We published an “Open Letter from Alumni…”, calling on President Leebron to halt the sale of the FCC license and transmitter, in the Rice Thresher with 500 signatures. A small group of alumni had a face-to-face meeting with President Leebron, during which we told him about all of the benefits that KTRU provides to students and to the community, and urged him to halt the sale. Several alums wrote an editorial that appeared in the Houston Chronicle, and we’ve been speaking out on the air on both KTRU and KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station.
Jennifer: Are you feeling hopeful?
Julie: Yes! We have an amazing group of people, including Rice students, Rice alumni, UH students, UH alumni, and fantastic KTRU listeners from the greater Houston area who are coming together in support of the station. While the Rice administration is trying to portray the sale as a “done deal,” that’s clearly not the case. KTRU is still on the air, the agreement has not been finalized between the two universities, and there is still an FCC public comment period ahead, after which the FCC can stop the sale. The coverage in Houston’s major daily and weekly papers has been critical of both universities, and we’ve started to get national attention and support.
Jennifer: What can people do to help KTRU?
Julie: Please visit http://www.savektru.org to learn more. Sign the online petitions, join the SaveKTRU Facebook group, contact the administrations at Rice and UH to urge them to halt the sale, and contribute financially to the cause. If you’re in the Houston area, please come out to our upcoming benefit shows and
e-mail us to find out how you can volunteer.
Jennifer: Anything else?
Julie: Stay tuned!