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FCC Approves Sale of KTRU to University of Houston

There was sad news today for fans of Rice University’s college radio station KTRU. In the battle for the future of their station that’s been raging since August 2010, it appears the KTRU may have lost and that their station’s frequency may soon be sold to University of Houston for use by their public radio network.

The saga began back in August 2010 when Rice University issued a press release stating their plans to sell the station to University of Houston. Paperwork was submitted to the FCC in November 2010 and was met with a Petition to Deny by the group Friends of KTRU in December 2010. In a letter (PDF) dated today, the FCC officially approved the transfer of KTRU from Rice University to University of Houston. University of Houston plans to air classical music programming over KTRU’s FM frequency. According to the letter:

“We find that neither the Petitioners nor the Objectors have raised a substantial and material question of fact warranting further inquiry. We further find that grant of the Applications is consistent with the public interest, convenience and necessity. Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED, that the Petition to Deny filed by Friends of KTRU IS DENIED, the Informal Objections submitted by Janet Greenberg, Karen Bush, and William McGuinness, IV ARE DENIED, and that the applications for approval to assign the license for NCE Station KTRU(FM), Houston, Texas (BALED-20101029ACX) and FM Translator Station K218DA, Houston, Texas (File No. BALFT-20101029ACY) from William Marsh Rice University to University of Houston System ARE GRANTED.”

The 6-page letter from the FCC outlines the arguments set forth in Friends of KTRU’s Petition to Deny, stating:

“Petitioners oppose grant of the Applications, arguing that the proposed assignment of licenses is not in the public interest and that Rice and UHS have otherwise violated the Commission’s rules and state law. Specifically, Petitioners allege that: (1) The assignment will involve a format change that contradicts the Commission’s policies in favor of broadcast localism; (2) the assignment undermines the educational purpose of an NCE station and UHS’ proposed programming description is inadequate; (3) the assignment will result in a concentration of NCE FM licenses in the hands of UHS; (4) the UHS public file is missing a required ownership report for one of its existing NCE broadcast stations; (5) the negotiations between UHS and Rice violated the Texas Open Meetings Act; and (6) the agreed purchase price is deflated and harms the public interest. The Informal Objections reiterate the claims raised by Petitioners.”

The FCC’s response indicates that none of these allegations are grounds for denial of the license transfer. Specifically, the FCC points out that they do not evaluate applications based on proposed format of the station. They also found that since University of Houston already operates non-commercial educational stations, they are a qualified applicant in this case as well. The FCC further argues that there are no local ownership rules for non-commercial stations, stating, “Petitioners argue that allowing UHS to operate two of the five NCE FM stations in the Houston market would increase consolidation in the market, harming the public interest. However, as Petitioners admit, the Commission’s local radio ownership limits do not apply to NCE FM stations.”

In the Petition to Deny, Friends of KTRU stated that University of Houston had violated Public File rules due to missing ownership reports. In their response, the FCC said that, “Public file violations, on their own, do not establish grounds for denial of an application unless intentional misconduct is evident.” Since a case was not made for misconduct, this was not seen as rationale for denying the application. However, the letter did acknowledge the FCC’s firm stance on Public File violations, stating, “We will, however, refer the KUHF public inspection file matter to the Enforcement Bureau for consideration.”

Further, the FCC letter argued that any questions as to whether or not the negotiations over the station sale violated the Texas Open Meetings Act could not be addressed by the FCC since any possible violations are not against FCC rules. Additionally, the FCC argued that they do not investigate matters related to the purchase price of a station.

When I spoke with KTRU Station Manager Joey Yang today about the recent FCC decision, he said, “Obviously I’m disappointed,” adding that it’s disheartening to see that, “simultaneously the FCC preaches localism” while at the same time they argue that “programming content is not their concern.” He said that KTRU will continue to broadcast over their current FM frequency of 91.7 FM for the time being and after the signal is transferred to University of Houston, they will continue to broadcast KTRU over the Internet, via their iPhone app, and on their new HD channel.

According to Joey, Rice and University of Houston will have 10 business days (beginning next Monday) to complete the station sale. He said that he’s guessing that KTRU will continue to broadcast over 91.7FM until the end of April. Joey also pointed out that the timing of this is challenging, as the semester is drawing to a close at Rice University (classes end April 22) and students are busy completing their final projects and exams. Finals finish up on May 4.

Joey said that they will be meeting with their lawyers to discuss their next steps and that they are considering filing a Petition for Reconsideration with the FCC. Updates will be posted on the Save KTRU website.

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You can find Radio Survivor’s complete coverage of the situation at KTRU here, as well as an interview with former Station Manager Kelsey Yule over on Spinning Indie.

 


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