On Thursday, Culture Map Houston broke the news that Houston classical public radio station KUHA had laid off 8 full-time staffers and was replacing local programming with syndicated classical music content from Classical 24. Culture Map speculates that the University of Houston-licensed station is struggling after its purchase of the 91.7 FM license from Rice University in 2011. That deal enabled University of Houston to split programming content across two stations, allowing for separate frequencies for classical and news programming.
As Radio Survivor readers will remember, the student-run KTRU was taken by surprise in 2010 when administrators revealed that the FM license would be sold to University of Houston for use by its public radio network. The selling price was $9.5 million. KTRU supporters fought to save the station, even filing a Petition to Deny the license transfer with the FCC. In April, 2011, the sale went through anyway and college radio stations around the country mourned the loss of the long-time FM station with a College Radio Minute of Silence on April 28, 2011.
According to Culture Map Houston,
“The controversial $9 million sale that saw Rice University’s college radio station KTRU come under the umbrella of Houston Public Media may have triggered a ticking time bomb that would eventually destroy any hopes of establishing a long-term 24-hour classical music station that highlights the local arts scene.”
The article suggests that a disappointing fundraiser may have prompted the lay offs (although this allegation is disputed by Houston Public Media). According to Culture Map Houston, KUHA has also struggled due to “spotty reception and static noise” complaints from listeners. As far back as 2010, Save KTRU (the group trying to prevent KTRU’s license sale) pointed out via a compelling graphic that University of Houston’s plan to move classical music programming to the KTRU signal from its existing KUHF signal would shrink the potential audience for the station considerably.
Houston Public Media frames the changes at Classical 91.7 a bit differently, explaining in a statement that it is actually expanding local arts coverage through “increased capabilities in local multi-platform content development.” Although there may be an expansion in off-line local arts coverage, its on-air content will be increasingly outsourced from afar. According to a statement on its website,
“In keeping with trends in the industry, Houston Public Media will expand its use of the programming service Classical 24 throughout the broadcast day. Classical 24 is a nationally syndicated live classical music service produced by American Public Media and distributed by Public Radio International.”
It’s a sad footnote to the KTRU saga to see its former frequency replacing local programming with syndicated content. Fans of the student-programmed KTRU can still enjoy its wide-ranging shows online at KTRU.org and over 90.1 HD-2.
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