Wednesday, August 25, 2010

KTRU Leaving the Airwaves

The University of Houston Board of Regents voted 4-3 last week to purchase the transmitter and license of Rice University's KTRU 91.7 FM, effectively ending the station's 43-year run as a college radio trailblazer. KTRU will now become KUHC, a 24-hour classical music station, which frees up KUHF, UH's other radio station, to be a 24-hour NPR affiliate. KTRU will live on as an online streaming station, but that's a far cry from broadcasting with a 50,000-watt transmitter.

I first discovered KTRU as an impressionable 12-year-old listening to the S&M Show on Friday night. In 1980, KTRU was the only station in Houston where you were likely to hear anything to the left of "Whip It" on a regular basis. The first time my own music was played on the radio was on KTRU. Having worked as a DJ at UT Austin's student-run KTSB/KVRX in its cable radio infancy, I can authoritatively state that many of us considered KTRU's programming a benchmark to measure ourselves against.

Rice University's leadership shamefully engineered this $9.5 million deal in secret and made sure it went down in the dead of August to avoid the firestorm they knew would ensue if word got out while students were in town. Even so, a hastily assembled group called "Save KTRU" has formed in response.

Although the sale of KTRU to UH is still subject to FCC approval, it's unlikely the feds or anyone else can or will do anything to stop it. According to today's Houston Press, KUHF/KUHC is scheduled to take over KTRU's programming on Monday.

To some, the hue and cry over Rice's off-loading of KTRU may just seem like a bunch of music snobs whining about a station that played weird noise that most people don't listen to. But as someone whose student radio experience helped foster my career path as much as any class, I know there's way more at stake here. Former KTRU DJ Ray Shea sums it up as well as anyone:

KTRU was the driving force that would eventually propel me through six years and two college degrees. My best lifelong friends are all people I met at KTRU. And together we learned about music, about business, about media and promotions and organization and scheduling and budgeting. We learned how to deal with people, how to compromise and reach consensus. Sometimes we didn't learn as well as we should have, but goddammit, we learned.

And somewhere in all that craziness, all those late nights drinking beer and listening to records and arguing about music, we accidentally participated in a movement. A movement that would permanently change the face of the music industry forever.

Rice is short-sightedly gutting a learning laboratory that helped generations of students channel their passion for music and radio into viable skills for business and life. At $9.5 million, they're selling out cheap.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yup, KTRU is where it all began for me too. It was a beacon in the darkness of early-to-mid 1980s radio in H-Town. To hear the frantic, tinny guitar of "Holiday in Cambodia" emitting late on a Friday night when you're sitting at home in eighth grade, at the same time that "Photograph" by Def Leppard, later period Genesis, and the Miami Vice theme song were absolutely ruling the other airwaves, was indescribably exciting. Sometimes I try in vain to describe to young'uns who've grown up post-Nirvana just how rare and jarring it was to hear punk rock at that time, in contrast to the sheer terribleness of (nearly) all popular music at that time, but I always fail and come off sounding pedantic and old.