KTRU News Roils, Saddens Local Music Community

UPDATED (5:35 p.m.) to include comments from Rice's B.J. Almond and a new Facebook count.

The fate of KTRU's annual outdoor free concert in the spring is one of many things that has yet to be decided.
News of the University of Houston's impending purchase of Rice University student radio station KTRU, which the U of H Board of Regents approved 4-3 earlier today, has hit the city hard. Although some people have applauded U of H's plans to convert KTRU into an all-classical and fine-arts format, the majority of commenters both here and across other local media Web sites have lamented the loss of one of the last remaining outlets for eclectic, original and especially local music on the public airwaves.

For these, Rice's announcement that KTRU will continue broadcasting on the Internet is cold comfort, if any comfort at all. Furthermore, since a letter from Rice President David W. Leebron to the Rice community Monday evening citing the administration's need for "months of complicated and, by necessity, confidential negotiations" began circulating widely on the Internet - Rocks Off first saw it as an anonymous post on the Hands Up Houston message board and has since confirmed with Rice that it's real - many alumni and even current KTRU staff have come forward to express their shock and outrage at being kept in the dark.

Rice Senior Director of News-Media Relations B.J. Almond told Rocks Off Tuesday afternoon that the university first put KTRU on the market and received a "limited response" until approached by KUHF this past March. The administration did not inform students, alumni and staff until late Monday because of the confidentiality agreement between the two schools. U of H spokesman Richard Bonnin corroborated this timeframe a little later on Tuesday.

"Because the board was voting today, up until that point we were bound by the confidentiality agreement," Almond said, adding that Rice officials began informing student leaders and staff once word leaked to the media.

Almost immediately, latter-day grass-roots campaigns began appearing where else but online, through Web sites such as the "Save KTRU" page at petitionspot.com, savektru.org and a Facebook group that went from around 160 members to more than 400 shortly before 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, so this story isn't over by a long shot.

The sale has yet to be approved by the FCC, and the KTRU staff is holding a press conference at 7 p.m. tonight on campus at Sammy's Pub downstairs in the Rice Memorial Center. The conference is open to the public, but no one from the Rice administration will be attending, Almond told Rocks Off.

Earlier today, Rocks Off sent out an email to several of our contacts in the Houston music scene asking them for their opinions of these recent events, and their thoughts on KTRU's future as an Internet-only station. Some are still coming in.


Sale: Here is the deal. As much as this affects the community and the cultural state of the city, this is all about the students and what they will do in the face of the administration's coup. Let's be honest, the administration didn't just make a deal last week. This has been planned and carefully hidden from the students. It's a breach of trust where the University Administration is telling the students and alumni, the very people who put their money into the university, that they aren't to be trusted. It's a callous administration playing the bully in the sandbox and the result is contemptible and a stain on Rice University. Fuck them!

Web: I will still listen but it will be a lot less available, and the station's influence locally will be significantly diminished and that will be a crushing blow for local music.


Sale: Honestly I'm pretty upset. DJs quite literally had to find out by reading the newspaper. I've read Rice's official statements and am unsatisfied with their explanation for leaving students, alumni and volunteers in the dark for so long. Our donated transmitter was a trophy of our commitment to providing Houston with a wholly unique resource.

As an alumni I feel this is a breach of trust, and a dismissal of over 40 years of history.

Web: Keeping KTRU viable as a competitive web-only outlet will require a major overhaul, and the dedication of everyone involved, including the administration.


Sale: People that still listen to terrestrial radio in the Houston area already have very few options for stations that play independent and creative music. I think this sale could hurt the local bands that perform and have their songs played on the radio, due to the decreased exposure.

Web: However, I hope that KTRU's future as an online radio station is viable in the long run and that they will be able to maintain the level of support for local music that they have done for years.

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