KTRU Deal A "Black Mark" On Rice University, Says Yang

ktrus-final-local-show-A dec8.jpg
Photos by Marc Brubaker
These pictures are from a slideshow from KTRU's The Local Show shortly after the Rice-UH negotiations became public. See here for the rest.
If you've got a spare hour or two this holiday season, Rocks Off recommends you take a gander at the petition to deny Rice University's proposed sale of 91.7 FM's facilities to the University of Houston system, which the Friends of KTRU filed with the Federal Communications Commission last Friday. (You can see it online here.) At fortysomething pages, not counting appendices, it's a whopper but still a good read.

The petition is full of familiar arguments, such as the deal wrongfully vanquishing KTRU's docket of local-music-heavy programming to the Internet, and that Rice and U of H's secrecy-clouded negotiations may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. But Rocks Off has covered the story of Rice's deal to sell (or sell out) the student station extensively since it happened in August, and we still found a few surprises.

For one thing, we did not realize many Houston-area classical-music fans - especially in the suburbs - may be in for a rude awakening when (and if) the deal goes down. 91.7 frequency's is not nearly as strong as at 88.7, so should U of H shift KUHF's programming to 91.7 in favor of 24-hour NPR syndication, it might be bye bye Bach for a lot of people.

Joey Yang has been there since the beginning, both as current KTRU station manager and one of the founders and board members of Friends of KTRU. Rocks Off spoke with Yang Tuesday morning at of a rather busy time for the member of Rice's class of 2012 - besides the acting point man for a group trying to overturn a $9.5 million transaction, he's also in the middle of final exams.

Rocks Off: Realistically, what do you think the chances are the FCC will deny this transfer?

Joey Yang: We were told that the precedence isn't great - that a petition to deny assignment of license has never been successful. However, the FCC has come out lately making some really strong statements about the importance of localism in radio, and I think if they consider what the new station is planning on broadcasting and what KTRU currently broadcasts, the way that we focus on local music is exactly what the FCC is looking for. If they care about what they claim to care about, I think we should have a very strong argument.

RO: Overall, what is morale like at the station right now?

JY: We're happy to get this petition to deny sent off. It's a reflection on how hard everyone at the station has worked since the middle of August. And especially to be students who are balancing full course schedules, to put together something like this is an incredible accomplishment. Morale at the station is getting pretty high, especially since we are looking at going off-air perhaps a little later than we originally thought.

RO: What do you think the strongest argument is within the Friends of KTRU's petition?

JY: It would have to be the localism. We have a local show, we feature local music on our playlists; it's something that we strive to focus on. It's not something that any other radio station focuses on. The hip-hop station might play chopped and screwed, but that doesn't mean they're supporting the entire breadth of local talent that we are.

There was an article [in Radio Online], "FCC Commissioner Copps Calls for Emphasis on Local":

The goal here is more localism in our program diet, more local news and information, and a lot less streamed-in homogenization and monotonous nationalized music at the expense of local and regional talent.

I mean, the FCC commissioner just said that a few days ago. When they look at our petition to deny, they're going to see a proposal for streamed-in homogenization and monotonous nationalized music at the expense of local and regional talent [on KUHC/A] - that's exactly the words they say. So when you consider what the FCC claims to care about, if they care about it, then in terms of real value to the community with local programming, there's no comparison.

RO: If you had to guess, what would you say the two universities' administrations' strongest counter-argument might be?

JY: I think it would just be that this is business as usual, the FCC shouldn't be standing in the way of business transactions, that a petition to deny has never been honored, so there's no reason the FCC should make an exception.

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