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Administration September 8, 2010 //  by  // 19 Comments

UH alumni voice opposition to purchase of KTRU

UH found itself in the midst of a media disagreement recently over their decision to purchase the broadcast tower and FCC license of KTRU from Rice University.

Faculty, students and alumni from both sides are outraged at both UH and Rice administration’s secrecy.  Since the news broke on Aug. 17, Rice students and KTRU supporters have risen up in protest with rallies, meetings and petitions. Now some of UH is stepping up to show the administrations that Rice students aren’t the only ones opposed to the sale.

A group of UH alumni and students have created their own online petition specifically targeting President Renu Khator and the UH administration for their involvement in the “secret deal” to buy KTRU.

In the petition it states, “by voting to authorize the purchase of KTRU without informing students or the general public prior to the vote, we believe that the UH Board of Regents failed in its responsibility as the governing body of a public institution to keep the community informed of important University decisions.”

Both the Rice and UH administrations are being accused of negotiating in secrecy, and disregarding the need for student and public input in the decision.

“This is a blemish on the University,” UH Psychology junior Lauren Colmer said. “Taking this channel away from the students not only makes us look bad, but also deprives the Houston music scene of the eclectic music broadcast on KTRU.”

Colmer and other KTRU advocates believe that the student-run format of Rice radio allows for a diverse and enjoyable listening experience, unlike the commercially viable music played on most other FM stations.

UH and Rice alumni have voiced their intent to cut funding to the universities if the deal goes through. Whether or not the public disagreement will be enough to stop the agreement is still unclear.

The petitioners for UH for KTRU have called on the University to “restore openness and transparency to the university’s administration by ending all negotiations with Rice University for KTRU.”

The signatures of the petitioners are from a ranage of different areas across the nation.

“As a Rice alum, I am deeply disappointed by the decision to eliminate a distinctive piece of Rice and Houston culture,” online petitioner Frederick Gray from Colorado said on the KTRU petiton website. “I hope that UH will use more careful thought than Rice’s shortsighted administration has done here.”

Some of the local petitioners were specific with their complaints, targeting the fact that UH would change the content of the radio station.

“I love public radio, but Houston needs the diversity of KTRU,” Christopher Spadone wrote on the petition’s website. “Additionally, I would prefer not to have a 24 hour news feed. I love KUHF’s current balance.”

UH alumni who signed the petition shared their thoughts on being longtime listeners.

“I have been listening to KTRU since I arrived in Houston in 1980. I understand the reasons why the Rice board sold (the station) and the reasons why KUHF decided to buy. Those reasons are rational,” UH alumnus Daniel Massey wrote. “The problem is that a creative non-establishment open-minded voice has been silenced.”

So far, 195-plus signatures have been collected toward the overall goal of 1,000. The online petition is available at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/UH-for-KTRU/.


  • Aaron R

    I'm glad that UH students are realizing that what their university does, even if it is with someone else's money, reflects on them. I appreciate them standing up for an independent outlet in Houston – KTRU has a number of UH student DJs, an opportunity that is sure to not exist with "KUHC"

  • Heather

    I'll second Aaron's comment. I have been involved with KTRU for over 14 years, and I have seen MANY UH students gain communications experience working as DJs and station leaders. I myself am an alumna of both Rice and UH and a former station manager. In contrast, I have only ever known of one UH student being employed by KUHF, and that was someone who would have been hired as a professional anyway.

    KTRU is important for the students of both Rice and UH, and for all of Houston.

  • saveUH

    Secrecy, closed door deals, violations of openness, transparency, and ethics… What else do you expect from an administration that changed the longstanding rules of nepotism to hire the husband of the president and place him in an administrative job? What else do you expect from an administration that makes highly questionable deals regarding university business…
    Save KTRU, Save UH

    • Brian

      Conspiracy theorist much?

  • Robert P.

    $10 million is better spent elsewhere, such as a community-wide outreach effort on how best to create a tier one campus that meets the needs and preferences of the Houston region. I fail to understand how having two college radio stations with NO student input and programming is needed. Does KUHF even allow UH students near that radio station? The beauty of KTRU is that it is student run, with community involvement, and provides students and community volunteers the opportunity to learn to run a radio station. The programming, too, is eclectic and goes beyond the standard corporate hype of commercial radio. Houston needs more diversity on the radio spectrum, not less. President Khator, please end negotiations with Rice University to buy KTRU’s transmitter and FCC license. Thank you.

  • Nick Cooper

    I am a musician (in Free Radicals), KPFT volunteer (Houston Indymedia Radio Show) and a Rice alum (class of '91). I think it is essential to remember that in Houston, KTRU is unique. It's not just that no other station has students doing their own shows, but that KTRU itself is student run. It's not only that KTRU doesn't run ads or pledge drives, it doesn't even run those sneaky underwriting ads. It's not just that KTRU plays diverse music, but also plays more diverse classical and jazz than the more full-time classical and jazz stations.

  • Abi

    The beauty of KTRU 91.7 is that it allows Rice and U of H undergraduate and graduate students to learn by doing – to learn leadership by DJing and operating a 50,000 watt radio station. The secret transaction between the two universities – without student input or involvement – would come across as paternalistic and disrespectful to the many students who have worked at the station.

    I am surprised that both universities would take such a step, but not at all surprised by the outcry opposing the proposed sale. I hope that the administrations will work to restore transparency and trust – first by halting this ill -concieved sale, and by moving forward – using this opportunity to connect with students and encourage the kind of student leadership that KTRU makes possible.

  • Bauer Alum

    While I sympathize with all those who desire to keep an independent music outlet like KTRU on the air, I do believe this deal is in the best interests of UH students and alumni alike. KUHF (NPR) currently reaches an important demographic that UH students should be concerned about – affluent NPR listeners – AKA potential employers. Many times a day, KUHF airs pieces updating the Houston community on what’s happening at the University of Houston (via Engines of our Ingenuity, Bauer Business Focus, and UH Moment). In other words, KUHF provides UH an opportunity to, on a daily basis, advertise and promote the value of your degree to your future employers. Acquiring KTRU will only increase UH's visibility in this regard. This, in turn, makes it more likely that you will get an acceptable return on your tuition dollars spent.
    -BBA ’04 & MS ‘05

  • Robert P.

    Hello Bauer Alum,

    KUHF exists as a university radio station in name only. I also fail to understand how having two college radio stations with NO student input and NO programming is needed; or even justified. Please note that the University of Houston is a post-secondary educational institution with NO students allowed near KUHF. Again let me say, does KUHF even allow UH students on that radio station? At KUHF, there are NO student produced programs. There are no student DJs. The proposed KUHC will be cut from the same cloth.

    KTRU, in contrast, is a student run; the programs are student produced. The DJs are college students. Ones does not need to be a Rice University student to participate at KTRU. So yes, I oppose the bad, secret deal that UH and Rice University are trying to force through.

  • Bauer Alum

    Hello Robert P.,

    You are correct in all of your statements regarding KUHF not having any student input. You are also correct in that KUHC will be run similarly. And I agree that student run radio enriches a city and benefits the students involved with it. But you did not address my point; that this decision was about promoting the image of UH and value of a UH degree which thereby makes its graduates more employable. Promoting UH will benefit the current 30K+ students currently attending UH as well as the 100K+ alumni. Giving 20, 30 or 50 students radio experience is nice, but pales in comparison to benefit all UH students and alumni will receive with the additional station’s wider promotional reach. President Khator is trying to increase the visibility and awareness of UH; a critical requirement if UH is going to achieve tier 1 status. A classical station reaches the demographics (affluent, older and politically connected) whose support will be instrumental in raising the stature of UH. KTRU, as it currently exists, does nothing to help UH achieve that goal. This is why I support UH’s purchase of KTRU. But I respect that you may disagree.

    -Bauer Alum

    • UH alum

      Hi Bauer Alum,

      I'd like to respond to a couple of your points. One is the claim that a second radio station will significantly increase donations to UH. I don't have any statistics on this issue, but I strongly suspect that fans of KUHF tend to donate to KUHF, and are not likely to donate to UH if they don't already have some other connection to the university. In fact, KUHF has been criticized on a number of occasions, including by top members of the UH administration, for not doing enough to promote the university.

      Another thing I take issue with is the notion that a second radio station will somehow bring UH closer to being a tier one research university. The primary criterion for tier one status is having >$100 million in annual research grants. Other criteria include things like number of PhDs awarded, number of faculty in the national academies, etc. Number of radio stations/prominence on the fm dial has no affect on tier one status.

      I think the real issue that most people have with this deal is not that they are opposed to expanding KUHF – it's that they feel that it is being done in the wrong way. I'm all for expanding KUHF, and also for making KUHF a more effective promoter of UH, but I don't like seeing it done in a secretive deal that kept students and the public in the dark, and I don't like seeing it done at the expense of losing such a unique cultural asset as KTRU. Here's an idea: Instead of buying KTRU, why doesn't KUHF buy one of the dozen or so Clear Channel-owned stations and take that over instead?

      -UH alum (MFA '03)

  • Bauer Alum

    Hi UH Alum,
    I appreciate your response and would like to respond to some of your points and clarify one of mine that you took issue with. You state that a second radio station does nothing to help UH achieve tier 1 status (and then correctly state what the tier 1 benchmarks are – primarily research grants among other things). However, in concluding that a second radio station doesn’t help UH achieve tier 1 status ignores the fact that perception of a university is what drives its ability to obtain research grants. Many decision makers (corporate and municipal) listen to KUHF and presumably classical music as well – as evidenced by the significant amounts of money large corporate law firms spend sponsoring (advertising) on KUHF. So if those decision makers have more positive exposure to UH, it only fits to reason that they will have more comfort steering grant and research money in UH’s direction. (Cont…)

  • Bauer Alum

    (Cont…) With respect to your point about donations to KUHF not being very likely to also result in donations to UH; I agree with you. The “support” of older, affluent, politically connected individuals I was referring to was more in the nature of the kind of support (grants and corporate money) mentioned in the paragraph above as opposed to direct personal contributions. (Cont…)
    As for acquiring another station, possibly from Clear Channel; my understanding is that the FCC designates certain frequencies (the lower dial ones) for educational and non-profit purposes and others for commercial purposes (higher dial frequencies). So if UH wanted to expand their presence in radio, it has to be with a station similar to KTRU or KACC (Alvin Community College).
    Lastly, with respect to the secrecy that everybody hates (including me); very few business transactions are deliberated in public. It is almost impossible to execute a deal if 5,000 parties are chiming in with their two cents. I think both the UH and Rice administrations gave into the attitude that “no one wants to see the sausage getting made.” It is unfortunate, but sometimes necessary.
    -Bauer Alum

  • UH alum

    Hi Bauer Alum,

    My Clear Channel suggestion was (mostly) tongue-in-cheek.

    As for grants, the vast majority of research money comes from the federal government through NIH, NSF, DOE, DOD, NEH, NEA, etc. Grants from Houston-area business and local government – whose leaders might actually listen to KUHF – are a very small fraction of the total grant dollars at UH.

    Finally, one of the important things about a public university is that it is held to a very different standard than, say, a private corporation regarding openness and transparency. It may not be pretty to see the sausage being made, but in the case of a public university, the public often has the right to watch. (See, for example, the Texas Open Meetings Act.)

    Even if we don't agree, I appreciate your thoughtful responses to my previous comments. If only all internet discussion boards were this civil.

  • Alex

    Doesn't Rice, which is a private university, want to sell it because they can't afford it? If you want Rice to keep the station, everyone should be upset with Rice for wanting to sell it. UH is not trying to "take over" anything.

    It is an opportunity for UH and they are smart enough to take advantage of it. NOONE is forcing Rice to do anything, especially when they feel they can't afford it.

    So how is UH having interest in buying something that has been for sale for over a year a bad thing and how is UH is the bad guy in this?

    And if Rice needs a station, then they should keep this one or buy another one. NOONE is stopping them from doing that!

    If UH doesn't buy the station, someone else will! So good for UH to take advantage of what they feel is in their best interest, which is the exact same thing Rice is doing.

  • Brian

    Would Rice students and alum still be pissed off if KUHC was kept the same format at KTRU, but just owned by UH?

    If so, then there are ulterior motives to their protests.

    If any UH community member wants Rice to have this station at that point, they are just plain idiots.

  • UH alum ('03)

    Brian, I think you're really missing the point. This isn't about UH versus Rice. It's certainly understandable that Rice students want to protect their student-built organization. But KTRU has also come to have real value beyond Rice. For many of us, this is about protecting something unique on the fm dial – a station that plays independent music, features local artists, and promotes local shows. If UH/KUHF would commit to doing that with the new KUHC, that would be great, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be something they have any interest in.

  • Alex

    UH Alum,

    Are you going to pay for it? Not sure why you think keeping a station in which a private university can't afford or doesn't want to afford is a worthy thing to be upset about.

    Again, NOONE is forcing Rice to sell it. UH is just a buyer. If it wasn't UH, it would be someone else.

    If Rice can't afford something, or want to spend the money on more important things, then Rice should be afforded that right.

    Again, UH is just an innocent bystander to people upset that Rice doesn't want the station anymore. UH isn't forcing ANYTHING.

  • Robert

    Check out the new article that the Texas Watchdog has posted: http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2010/11/university-o

    Very unflattering to UH; very shameful. I expect better, more transparent, ethical behavior. Seems to me, UH needs to do some soul-searching.

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