My Personal Take on the Sale of KTRU

While I do maintain my blog, Broken Record, over at Chron.com and have posted there on this subject, I thought I might put some of my personal feelings on my own blog. Honestly, I’m somewhat torn and I’ll try to cover the angles here as best I can.

First, it should be said that I really never cared for the programming on KTRU. To say that most of their programming was extreme would be a considerable understatement. Pitchfork Media, the purveyors of all that is cool in alternative and underground music, would check their playlist and think, “Wow, dude, that’s freaking weird.” I have honestly tuned in to KTRU in the middle of the day and heard guitar feedback for 3 minutes.

Having said that, I understand and appreciate the contribution KTRU has made to the community, particularly for local musicians. While its narrowly focused demographic didn’t make room for most local artists on the airwaves, KTRU did play local music and the new station, I’m fairly sure we can safely assume, will not leaving only KPFT’s limited music programming and KACC’s weak transmitter to fill the void.

Additionally, consolidating one of Houston’s four major players in the independent radio market can’t be good for consumers on the whole.

On the other hand, I am a fan of NPR. For too long, Houston has missed out on its in-depth programming and news. I am hopeful that vibrant music shows like World Cafe and great news programming like This American Life and Fresh Air will have their place in the new format for KUHF. If we don’t get World Cafe, I’ll admit that I will be sorely disappointed.

Being the fourth largest city in America means we should have good choices for news. Since KTRH left its news programming in the dust in favor of conservative talk shows, it will be nice to have a station that covers news for most the day, particularly one featuring NPR.

What has been interesting for me to watch since this news hit the internet is the disdain from those who consider KTRU “vital to the community” or should I say, more vital than classical music. There is this sense that, somehow, what KTRU provided in programming is so important it cannot be simply lost in this way.

As one of the commenters on Broken Record pointed out to me, most kids don’t listen to radio anyway. That fact really cannot be underscored enough in this situation. I cannot imagine that KTRU’s listenership demographic skews on the old or technologically feeble side. My guess is that many of them would be more than happy to continue to listen to KTRU online.

And this notion that classical music is so much more mainstream than the alt that KTRU provided is just preposterous. There have been a few instances of classical music stations trying to survive in Houston and they have all failed. Much like the alternative music of KTRU, classical and fine arts programming is a tough sell and very much a niche market. But, more importantly, classical music fans do tend to be in the older and less tech savvy demographic, making them far more likely to tune in to a radio station than seek it out online.

Bottom line is that I’m sorry to see a true college radio station go. I’ve long wondered why Houston didn’t have a legitimate college station with alternative and more mainstream programming. Even with KTRU’s broadly eclectic palette, it still served a purpose and I hate to see it turn to static. Some of that disappointment will, fortunately, be tempered by access to a full-time NPR station, something our city has needed for years.

It would have been easier for many of us had KUHF just bought a defunct station or some commercial radio station that programs the same 50 songs ever day. But, if this is what it takes, I guess that’s just how it goes.

  9 Replies to “My Personal Take on the Sale of KTRU”

  1. mrshl
    August 18, 2010 at 9:14 am

    That’s pretty much it exactly. I wouldn’t change a word.

  2. August 18, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Great article Jeff that echoes my thoughts. BTW, do you know World Cafe is back on at 90.1 KPFT weekdays from noon-1 (http://www.kpft.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=50:world-cafe&catid=36:music-programs&Itemid=54)?

    And This American Life & Fresh Air Weekend air on Sundays on KUHF…

  3. August 18, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Like I’ve said elsewhere, the biggest issue was the process that the administration haphazardly followed. They went into negotiations assuming that the KTRU management would be brittle negotiators and not accede to anything except full-airtime. I think that was very disrespectful to the people involved in running the station.

    If Rice admin had included the KTRU management in negotiations, you could very well come up with a solution that benefits everyone–KUHF could be converted to 24/7 NPR news and 91.7 could be KUHC during the day and KTRU during the night.

    While having to compromise, I’m sure the KTRU management are intelligent enough to understand that we are in an economic recession and Rice has lost a lot of its endowments due to its (bad) investment decisions. If KTRU had been involved in the process, the mutual respect which has been shattered by this confidential process, would still exist.

    And finally, a personal perspective. I have listened to radio on the internet 0 times (at least a conventional radio stream–not something like Pandora which I use a couple of times a month at most). Comparatively, I listen to radio on the way to work every day. And if there are people talking, I change the channel immediately. At work, I have Google News open in its own tab the whole time and browse that when I’m taking a break. I’d guess the vast majority of radio listeners today tune in from their cars. It’s a lot easier to actively seek out news than to actively seek out new music on the internet.

  4. August 18, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Very well put. As a fan of Pitchfork-style indie rock, I’ve always wanted to like KTRU. But between the extreme programming, the lack of articulate deejays, the poor sound quality, and bunch of other little annoyances, I just can’t get into it. It’s sad to see them go, but frankly, I’m not convinced they’ve had a significant impact on the community in recent years.

  5. gary
    August 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    KTRU does have a good blues program that’s comes on Wednesday night. Other than that, I don’t listen to it. As for NPR, it’s just a bunch of liberal journalists circle jerking.

  6. August 20, 2010 at 7:35 am

    I’m sure it is no surprise to you that I’m happy to have a classical station coming back to Houston.

    I do miss the old days when KTRH used to be a news station, but my listening habits have changed since then. My iPod is my listening device in my car and I mainly listen to podcasts so I have my NPR programming on there. I get my news from the internet.

    However, there is no way that I can own enough classical CDs to make a playlist with good variety and that is something I hope will come from the new station. I will just have to wait and see what their programming is like.

  7. August 21, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Came back to add that I do sympathize with fans of KTRU who have lost their station. I remember when KRTS went off the air. It is awful to realize that your choice of music is suddenly gone.

  8. Stuart Smith
    August 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Jeff, I appreciate your perspective as a listener. Certainly KTRU’s general programming quality and focus varies over the years (and even during the day!), depending on the students and community volunteers involved at any one time.

    Setting aside the absolutely under-handed and shameful manner in which the administration is attempting to make this sale, the bigger issue is the fact that KTRU could be gone forever.

    If this sale goes through, Rice and its students will lose a far-reaching and invaluable resource. Could KTRU in its present form be improved? Undoubtedly. But selling it seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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