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.