After the University of Houston Board of Regents voted to buy 91.7 FM from Rice University and convert the frequency to all classical and fine-arts programming earlier this summer, various KTRU staff, alumni and supporters formed Friends of KTRU, an activist group dedicated to keeping the largely student-run radio station - known for its adventurous free-form programming and generosity towards local artists, if not its strong signal - on the terrestrial airwaves.
Their task just got a lot harder. Earlier this afternoon, Friends of KTRU announced this afternoon they had been informed that Rice and U of H have signed an agreement to transfer the station's ownership, and have retained the law firm of Paul Hastings in an attempt to thwart the sale.
B.J. Almond, Rice Senior Director of News and Media Relations, confirmed to Rocks Off by phone that the agreement has been signed. The announcement came in a letter from Rice President David Leebron to Rice students, faculty and alumni, he said. In the letter, President Leebron said the sale will now go before the FCC for approval, a process that may take several months.
"We will consult with KTRU's student managers about the timing for turning the tower over to KUHF, but we expect that to occur by the end of the semester or calendar year," Leebron said in an excerpt from the letter posted on Rice's Web site. "In the meantime, KTRU will continue to deliver its programming on 91.7 and online through www.ktru.org."
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Not surprisingly, KTRU supporters saw it a little differently. "It is shameful that the Rice University administration has not heeded the thousands of voices asking to stop the sale of KTRU," KTRU station manager Joey Yang said in the Friends of KTRU statement.
"Instead, Rice has chosen to throw away more than 40 years of student-run tradition in favor of a new cafeteria for the campus. For this reason, we must pursue legal avenues for stopping the sale."
The University had previously announced its intentions to use the proceeds from the sale towards several campus improvements, including a new dining hall and the facilities of KTRU, which will continue in its current format on the Internet. Should the FCC approve the sale, the new station at 91.7 FM would go by the call letters KUHC.
"I know the decision to sell the tower was controversial, as was the need to conduct those negotiations confidentially," continued Leebron's letter. "This was clearly an exception to our usual process for undertaking major decisions at Rice, and we have emphasized that this was a result of unique aspects of this sale and not a precedent for future decisions."