KTRU Staff, Supporters Vent, Discuss Plans To Fight Station's Sale
The atmosphere before Monday's meeting resembled a study hall without the books.
Photos by Chris Gray
Still stunned, confused and exhausted from the news that Rice University had agreed to sell the terrestrial broadcast rights and capabilities of its largely student-staffed radio station KTRU (91.7 FM) to the University of Houston System, several dozen DJs, alumni, listeners and a handful of local musicians gathered to brainstorm and commiserate at Sammy's Pub in the Rice Memorial Center Monday evening.
Assembling at a time when most Rice students (including KTRU's current student station manager) are still away on summer break, and many on campus are preoccupied with orientation (fall semester classes begin next week) - a stroke of timing remarked on by several in attendance - the group seemed well aware of the daunting situation it faces. But for the time being, resolve was not in short supply.
As Rice spokesman B.J. Almond predicted to Rocks Off, no one from the administration was present at the meeting. KTRU Program Director and acting master of ceremonies Joey Yang admitted the group was "in the process" of such basic organizational tactics as finding legal counsel, and that he did not even know if Rice officials were legally bound to inform the students of the administration's decision before they did so late Monday night.
The KTRU staff is facing a "host of legal issues," Yang told the audience. "We're not even sure what they are."
Burton DeWitt (left) and Joey Yang
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Yang said his meeting with Rice President David W. Leebron earlier Tuesday produced the same "general idea" as the story the Rice media department released much earlier Tuesday: To, in his words, "increase the total good of the student body" via using the money from the sale for various campus improvements
"It is the university's property, but there was sort of an implicit trust that the university would look out for us," Yang said. "I'd say our main aim is to demonstrate that the way we've been treated is not OK - that there were no lines of negotiation, let alone communication."
For a sum of approximately $10 million - and pending FCC approval following a 30-day public comment period once the sale is finalized - the Rice administration has decided to sell KTRU's transmitter, frequency and FCC license to the University of Houston for use as an all-classical/fine-arts station to be renamed KUHC, leaving KTRU to broadcast in its current free-form, DJ-curated format on the Internet at www.ktru.org.
Such a fate dismayed the local musicians hanging around. "Completely upsetting," said Ralf Armin of Houston punks Dead Roses, while his sometime bandmate (and former Rocks Off blogger) Domokos Benczedi sighed, "just another day in Houston."
"There's so many bands I found out about through KTRU," added Jeremy Nuncio, who plays keyboards in Chase Hamblin's band and turned up out of curiosity. "Especially early on before peer-to-peer and social networking."
The meeting, which took nearly a half-hour to start due to problems setting up a live Internet stream, eventually broke off into several groups tasked with brainstorming around topics such as media outreach or research. Epitomizing the evening's tense but defiant tone, one idea to form an additional group in one corner of the room simply for people to "vent their feelings" was quickly scratched.
Meanwhile, Rice alumnus David Bins, Baker College '83, said the administration could have shut down any of the university's sports teams - except perhaps the perennial College World Series-contending baseball team - and not provoke the reaction selling KTRU would.
"There's about 90,000 pissed-off alumni right here, right now," said Bins, who added he had already been on several blogs advocating other alumni cease contributions to the university's permanent fund. When asked to identify themselves as alumni, about one-quarter of the approximately 90-100 people at the meeting raised their hands.
KTRU currently broadcasts Rice baseball and women's basketball games. Another DJ and recent alumnus, Burton DeWitt, said he had been in contact with the athletic department, which he said is opposed to the sale but has declined to make any official statement. Finding another outlet to broadcast Rice sports on the FM dial, he added, would "clearly be a [monetary] loss to them."
KTRU alumni discuss potential avenues of tighter organization.
Although Bins said Rice grads who have worked at KTRU tend to be a close-knit bunch and maintain an active interest in the station - about five out of 15 alumni clustered around a couple of tables raised their hands when Rocks Off asked any current DJs to raise their hands - he admitted no discrete KTRU alumni organization currently exists.
After the meeting, most of the attendees gathered around the nearby statue of Rice founder and namesake William Marsh Rice ("Willy") to report the various groups' suggestions: Coordinating Internet platforms such as savektru.org, two Facebook pages and the Twitter hashtag #savektru; setting up an account for donations; further marshaling support among the student body and alumni; exploring the possibility of filing open-records requests with U of H; emailing President Leebron and the Rice board of trustees.
Asked if any KTRU DJs had expressed their intention to quit should the station go Internet-only, Yang said none had approached him thus far: "The only responses I've heard are solidarity."
Solidarity was abundant at Tuesday's meeting. The group gave itself another 48 hours to come up with further possible solutions, scheduling another assembly for 7 p.m. Thursday in the auditorium of the Rice Media Center.
"It's a mess most most people didn't know about until between 9 and 10 p.m. last night," said Ayn Morgan, who presented the media-coordination subgroup's ideas. If nothing else, she credited the Rice administration with being "extremely smart" in the way it handled the negotiations.
"We're kind of in survival mode right now," she said.
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