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Texas Watchdog: U Of H Covered Up KTRU Purchase Plans

UPDATE (4:07 p.m.) KTRU staff and the Friends of KTRU released a statement Thursday afternoon condemning both universities' actions in the station's sale. See it after the jump.

Bad Cougars? Bad advice?
Bad Cougars? Bad advice?

The investigative Web site Texas Watchdog says it has obtained emails that show the nonprofit agency hired by the University of Houston to negotiate the purchase of KTRU (91.7 FM) from Rice University encouraged U of H officials to keep their plans to buy the mostly student-operated station a secret.

Published this morning, Steve Miler's report cites emails from employees at Public Radio Capital to both U of H officials and the consultants hired by Rice that appear to recommend both universities work together to avoid tipping off KTRU's staff, the student bodies and the public to the impending sale. One recommends Rice create a "cover story" relating to why an engineer was visiting KTRU to evalute its assets:

"Rice can use any reason it chooses, some of which can include change of insurance, inventory needs, or any other plausible explanation," PRC's acquisitions director Erik Langner writes to Greg Guy at Rice's consultant counterpart, Patrick Communications. "UH will reimburse Rice for the cost of the inspection."

The report goes on to say that U of H system chancellor Dr. Renu Khator wanted to announce plans the school's plans to buy KTRU - besides KACC in Alvin, presently the only university-owned station FM station in the Houston area even partially staffed and programmed by students - this spring, but others at U of H advised her to keep the deal under wraps.

Although U of H officials deny doing anything wrong, others say the emails heighten the aura of suspicion surrounding the sale. "These add to the speculation that they tried to mislead," Joe Larsen, a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, tells the Watchdog.

The U of H Board of Regents approved the purchase of KTRU in August, shortly after news of the proposed sale became public. The sale is now pending before the FCC, and the "public comment" period is scheduled to end Dec. 2. Should the sale go through, 91.7 will change to classical and fine-arts programming under the call letters KUHC, and KTRU will retain its current format at www.ktru.org.

Read the entire Texas Watchdog report here.

Thursday afternoon, KTRU staff and the Friends of KTRU released a statement condemning both universities' actions:

 

KTRU's student management and the members of Friends of KTRU, a group of students, alumni and community members dedicated to stopping the sale of the radio station's assets, strongly condemn the actions taken by Rice University and University of Houston to conceal the KTRU deal.

"Today's article in the Texas Watchdog reveals just how desperate Rice and UH were to keep the pending KTRU deal under wraps," said KTRU Station Manager Joey Yang. "From making up cover stories in order to mislead KTRU staffers, to using false call letters to keep KTRU out of the public record, it seems the administrations of both universities were trying to deceive Rice students and the general public. Their actions demonstrate a questionable commitment to openness and transparency."

Yang urged anyone concerned about the pending KTRU sale to participate in the FCC's public comment period, which runs until Dec. 2. Information about how to contact the FCC, your local congressperson, and spread the word is located here.


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