For 50 years, KTRU Rice Radio has broadened Houston’s musical palate with its diverse programming. In recent years, MKT Bar has done the same, by inviting guest DJs from myriad backgrounds to spin records at its popular Wednesday Vinyl Night series. So it doesn’t take a genius in transport phenomena bioengineering (an actual course at Rice University) to see how these two entities had to eventually come together.
All month, MKT Bar has hosted Vinyl Night DJs handpicked by KTRU 96.1 FM. Tonight, Matthew Wettergreen, a lecturer in engineering at Rice who teaches the popular freshman engineering design course, will be on the turntables. He, Phillip Beck and Ian Wells all previously hosted the Revelry Report, which focuses on local music acts. Next Wednesday’s set is courtesy of The Funk and Soul Show, hosted by DJ Allan Nova. The month kicked off with sets by Vinyl Frontier, KTRU’s hip-hop show hosted by Kenny Evans, a post-doctoral fellow at Rice's Baker Institute; and Andrew Klein, a new DJ at KTRU who has taught for the school’s First-Year Writing-Intensive Seminar (FWIS) program for many years, including a recurring course about American pop music.
While these DJs could conceivably post up any given Wednesday at MKT Bar, there is some significance to this month's takeover. The nights are part of KTRU’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. The station has planned some thrilling music moments for Houstonians this month. On-air guest DJ sets by prominent local acts like The Suffers, The Tontons, Ruiners, Free Radicals, Rose Ette and Say Girl Say are airing all week. Arguably Houston music’s most enthralling act, Jandek, will perform at Rice University’s Hamman Hall on Friday at 8 p.m. Everything culminates with the 26th KTRU Outdoor Show on Saturday, headlined by Chicago-based artists Jamila Woods and Saba. Both Jandek and the Outdoor Show are free and open to the public.
KTRU’s Vinyl Night DJs have been spreading the word on these events, but mostly they’ve done what they normally do by bringing interesting music to the ears of Houston’s unaware listeners.
“I put my playlist together with the MKT Bar crowd in mind. It's a pretty chill place on a Wednesday, with people either enjoying drinks after work or having dinner with friends,” says Klein, who was on the decks April 5. “I wanted to encourage that vibe rather than lay down my own. I started with some Studio One Rock Steady and went from there. I mostly stuck to soul — Brenton Wood, Lee Moses, etc. — but mixed some more recent stuff in there, too — Vagabon, Danny Brown, Four Tet, etc. It was a great night and a great crowd.”
Ethan Hasiuk is programming coordinator for KTRU’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. He hopes some of the MKT Bar crowd will find its adventurous music spirit in time to attend the Jandek set on Friday.
“To me, Jandek perfectly represents KTRU’s commitment to unconventional, independent music and Jandek is an artist that has been a vital part of our library for the majority of our 50-year history,” Hasiuk says. “We are honored to host a performance by an artist so influential to both our station and independent music in general.”
Rice undergrads established KTRU Rice Radio in February of 1967, Hasiuk explains, and it remains student-run 50 years later. In addition to finding it on the FM dial, streaming options are available via ktru.org, where the anniversary-celebration events are also listed.
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“The most notable [historical] moments are probably the donation of a 50-kilowatt transmitter to the station in 1991, the subsequent controversial sale of this transmitter to University of Houston in 2011, and then our return to low-power FM radio via an antenna on top of Rice Stadium in 2015,” Hasiuk says. ‘We've been one of the few consistent independent radio stations in Houston for a long time, and our 50-kilowatt transmitter gave us the unique opportunity to reach a wide audience. We've also hosted a number of notable artists for concerts over the years, including They Might Be Giants in 1990 and Ratatat in 2007.”
Whether listeners are grooving to the Vinyl Night selections, enjoying the mystery of Jandek or partaking in some Outdoor Show sets, all of the events are designed to exhibit KTRU’s musical philosophies, Hasiuk says.
‘I'd say we've maintained our commitment to eclectic, as well as often independent and local, music," he continues. "Many of our specialty shows, particularly Chicken Skin [folk/bluegrass/country], Jazz and Mutant Hardcore [punk], are almost as old as the station itself. I would also say we have always been committed to serving as a bridge between Rice and Houston. We bring local artists on campus and expose students to the local scene, and we present the voices and musical selections of Rice students on-air to a Houston audience.”