KTRU: No. 1 Local Music Story Of The Year

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Rocks Off has been counting down the top local music stories of the year. Before this came the Lightnin' Hopkins historical marker, Meridian imbroglio, Fitzgerald's sale and Trae vs. The Box.

Rocks Off wrote a lot of words about Rice University's pending sale of KTRU (91.7 FM) to the University of Houston system this year. (Still pending, by the way.) A lot of words. As one of our deputies pointed out a week or two ago, we did not relish writing a single one.

We first heard whispers that KTRU was in trouble around the time of our music awards. Thanks to the confidentiality agreement Rice, U of H and the KUHF staff signed, they stayed whispers for a week or two; no one would even come close to saying anything even remotely on the record.

Then the whispers got louder, and Rocks Off finally got what amounted to a confirmation when the U of H media office directed us to the agenda for the August Board of Regents meeting. All that said was that the regents would be voting on purchasing "a radio station," but we figured they weren't about to buy The Buzz. Although maybe they should have.

The KTRU staff, meanwhile, did not have a clue any of this was going on. Many, in fact, found out from the blog we posted about it. Later it came out that both universities were advised to cover up their negotiations to the point of sending an engineer to do an "inventory" of KTRU that was actually an appraisal of the station's assets.

Our name came up a couple of times in there too, which we thought was kind of funny, but only because we've always been a big fan of schadenfreude. Mostly, like a lot of other Houstonians, we thought the whole thing sucked.

Also like a lot of other Houstonians, Rocks Off was more a fan of KTRU in theory than in practice. We seldom tuned in - we don't drive, can't pick up the low-power frequency in our office, and listen to satellite radio at home - but we were always glad it was there, both for the shows we did enjoy listening to on occasion (Mutant Hardcore Flower Hour, Blues In Hi-Fi) and because it really was is the only FM station in town on which most local artists even have a prayer of hearing their music.

If the FCC does approve the sale, which most people on both sides expect it will, KTRU will not vanish entirely. The station will continue broadcasting on the Internet either way, and KPFT (90.1 FM) has made overtures about opening up its second HD channel to KTRU's deejays.

But for the rapidly vanishing segment of the population that still listens to FM radio, and enjoys radio programming that does not come from a tightly formatted computer-controlled playlist, there will be a void at 91.7 FM no amount of classical-music and fine-arts programming can fill.

And any way you slice it, that's a big loss.


Early August: Rocks Off begins hearing rumors KTRU is in trouble.

August 16: Rocks Off discovers item to purchase "a radio station" on the University of Houston System's Board of Regents agenda.

August 17: The Board of Regents approves the purchase of KTRU for approximately $9.5 million, four votes to three.

August 17: The Houston music scene reacts to news of the sale. They are not happy.

August 17: Shell-shocked KTRU staff and supporters meet to discuss possible ways to fight what is essentially a fait accompli. The activist group Friends of KTRU forms not long after.

August 19: Another meeting.

August 22: KTRU supporters hold a protest rally on the Rice campus.

August 24: Virtually the entire Houston music scene appears on what was then thought to be one of the final broadcasts of KTRU's Tuesday-night staple, The Local Show.

October 12: Rice and U of H officially sign the deal to transfer KTRU's frequency, signal tower and FCC license to U of H.

October 16: Rice's Marching Owl Band announces it has been "bought" by U of H during its halftime show at the annual UH-Rice "Bayou Bucket" football game.

December 3: Friends of KTRU's attorneys file an official petition to deny the sale with the Federal Communications Commission.

December 6: The New York Times cites KTRU in an article about college radio stations - and college radio itself - in jeopardy.

December 8: Friends of KTRU board member Joey Yang, also the station's current manager, tells Rocks Off the sale is a "black mark" on Rice University.

December 10: Rice and U of H's attorneys file separate responses to the Friends of KTRU's position. They do not alert the media.

December 17: Friends of KTRU's attorneys file a response to Rice and U of H's responses, the final appeal before the FCC announces its decision.

Unknown date, 2011: The FCC announces its decision to approve or deny the sale.

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