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KTRU Sale Now Totally In FCC's Hands

Earlier today, activist group Friends of KTRU filed its opposition to the responses to its Petition to Deny the sale of the station's FM frequency (91.7), broadcast tower and FCC rights from Rice University to the University of Houston System. UHS plans to convert 91.7 from the largely student-run, local music-heavy station it has been for the past 40 years into classical-music and fine-arts programming under the new call letters KUHA.

So if you're keeping score at home, Friends of KTRU filed their Petition to Deny the sale December 3, from which date Rice and UHS had seven days to file their own oppositional responses, which they did exactly seven days later (and somehow must have left our email address off the announcement they had done so). From there, the Friends had ten more days to file one more reply, which they have now done. Rocks Off doubts the ink was even dry from the FCC's "received" stamp before we heard about it.

In other words, that's it. No more petitions, responses or responses to responses. The last bit of paperwork in the controversial deal has been filed. Directly or indirectly, the KTRU saga has raised a host of issues, from whether students at a private university have a right to know when the school is negotiating to sell off one of its assets to how viable student-run over-the-air stations even are anymore, but now it's as good as over.

The next thing we hear about it will be from the FCC, and it will be the big one. Will the deal go through, as most people following the situation expect it will - even if they think it sucks - or will Friends of KTRU pull off an upset as big as when NC State knocked off U of H in the 1983 NCAA men's basketball championship game?

It could be a while before the FCC announces its decision - like months - so all KTRU's supporters can do now is wait, hope and, if they are so inclined, pray. Here are some salient excerpts from the flood of documents Rocks Off received this afternoon. You can find all the footnotes and whatnot in the PDFs following this page.

Rice Opposition, as filed by Wiltshire & Grannis, LLP, university counsel:

The petitioner's chief complaint is that the proposed assignment would replace KTRU's current 'eclectic mix of musical genres' with a 'syndicated national and international' classical-music format. Since 1977, however, the FCC has made clear that it would allow market forces - not regulatory fiat - to determine a broadcast station's format.

That decision was subsequently affirmed by the Supreme Court, which explained the Commission's policy that 'a change in entertainment programming is therefore not a material factor that should be considered by the Commission in ruling on an application for license renewal or transfer.' Thus, as the Commission has explained in numerous more recent decisions, 'the Commission does not scrutinize or regulate programming, nor does it take potential changes in programming formats into consideration in reviewing assignment applications.'

U of H System opposition, as filed by Dow Lones PLLC, counsel:

It is apparent from the petition that station KTRU has built up loyalty and goodwill among Rice alumni, current students and listeners. However, that loyalty and goodwill, while laudable, are not the relevant FCC touchstones for an assignment of license proceeding.

Despite petitioner's multiple novel and legally unsupported arguments, the Commission must only decide whether UHS is qualified to hold the Station license and whether grant of the assignment application serves the public interest. The Commission does not need to set brand new policies on broadcast localism, or educational broadcasting, or concentration of noncommercial licenses in a market.

Friends of KTRU's opposition to oppositions, as filed by Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, LLC, counsel:

The Oppositions rely on a single flawed premise: that the assignment application at issue in this proceeding represents a mere format change, and that the Commission should rubber stamp its consent to the existing application under its existing precdent...

Indeed, the Commission must not view this proposed transaction merely from the lens of a format change. Rather, as noted previously by Petitioner, 'the assignment of the KTRU License to UHS will substantially and negatively impact the ability of the station authorization to be used to respond to community needs in the area of informational programming. It will also eliminate an important educational tool that has been used to instruct students and potential broadcasters since KTRU's formation.

Rocks Off has very limited experience with media law, but we think it's safe to say these two sides are never going to see eye to eye. If you'd like to read even further, Rocks Off (and the other Houston Press blogs) have recently started using this new program called Scribd, which allows us to upload PDF documents and our readers to scroll through them at their leisure.

In order, on the next three pages, are Friends of KTRU's reply to the Oppositions to their petition, then both Rice's and U of H's original oppositions to their original petition.

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KTRU Reply to Op Positions

Rice University Opposition to Petition to Deny (12.13.2010)

UH Opposition to Petition to Deny

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